Freezer Friendly Meals – The Perfect Gift for Busy Caregivers

Normally I don’t post recipes that I haven’t tried – it doesn’t seem like an honest commentary. However; while the recipes I am about to share were prepared in my kitchen with the help of my sisters, they aren’t for us to enjoy.  These are freezer friendly meals designed to be made in well in advance of serving.  Think of them as the perfect gift  for a busy family,  a new mother or, in our case, to help ease the stress of a family caregiver.  These nifty meals are designed for the crock-pot or microwave, providing a flavorful supper with little or no fuss for the recipient.

03-22-2010 (4)Just a quick story as to why my sisters and I took on the project of making a “caregivers care package”.  Dad hasn’t been well lately.  It’s been a scary time in our family as our beloved Father has been in and out of the brain trauma hospitals and rehab centers this past month.  I’m not going share a lot of personal information here except to say that his wife, Sue, has been on one heck of a roller-coaster ride.  She has spent more time in the hospitals and centers than she has at home.  (“Home” for them is a small farm in the country – so even the simplest errand involves a trip to town).  With Dad’s health issues, Sue hasn’t had the time nor energy to run to the grocery store. The freezers, pantry and refrigerators were looking pretty bare.  And even if they had been bursting at the seams with supplies, who had time to cook a decent meal?  Such is the life of caregivers – so often too busy caring for others that they forget to care for themselves – failing to take the time to eat properly, or to rest and recharge.

dad-sueNow that Dad is home again, Sue has her hands full with his care, dealing with the in-home physical therapy and countless followup visits with an army of specialists. My sisters and I decided the best way we could help Sue care for our dad would be to make the meal preparation as easy as possible for her.  So it was with that goal in mind that we spent a Saturday creating zip lock bags of crock-pot friendly dinners.

My sister, Linda, did the research.  She then sent my sister Anne and I a few great ideas via Pinterest (Freezer Crock-pot recipes she found at lovingmynest.com). From there, we held a planning committee meeting and narrowed down our selection to four recipes from the Pinterest site.  We also elected to make up two more meal recipes on our own to add to the mix.  (Dad loves Chinese food, Sue doesn’t.  So in addition to the zip lock crock-pot dinners, we made some pasta and rice bowls that could be popped in the microwave.  Italian for Sue, Chinese for Dad, so everyone is happily fed).

These recipes were super easy to prepare.  Let me tell you, if Sue’s reaction is typical, these make greatly appreciated gifts for the overwhelmed caregivers in your life.  And it was such fun for me to spend the day with my wonderful sisters, shopping, chopping and freezing the day away.  It was reminiscent of when we still all lived at home.  Dad would have a family meeting of sorts (daughters only) – to work out the details of the week’s menu plan.  Each of us chose a meal to prepare, but often we worked together because it was so much more fun that way.  Aren’t sisters great?

When it came to our caregivers care packages, what seemed to work best for us was to do all the chopping at once – each of us taking a different vegetable to chop.  The chopped vegetables were then divided into the appropriate bags according to recipe.

Oh, and one more thing – label your bags with the recipe’s name and cooking instructions BEFORE filling.  That way everyone helping knows what goes into which bag and it makes life so much easier for the person on the receiving end.

Bean Stew
1 Cup Dry Beans, picked over and rinsed (we used Red Kidney Beans)
2 Medium Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 Small Onion, chopped
3 tablespoons uncooked rice (we used long-grain white rice)
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1 Pinch ground white or black pepper
6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth (add to crock pot when cooking)

Combine ingredients in a gallon zip lock bag (minus the broth). Remove as much air as possible from bag, lay flat and freeze. When ready to make, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Empty contents of bag into crock pot and pour broth over mixture. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Serving: 4-5

1507560_477995295635198_3226188_nMeat Stew
2 lbs Stew Meat (beef, pork, whatever is on sale), cut into cubes
2 Onions, chopped
5 Carrots, sliced
3 Zucchini, sliced
2 Celery stalks, chopped
6 small Baby Potatoes, washed and cut in half
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 Can (14 oz) Tomatoes
1 Can (8 oz) Tomato Sauce

Put all ingredients in a large zip lock bag and freeze. Thaw bag, add contents to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serving: 5-6

Pork & Veggies
1 lb Pork Roast or Tenderloin, cut into ½ inch strips
1 Onion, chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, sliced
4 Carrots, sliced
½ lb Fresh Mushrooms, sliced
1 Can (8 oz) Tomato Sauce
1 ½ Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large zip lock bag, freeze. Thaw contents of bag, place in crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve hot over steamed rice.

Servings: 5-6

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Creamy Farmhouse Chicken & Garden Soup
½ Package (16 oz) Frozen Mixed Vegetables
1 Cup Frozen Corn
1 Zucchini, sliced
2 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
½ teaspoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup Frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley flakes
2 tablespoons butter, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 Can (14 oz) Chicken Broth
1 Cup Half-and-half
3 Cups Prepared Noodles (Any Style to create noodle soup)

Place all the ingredients EXCEPT broth, milk and noodles in a zip lock bag. Freeze bag until ready to cook. Thaw, place in the crock pot. Add broth and milk. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Just before serving, add 3 cups of prepared noodles and stir.

Serving: 7-8

Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowls
1 ½ Cups Cooked Chicken (Costco Rotisserie Cooked Breast meat works well)
3 Cups Cooked Long Grain White Rice
1 ½ Cups Frozen Mixed Vegetables (Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower – whatever blend you like)
1 Bottle Teriyaki Glaze (or home made)

Steam rice and allow to cool to room temperature. Divide rice between 3 freezer-proof bowls with fitted lids. Divide chicken among bowls. Top chicken with vegetables. Pour glaze over vegetables, toss to blend. Seal bowls and freeze. Warm in microwave, about 6-8 minutes, stirring mid-way through.

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Lasagna- Ravioli
1 large package Ravioli (desired filling)
1 Jar Marinara Sauce
2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Par-boil Ravioli, about 2 minutes. Drain and let cool. Divide ravioli between three containers. In each container, layer ravioli, sauce, cheese, repeat with 2nd layer, ending with cheese. Cover and freeze. To serve, either transfer to oven-proof container and bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes until heated through, warm and bubbling or place in microwave for 6-8 minutes, until heated through.

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