I have tried a few different methods so I will share the one that works best for me. I will warn you, if you do it this way it will take a little while to build up a stock pile so that you have a diverse selection of food in your freezer. But I have tried the method where you cook tons of different meals all in one day and I find that it is: A) really confusing to shop for B) not very cost effective and C) exhausting.
So here is what I do:
I cook once a week (sometimes less) and I only cook one recipe at a time. I simply take a recipe and times it by 4 to 6 (we are a family of three, I would do more for a bigger family). We eat the meal the night I cook and then divide out into meal sized portions and freeze the rest. Shopping is so easy because you only have to shop for one recipe at a time! It's also more cost effective because the more you buy of an ingredient the cheaper it is usually. Cooking is pretty much just like any other night but you just make MORE.
People always say..."Don't you get sick of eating the same thing so many days in a row?" Here's the thing...WE DON'T. This is why I was saying earlier it takes a little while to get a stock pile built up in your freezer, but eventually, after you have cooked enough different meals, you are eating something different every night.
For best results allow your food to cool before freezing.
There are 3 different kinds of containers I use for freezing.
1. If it is a casserole or pasta type of meal I get aluminum containers. This way the food can go straight from the freezer to the oven, to our bellies. No need to thaw and very little clean up! Make sure the containers you use are air tight or the food wont last very long in the freezer. Casserole or pasta dishes are also great in freezer containers (#3).
2. If it is a soup I use usually use freezer bags. It is worth the investment to get the quality brand of bags, they are much sturdier. Make sure and release the extra air from the bag before freezing for optimal freshness. Hint: Be careful of the surface you set the freezer bag with liquid contents on. I learned the hard way that the grated shelves like to hang on to your frozen soup and not let go. :)
3. If it is a meat with marinade type of meal I usually use freezer containers. These are great because they stack nicely and can be re-used. If you tend to need to speed thaw in the microwave these containers are great.
Thawing and re-heating:
Most meals I like to thaw at room temperature for about 4-5 hours before re-heating or thaw on 50% power in the microwave. Then I heat it up either on the stove top or in the oven. I often freeze cassarole and pasta type dishes in aluminum containers that can go right into the oven, I usually re-heat them at 325 degrees for 2 hours. This works for me because my husband works from home and can stick the food in the oven 2 hours before dinner time. If I am on my own I have to thaw these dishes first so they can re-heat in the oven in about 30 minutes or speed thaw in the microwave.
Label EVERYTHING! Label what it is and the date you cooked it. You can also note anything that needs to be added or special re-heating instructions if necessary. (I try to freeze everything so there is NOTHING left to do on re-heating day). When I first started I thought I would recognize everything and remember the order I froze it, etc. Boy was I wrong. Frozen stuff all looks the same. :) I also like to keep a master list of everything I cooked and the amount I froze so I can cross meals off the list as we eat them. My list looks something like this:
Baked Ziti 6/15/10 -
White Chili 7/1/10 -
Honey Pork Chops 7/20/10 -
I try to use up all of a meal within 6 months and by staying organized I can make sure not to waste anything.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes (in my experience these all freeze, thaw and re-heat deliciously):
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Honey Pork Chops
Cafe Rio Sweet Pork
Easy Cheesy Lasagna
Cream Cheese Chicken Rolls
Delicious Tomato Bisque
Poppy seed chicken
Chicken Alfredo Pizza