40 pounds of beef + 7 hours cooking = 40 meals in my freezer ($5 a meal!)

I have really been making an effort to make more freezer meals. Anything that can be dumped into a crockpot or popped into the oven for dinner – freezer meals feel like a ”get out of jail FREE pass” on those days that are overwhelming or extra busy for me. It keeps us from eating out on a whim – which seems to always cost a small fortune, no matter where we go or what coupons we use.

This past December I purchased a 40 pound box of beef from Zaycon Foods. This was a huge step outside my comfort zone, I mean huge. I usually don’t even buy ground beef. We stick to Zaycon chicken and most of the red meat we eat has been moose meat from my dad, which I’ve grown up on and he subsistance hunts in Alaska. But I wanted to give you an honest review and report on Zaycon beef and we were running low on moose meat – so I thought we’d give it a try – and of course I had to blog about it.

About Zaycon BeefZaycon lean ground beef is sold in 40 pound box it comes in 10 pound cases inside, so it’s easy to split with others. It is 93/7 lean ground beef at $2.99 a pound – so you’ll pay $119.60 for a 40 pound case. I found the quality was amazing – very, very lean and it tastes great. Zaycon lean ground beef is currently on sale in select locations, but you must place order by tomorrow, February 1.

So there we were on that Saturday in December – my husband and I spent seven hours and we made 40 freezer meals. We were exhausted but so very proud of our hard work:

  • 10 taco meat meals (1 pound each x 10 = 10 pounds)
  • 6 italian mozzarella meatball meals (1 pound each x 6 = 6 pounds)
  • 6 sweet and sour meatball meals (1 pound each x 6 = 6 pounds)
  • 6 meals of kalamata/olive burger patties (18 patties, 3 per meal = 6 pounds)
  • 6 meals of burger patties (18 patties, 3 per meal = 6 pounds)
  • 6 meals from lasagna dishes (6 pounds)

40 meals, 40 pounds of beef. Seven hours. Only one round of dirty dishes and one dirty kitchen. For the meatball recipes and the lasagna dishes we used recipes from the book Fix, Freeze, Feast: More than 124 Recipes by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. I like this book because it is very easy to follow and it has you make a lot of the sauces you want by scratch – so I think the recipes taste much better than cookbooks that recommend using pre-made store-bought sauces. The meals aren’t fancy – they are everyday family, kid-friendly recipes. A newer version has come out from the one pictured here, but I think the recipes are the same.

Here’s how we went about the day. . . 

We picked out the recipes we wanted to do ahead of time and we purchased the main ingredients in bulk from Costco. Many of the staple ingredients we had in our stockpile from couponing. By picking similar recipes – that used many of the same ingredients, it made it easier to shop and made less prep work.

We worked together. I admit if I had done this myself I would have felt too overwhelmed, especially about five hours into it – when we had to push through to the end. We actually had a lot of fun working as a team and my husband called it “Battle Meatball” because he is a big Iron Chef fan and it seemed like we spent a lot of time making meatballs. :)

We started with a clean kitchen and did the majority of the work while the kids were sleeping and entertained. Ideally we would have had a babysitter – but that wasn’t in the cards. So we took turns entertaining the kids and plowed through a bunch of the work while the kids were napping or watching a movie (or two).

We saved a ton of time by food processing ingredients, like onions, all at once – for multiple meals. It might not make sense to pull out the food processor for onions on a single meal – but when you’re making many meals – I think I would literally cry if I had to do it by hand. :)

We multi-tasked. We had taco meat going on one burner, while cooking plain hamburger for the lasagna on another burner. We each tackled a recipe or two at a time and tried to be as strategic as possible about what and when we started things. For example – we knew we had garlic in three recipes – so we minced enough garlic ONCE in the food processor (Amazon) for all the recipes. Same thing for chopped onions – and we cooked them all up ahead of time and used them in multiple recipes.

We had some great music playing thanks to Pandora while we cooked. It was the week before Christmas so we were belting out Christmas tunes while making more meatballs than we’ve ever seen in our lives. It was rather entertaining and made the time go faster. :)

If I was to do it again, I probably would have only planned to make one set of meatball meals. They are much more time intensive than the lasagna, taco meat or burgers. Having to roll each of the meatballs did take awhile – especially the mozzarella meatballs, which each have a cube of mozzarella inside. But let me tell you – they are amazing and delicious! We opted to bake all our meatballs ahead of time because we figured they would always be going into some kind of sauce – so we weren’t worried about them drying out. They went into pre-labeled gallon freezer Ziploc bags, which you can get at Costco or with coupons.

I decided to dedicate an entire 10 pounds to taco seasoned meat. I know it’s not glamourous but it is flexible – tacos, nachos, taco soup, taco salads – it was easy and something my kids like to eat, so it made sense for us a. I used my Foodsaver to package the taco meat to keep it from gettting freezer burn, plus I like the neat, stackable packages it makes. We date and label everything. (By the way – Costco is a great place to get a Foodsaver and the bags – especially when they have Costco coupons, which they seem to have fairly frequently.)

I like to freeze all my meals on stacks of cardboard. It looks ridiculous – but they freeze flat and do not stick together. Then after 24 hours or so, I go back in and stack them all on their edge (see photo at top of post). It makes it easy to flip through and find what you need and they take up less space.

From beginning through clean up it was about seven hours. This was while we juggled kids in between – so you could probably get it done in less time without kiddos at your feet. My favorite part of freezer cooking – hands down – is only having to do a mess of dishes like this ONCE. Of course I’m going to have dishes when I go to cook a freezer meal – but nothing compared to the mess I’d have if I’d made one meal from scratch for dinner. We even had the foresight to pop one of the meals in the crockpot while we were cooking, so it was ready to go when we were all done.

I can tell you that the 2 day power outage we had a couple weeks ago had us sweating bullets. We knew that our freezer not only had a substantial monetary investment inside, but also a labor investment. Thankfully we didn’t open our upright freezer the entire time the power was out and the garage was cold enough to keep everything rock solid. But my husband was going to go out of his way to get a generator if it came down to it, to keep all of his (our) hard work from going out the window!

Overall the cost for the 40 meals was about $200 – which comes out to $5 a meal! We had the big investment of the $119.60 for the 40 pounds of Zaycon lean ground beef and then about $80 for the remaining ingredients – things like mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs, feta, kalmata olives, etc.. I think it was actually even less than this but I can’t find my Costco receipt (that’s what I get for waiting a month to write about it)! Only $5 for a home-cooked, easy, mess-free meal is worth it to me – how about you?

I’d love to hear from you – how to do you prefer to do your freezer cooking – all at once like this? Or just a couple hours here or there? What are your favorite freezer meal recipes? How do you save on meals and make meals ahead of time? Please comment – I’d love to learn from you!

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Comments

  1. Rachel Tolley says:

    Wow…love all of the ideas here! I have been canning and freezing my meals. I started canning when one of my kids was allergic to dairy and eggs at age 3. Thankfully he outgrew it at age 10. I couldn’t hardly find any spaghetti sauce without any dairy in it. That’s when I started making more foods by scratch, 5x of the receipe with 5 lbs. of ground beef, and canned 7 quarts of it. So when we wanted spaghetti for dinner, all I had to do was warm it up and cook the noodles. I usually only do 5 or 10 lbs. at a time though, whenever I see ground beef on sale for $1.99 per lb. Sometimes if I have the money, but don’t have time to cook it, I’ll still buy the ground beef on sale and just freeze it all for later.

    I also can sloppy joes, hot dog sauce (aka chili sauce), vegetable soup and chili. However, now that we have 4 kids (as of 2 months ago), I am realizing that a quart won’t feed us all. So I’m starting to freeze more in containers. I don’t use freezer bags though since it costs to buy them every time. Regardless of whether you can or freeze, it definitely does save time and cleaning up!

    Here’s another tip, try canning some of your food, and you can take it with you on vacations or any mini-trips, as long as you have a microwave there. We’ve been doing that for years, which saves a lot of money from eating out. Plus we even make tuna salad sandwiches and take it into the parks for lunch. Never could think of anything else to make other than peanut butter & jelly and sloppy joes.

  2. Hey foodsaver fans, you may want to check out Cabelas (if you have one near by!) They have a great deal on their brand of foodsaver bags that work with the name brand machines. They are much cheaper than even Costco!

  3. Were was this post 2 weeks ago when I purchased 40lbs of ground beef!!! :)

    I made taco meat and Food Savered it, when I am ready to serve the taco meat it is almost like paste type texture.
    Do you have that problem?

  4. Deborah Jennings says:

    Did you know if you have a power outage, if you wrap your freezer with a quilt or two, it will stay frozen longer? Yep! It will!

    I do love this post! I need to do this as soon as we can get the freezer cleaned out enough for the pre-cooked meals!

  5. Wow Heather – that is a HUGE freezer batch! One of my favorite ground beef basics for the freezer is to make the base for Shepherd’s Pie. I freeze it in one pound portions, then depending on how many family members are home for dinner I can pull out one, two, or three bags. All I have to do is make some mashed potatoes to top it, sprinkle on some grated cheese, and pop it in the oven for an hour at 375. Thanks for a great post – time to buy a side of good Alberta beef!

  6. Since you’re a Costco shopper, why don’t you just buy beef at Costco when needed? Just curious!

  7. That’s awesome! I also do a large number of freezer meals at one time! Here’s a link to one of my posts http://www.aturtleslifeforme.com/2011/06/freezer-meals-on-cheap.html

    I’m definitely pinning this and will be back for more ideas!

  8. Wow! This is amazing. I am on a mission to become more organized so I can do things like this. I’ve frozen a couple of things before with success. However, the only time I did a BIG freezer cooking when I was pregnant to prepare for the birth, I failed. Somehow, a lot of the food spoiled. I thought I prepared it correctly, but I obviously did something wrong. BTW, i recommend Zaycon Foods also. I received chicken from them before, and it was very good!

    • That’s a bummer that the food spoiled. I wonder what happened? I hope you give it another go – especially with kiddos it can be a great way to get dinner on the table without a big production. I am glad you like Zaycon – I’ve loved the chicken I got from them as well!

  9. I freezer cook quite a bit but have only done an all day session twice. It just wore me out too much. So now I can make 8 dozen meatballs in one morning and that will be my only freezer cooking for that week, or 6 pizzas at a time are a pretty regular freezer cooking adventure in my home, too. I just made 30 chicken and black bean tortillas this morning but had cooked the chicken yesterday and it wasn’t really exhausting. Also it was something I could do while my 2 yr old helped me without being too boring for her, too.

    • YUM – I’d love to get your recipe for chicken and black bean tortillas – those sound yummy. And pizzas – do you just do the dough? Or make the entire pizza. I’d love to learn more!

      • My recipe is based off a more formal recipe but I just now use a simpler version: 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, 2-3 cups cooked black beans (or any beans), 2 cups salsa and 16 oz shredded cheese (adjust any of these ingredients to your taste) and then roll into tortillas, about 1/3 cup (or so, I really don’t measure just what fits well). I freeze them before baking them at 350 for about 20 minutes.
        For pizzas, I bake the dough at 425 for about 6-8 minutes and freeze the crusts (my pizza dough recipe is from allrecipes.com, I believe it’s pizza dough III ) then top them, usually we do alfredo sauce I make and diced chicken, mozzarella cheese and mushrooms on top and then bake them fully from frozen when we’re ready to eat them. I work away from home one day a week and that evening we always have a frozen homemade pizza and it’s just easier for all of us that way.

        • Thank you for the tips – both sound delicious! I’ll have to try them out.

        • So are you putting the whole pizza together and then freezing it or just freezing the crust? And how or what do you freeze your crust in? Thanks!

          • I freeze the crusts for a few hrs so they are solid and then top them, and then freeze the whole pizzas. I just wrap them in aluminum foil.

  10. I’ve been doing a quarterly freezer filler since 2007. I usually do 30 lbs of ground beef. I do about 5 lbs of meatballs–I use a small scoop and just scoop the meatball mixture out onto a cookie sheet and freeze–no rolling or baking. (Takes a lot less time! ;-) Also, I do several recipes of patties and use a little old-fashioned pattie maker gadget. I also freeze those unbaked on a cookie sheet and when frozen bag both the meatballs and the patties.
    Other freezer favorites: Lasagna(no need to cook the noodles, just layer and freeze), Baked Ziti, Chili,Spaghetti Pie, Meat and Potato Quiches, Beef Enchiladas, chimichanga kits. These are the ones I make regularly–I do about 3 meals for each one so we can eat it only once a month. Also, I do a couple of ham dishes and sometimes soup or desserts, even a few appetizers for the freezer if we have something coming up.

    The first time I did this I started on a Friday evening and finished up on Sunday–it felt like it took forever. As I have gotten better at it, I might start things Friday evening and work until Saturday afternoon. My lasagna sauce needs to simmer for an hour at least, and the chili needs several hours to simmer, so I can always get those started right away. Sometimes I marinate pork chops as well and freeze those, and sometimes I put a pork butt in the roaster and cook overnight for BBQ.

    It is such a great feeling to have that freezer ready to go with 40 – 50 ready to bake meals, and I love hearing about other peoples experiences with freezer cooking! I love that your husband helped out, mine sometimes grates cheese for me and runs things to the freezer for me, labels bags, etc–but he leaves most of the actual cooking to me.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Love your comment! Great tips and ideas. So many possibilities and so many ways to save money and time – while still eating real meals. Love it! Thank you for the tips – especially the scoop and freeze technique!

  11. The easiest way I’ve found to make a lot of meatballs is to make something shaped like a rectangular or square loaf and cut lines across and then turn and cut lines the opposite way. That way they are already segmented and all you have to do is ball them up! Good job on all the freezer meals. I’m wishing my freezer looked like that. :)

    • Heather – That’s a genius idea! I feel like a dork now rolling each one individually. I’ll give it a try next time. :)

      • Lol. I rolled a ton of them once and thought, there HAS to be an easier way, and then I stumbled across that tip in a cookbook and made a mental note to self. :)

    • Another possibility is a large “action” cookie scoop; they’re like ice cream scoops. It portions the meat out in same sized scoops and the scoops are mostly round already.

  12. If you don’t have the machine–my trick for getting the air out is to put a straw in the bag, seal the bag as close to the straw as you can get, then suck out all the air and quickly seal the end. It works really well! If you have a lot of meals you might get lightheaded:0)

  13. Your husband and you make an excellent team! I’m so jealous of the time you have to make those meals!!! Our green house crashed (due to the snow) so we are eventually going to rebuild it, but it’s in the cards for you to come hang out when I start my seed, if you want! :)

  14. Wow! What a marathon! It sounds like you and your hub made a fun day of it … with delicious results.

  15. Did you then eat from that every night?

    I can hardly even stand to keep uncooked beef in the freezer for a month…but I have issues with expiration dates and food-borne illnesses.

    I was just looking through a list of shelf-life and freezer life and it says that ground beef is only good for 2-3 months so 40 meals with just ground beef in 60 days seems like a lot…

    If I wasn’t so creeped out by food “going bad” I would definitely do this, I am getting better as i learn more about couponing but I don’t think I’d ever go to that extreme.

    • We don’t eat from it every night, maybe twice a week? Plus it gets used for other things – for example, my husband is bringing mozzarella meatballs to work today for a potluck – they’ll get thrown into a crockpot with pasta sauce. We had tacos last night. I go by the FDA guidelines which say ground beef is good 3-4 months in the freezer: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html. They say on their site “The guidelines for freezer storage are for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.” So over four months – that breaks down to 10 meals a month – or 2-3 each week. If we have company over – we’ll use two of the meals at once. We use it the same day it thaws and always reheat thoroughly. We cooked all the beef thoroughly before freezing (except the burger patties). We’ll see how this goes for us – if I find we have a lot left over at the end than we’ll have to reconsider our approach next time.

      • That is awesome! I really wish that I could do it because it would save a lot of time and money, especially on nights that I don’t feel like cooking and we go for fast food :(

        Maybe I should try it on a lower scale, like a week to start…then maybe I’ll get brave enough to try a month :)

        • Rachel Tolley says:

          If you ever feel overwhelmed with buying a lot of meat in bulk, try a small amount or can it. Canning lasts a lot longer and takes less time to warm up too instead of thawing out. I freeze and can my meals. When I see ground beef on sale for $1.99 per lb., that’s when I do my freezer and canning. I usually only do 5 or 10 lbs at a time though, especially since I have 4 kids now. Plus I don’t use freezer bags either. See my separate post above.

      • Plus, if you have a manual defrost freezer you are using, food lasts SOOOO much longer. I only use the freezer in my fridge for meat that will be used within the next 2 weeks.

    • Food does not become unsafe in the freezer, unless the freezer gets above freezing. What can happen is the food gets freezer-burnt (from exposure to oxygen) or, eventually, it can get stale. Freezer-burnt or stale frozen food is safe to eat, although you might not like the taste or texture.

      Since Heather used a shrink-wrapper, her packages have practically no oxygen in them so her meat is highly unlikely to get freezer burnt before she uses it.

      I buy pork in bulk. The 6 month old cryovac’d meat tasted just as good as when I first got it.

  16. WTG!!! Batch cooking with similar ingredients so you are prepping once for several things is way more efficient. My Dad retired, moved away and had to learn to cook so he discovered batch cooking. He found sectioned trays at Wal-Mart and puts together his month of tv dinners that he reheats in the microwave.

  17. Just a fun/easy tip, you can shread to ton of chicken easily in a kitchenaid mixer. Just put the paddle blade on and mix to the rght consistancy. Super easy!

  18. Great job.Freezer meals have saved the day many times at our house. It is a beautiful thing to come home from a ball game and know that Dinner is Ready!

  19. I have been wanting to do freezer meals for a long time. I love this post!

  20. I defrost mine in the refrigerator. If I’m grilling the chicken, I need to defrost it completely. But the salsa chicken can go in the crock pot if it’s still a little frozen. I hope this is helpful.

  21. To use do you just take out of bags and put into crockpot or oven? Do you defrost them first? We have used Foodsaver bags with pulled pork and heated from frozen in the bags in boiling water but have never done anything else really? I would like to get started but just need some more guidance…apparently I am a bit slow?

  22. I am impressed. I do this on a much smaller scale, of course. Just wanted to put in a plug for the FoodSaver. We are FoodSaver number three. Burned out the first two because we used it so much. Finally upgraded to a “professional” style. Was able to get a great deal on one from the FoodSaver website. About 80% off after sale, coupon code and free shipping. While the initial cost may seem expensive, it is so worth it in the long run. There is so much less food waste. Quite often Fred Meyer has the bags BOGO and RedPlum will have $3.00 off coupons, plus great deals at Costco. Also invested in a deli slicer, so when the blocks of cheese are on sale, we can slice and freeze. Also slice and freeze turkey breast for sandwiches. Love the FoodSaver!!

  23. Wow, I’m so impressed! This is great inspiration. I definitely need to get started on making some more freezer meals. We have a growing family with two young toddlers now, and it could definitely save me time and energy to have a freezer full of freezer meals. Thanks so much!

  24. I purchased the 40 pound of chicken from Zaycon a few weeks ago. I came home and put them in the freezer. Here’s what I did: I had lots of marinades(bought with coupons, of course) and salsa. I put 3-4 chicken breasts in each bag and labeled them. There are bags of honey teriyaki, sesame ginger, salsa and fajita. The fajita marinade I make myself using Dale’s sauce and other spices. The teriyaki and ginger chicken usually are cooked on the grill. And there are enough leftovers to make a stir fry or fried rice for another meal. The salsa chicken is so simple — 2 jars of salsa. When I want this one, I put it in the crock pot with a brick of low fat cream cheese. Once the chicken is cooked, I take it out and shred it and then it goes back into the sauce. Half of the mixture is used for enchiladas and is put in a plastic container. The other half is used for tortilla soup. I add a carton of chicken broth, black beans and corn and heat in the crock pot. then top with cheese and crushed tortilla chips. It is delicious!! Even my picky eaters like it! This has saved me so much time and money. I also kept some of the chicken plain and just put 3-4 breasts in the bag to use for other recipes.

    • I did the same thing with my chicken! I like to buy the marinades on sale (like they are this week), then stock up on meat when it’s available at a good price and freeze pre-marinated meal-size portions in freezer bags until I need them. You can get 4-5 “meals” out of one bottle of marinade, if you just use enough to cover the meat & no more than what you need. I mostly prep chicken breasts & stir-fry, but sometimes beef when I get a good price on it (works great for top round sirloin/London Broil).

      I don’t get too fancy with recipes unless I’m in to the mood to do some cooking. Most of my up front “time investment” is simple prep work.

      A couple other “time & money-savers”: Buy chuck roast and cut it down into 1-inch cubes with a pair of scissors, same with boneless pork loin… I save these for stews or marinate them for use in Chinese food/stir fry or shish kebabs.

      When 93% lean hamburger and/or ground pork sausage goes on sale, I make & freeze meatloaf – make 3-6 loaves hand-shaped on a cookie sheet, wrap in foil or plastic wrap, and freeze in 1 gallon freezer bags. Since they’re already cooked, all you need to do is defrost them and then 10 minutes in the microwave = dinner that night. Not sure the recipe even really matters… I use a take on Alton Brown’s recipe. It’s packed with veggies and there’s a ketchup-based glaze that keeps it moist.

  25. A less expensive option to a generator is a power inverter you run off your car. We’ve had some power outages lately and I have prescription medication that has to be kept refrigerated so my husband bought a power inverter at the local auto parts store for something like $80. We attached it to the car battery and ran an extension cord to the refrigerator and ran the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so every 4-6 hours or if we had to open it to get anything out. The car has to be running while you do it so it’s a bit of a hassle but everything stayed cold and it was a big relief not to have to worry about replacing food and medication.

  26. Loved reading this post, Heather! So many great suggestions here. We also go the ground beef and have been very happy with the quality (and price).

  27. My eldest daughter and i used to do this – same cook book! Such a big help, maybe this summer we can do it again! You will be so blessed from that day of hard work. And everytime you pop a meal out of the freezer you will remember that day that you and your husband spent together!!

  28. We have been doing a lot of freezer cooking and getting together with friends and doing a meal exchange. Each person brings 6 of the same meal, then we trade so that everyone goes home with 6 different meals. It’s a great time and we get yummy meals! I have two kids (almost 4 years & almost 1 year) and in the evenings its really hard to have a healthy meal on the table…but my doing the freezer meals it’s all scratch made and little to no preservatives!!

  29. Something to consider. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty freezer. How to keep it full all the time without constantly going to buy and add more food. Simple. Fill it with bottles of water. It has the added benefit of keeping everything inside cold if the power does go out :)

    • Holly – That’s a great idea! I had never considered that. Our freezer is pretty full, but that would be a great way to “supplement.” Thanks for the idea. :)

      • Felicia Adkins says:

        I love this idea. We have been known to have LONG power outages. We try to keep our freezer stocked, but this would be great in case the power does go out.

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