Freezer Meals that Make Caregiving Easier

freezer meals for caregivers

Caregiving can be incredibly rewarding. It can also be terribly frustrating. One minute you’re feeling in control and on top of things, and the next you’re feeling overwhelmed by so many things to do. You might start to wonder if there are ways to carve more time out of an already too-busy day – because there’s no doubt that when you’re a busy caregiver, every moment counts.

The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that over the last year, 34 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult over the age of 50. This takes up a great deal of time as family caregivers devote an average of 24.4 hours each week to their loved ones. That’s more hours than someone might clock at a part-time job. And those who live with their loved one spend over 40 hours each week devoted to the care of that person.

With so much time involved, is it any wonder that many caregivers are stressed out? About 4 in 10 caregivers say their situation is highly stressful, and somewhere between 40% and 70% of caregivers show signs of depression[1]. The American Psychological Association points out that the mental and emotional strife can spill over to the physical, leaving stressed caregivers at a higher risk of early death.

Given these statistics, it makes sense to do everything you can to relieve some of the caregiving burden. Every bit of time saved or worry relieved can improve your own health just a little bit more. To that end, consider doing things that make your life easier and keep your loved one safer, healthier, and happier.

Provide them with a wide variety of things to do that will keep their mind engaged and their body safe, such as great movies to watch, jigsaw puzzles to put together, or a new hobby that keeps their hands busy, such as crocheting or painting. Keep their safety front and center with aging in place solutions, such as grab bars around the toilet and shower or a medical alert system with fall detection to provide some peace of mind.

And you can make meals easier for yourself, and for them, by making good use of the freezer. Ready-made meals that simply need to be popped into the oven, microwave, or crockpot can relieve the stress of those long days when you can’t imagine finding the energy to cook – or they can give you the peace of mind that your loved one can follow a few simple steps and have dinner on the table with little effort. To get you started, try out these great freezer recipes. They might save your sanity!

Crockpot Beef Stew

This crockpot beef stew is beyond easy to make. Simply place all the ingredients into 2 sturdy zipper bags (doubled up to prevent freezer burn or leaking) and pop it in your freezer. When you’re ready to cook, let the crockpot do all the work.

·         2 lbs. beef stew meat

·         3 carrots, peeled and diced

·         2 celery ribs, cut into small dice

·         1 medium onion, chopped

·         1 tsp. dried thyme

·         1 tsp. dried rosemary

·         1 bay leaf

·         6 cups beef broth

Combine all the ingredients except the broth in a gallon size zipper bag and mark the date on the bag. Press out the air and put the bag into the freezer for up to three months. When you’re ready to cook it, thaw the ingredients overnight in the fridge. Pour the ingredients into the crockpot and add in the beef broth. Set the crockpot to “low” and cook for about eight hours. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Classic Mac & Cheese

There are few things more comforting than a hearty bowl of macaroni and cheese. This version is oven-baked but keeps very well in the freezer.

·         16 ounces elbow pasta

·         ½ stick butter, melted

·         1 cup milk of your choice

·         3 large eggs, beaten well

·         16 ounces mozzarella cheese

·         16 ounces cheddar cheese

·         Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain well, rinse the pasta, and return to the pot. Leave the burner on low heat to help the cheese melt. Stir in the butter, milk, and eggs and mix until they are well-incorporated. Add in the cheese, a bit at a time, until it melts and becomes smooth and creamy.

Spray a foil pan with non-stick cooking spray and pour the macaroni into the pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil or saran wrap and freeze it for up to two months.

To cook the dish, let it warm up slightly from the freezer while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake it for 45 minutes to one hour, until hot and bubbly throughout. Cover the dish with aluminum foil if it starts to brown too much during cooking.

Spicy Chicken Taquitos

If you want a quick bite but don’t want to deal with heating up a casserole dish or using the crockpot, these taquitos are a great answer. Simply pull one or two out of the freezer, heat them up, and you’ve got a healthy meal in minutes.

·         3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded

·         8 ounces cream cheese

·         1 ½ cup shredded cheese of your choice

·         1 small can of green chilies

·         2 tsp. chili powder

·         1 tsp. garlic powder

·         1 tsp. onion powder

·         1 tsp. cumin

·         Lime juice to taste

·         20 small tortillas

Melt the cream cheese in a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Add at least one tbsp. of the mixture to each tortilla and roll them up neatly. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Put them in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until frozen enough to hold their shape. Once they are frozen enough, place them in a gallon zipper bag and return them to the freezer.

When you’re ready to eat them, take out as many as you want to make for that meal. Bake them at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes or until heated through.

Tangy Maple Chicken

With only four ingredients, this recipe seems too easy to taste delicious, but you’ll want to clean your plate and go back for seconds. It doesn’t get easier than this one.

·         2 pounds chicken breasts, sliced into pieces

·         ¾ cup Dijon or stone-ground mustard

·         ¼ cup maple syrup

·         1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Place all ingredients in a gallon zipper bag. Mix together well, double bag to be safe against freezer burn or leakage, and freeze for up to two months.

When ready to make it, remove the bag from the freezer and thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. Pour into a crockpot and cook on “low” for eight hours or “high” for four hours. Serve alongside rice or potatoes (don’t forget to make good use of that savory sauce!).

Birdie Meatballs

Turkey and chicken are the lean protein stars in this recipe. It might take a bit of time to prepare a large batch for freezing, but the results are worth it. When you pull this out of the freezer, you can count on a hearty meal with many leftovers that will keep well for days in the fridge.

·         1 pound ground turkey

·         1 pound ground chicken

·         2 eggs, well-beaten

·         1 cup breadcrumbs

·         3 tbsps. olive oil

·         ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

·         3 cloves minced garlic

·         2 tsps. dried oregano

·         1 tsp. dried thyme

·         1 large sweet onion, sliced thin

·         2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

Blend the turkey and chicken into a large mixing bowl. Blend in the eggs, breadcrumbs, 2 tbsps. olive oil, parmesan, garlic, oregano, and thyme. Mix until the ingredients are just combined. Roll into meatballs about the size of a golf ball.

Brown the meatballs in olive oil. Do this in batches to not crowd the pan. When they are browned, transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet.

Pop into the freezer for at least two hours or until very firm. When they are frozen, place the meatballs into a gallon zipper bag (or two) and keep in the freezer for up to three months.

When ready to eat, place the sliced onion in the bottom of a crockpot. Pour one can of tomatoes on top of the onion. Layer the meatballs in the crockpot, then pour in the second can of tomatoes. Cover and cook on “low” for eight hours.

Healthy Sloppy Joes

Can classic Sloppy Joes be healthy? When you add a secret ingredient, they certainly can be. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, lentils can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, help keep blood glucose under control, and even protect against breast cancer and some digestive diseases. And if you don’t know they are in these Sloppy Joes, you would never guess you were getting such incredible added health benefits!

·         1 tbsp. olive oil

·         1 clove garlic, minced

·         1 Vidalia onion, chopped fine

·         1 green bell pepper, chopped fine

·         1 pound lean ground beef

·         ½ cup dry lentils

·         1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

·         3 ounces tomato paste

·         3 tbsps. apple cider vinegar

·         3 tbsps. brown sugar

·         2 tsps. Dijon mustard

·         1 tsp. chili powder

·         Salt to taste

Cook the lentils in a large pot of water according to package directions. When they are tender, drain them well and set them aside.

Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper to a skillet with the olive oil. Sauté the veggies until they are tender. Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the tomato sauce, paste, vinegar, sugar, chili powder, Dijon, and salt. Stir the mixture well and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so to let the flavors marry. Add in the cooked lentils and heat through.

At this point, you can portion the recipe into small zipper bags – you can put in enough for a family meal or individual portions. When you’re ready to eat the meal, remove a bag from the freezer and let it thaw in the fridge overnight. Pour the Sloppy Joes into a pan to heat over low heat until warm, or pour them into a microwave container for faster heating. Serve over buns.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potato Meals

Why buy frozen meals, loaded with sodium and preservatives, when you can make your own that are much healthier? These traditional meatloaf and mashed potato meals are easy to pop into the microwave when you’re ready for something hearty.

·         1 ½ pounds ground beef

·         3 slices of bread

·         1 large egg, well-beaten

·         2/3 cup milk of your choice

·         1 cup shredded cheese of your choice

·         1 small onion, chopped fine

·         ½ cup carrot, grated fine

·         Prepared mashed potatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Tear the bread into small pieces and place in a blender; pulse the blender until the bread is in coarse crumbs. Stir the egg, milk, crumbs, cheese, onion, and carrot together in a large bowl. Add the beef and mix thoroughly, then transfer to a 9X5-inch loaf pan.

Bake the meatloaf until done – a thermometer placed in the center should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This should take about an hour. Let the meatloaf stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

To freeze the meatloaf into single-serving portions, cut the loaf into slices. Spoon mashed potatoes into a microwave-safe freezer container and add one or two slices of meatloaf. Seal the container and freeze for up to one month. To prepare, simply pull out of the freezer and heat the dish in the microwave.

Sausage Manicotti

This is another very easy recipe with a classic taste that everyone will love. While this calls for being created in a 13X9 dish, you could always make it in two or more dishes for smaller portions.

·         1 pound bulk pork or Italian sausage

·         2 cups cottage cheese (4% or small curd)

·         1 8-ounce package of manicotti shells

·         1 24-ounce jar marinara sauce

·         1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine the sausage and cottage cheese in a large bowl, mixing well to incorporate. Stuff the mixture into uncooked manicotti shells. Line them up in a 13X9 dish and top with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.

At this point, you can cover the dish and freeze it for up to two months.

When ready to eat the manicotti, pull it from the freezer the night prior to cooking to allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 90 minutes. Uncover the dish 10 minutes before the cooking time is up to allow a bit of browning.

Stay Safe in the Kitchen

When you are making these freezer meals, it pays to keep safety first and foremost in your mind. To that end, always keep your knives sharp (a dull knife need more force to cut and thus has more of a chance of sliding off the food and onto your hand). Take care when working with hot pans. Wear close-fitting clothing, avoiding sleeves that hang over the stove and might be a fire risk. Don’t forget to turn off the oven or stove when you’re done using it.

Consider a personal alarm button to wear while you are at home or on the go. Though you might have already thought about a medical alert device for your loved one, have you considered the peace of mind and reassurance it might give you as a caregiver? These senior life-saving alert systems aren’t just for falls – they are there for any emergency that might occur.

Having a button alert pendant, wristband, or watch ensures that your loved one can get help any time they need it if an accident or emergency occurs. Medical alert wireless technology works at home or on the go, so caregivers and their loved ones can rest easy knowing 24/7 protection is always available.