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Less stress at mealtimes

By Staff | Sep 14, 2012

WITH A BUSY fall harvest season ahead, Deb Pontius, of Gowrie, has decided to prepare and freeze meals ahead of time in order to help lessen the stresses of feeding her family after working long hours at West Central Cooperative in Boxholm.



GOWRIE – Being prepared and stocked up on meals in the freezer for an upcoming busy harvest season, is just one way to lessen the stresses of many rural Iowan families and one Gowrie-area mother is looking forward to that pay off.

It was after visiting with a friend’s fall preparedness that peaked Deb Pontius’ interest for her family this year.

Pontius took some time over the year picking out recipes and researching meals to freeze and organized them in to a binder, making them easily accessible.

Deb Pontius

A sales and service representative for West Central Cooperative, in Boxholm, will soon be busy working and Pontius has two of her three sons still at home. She said she especially wanted to be prepared and have that stress of worrying about what they would have for supper lessened to a minimum.

“When you work seven to seven, six days a week and longer some days, then have homework to help with when I get home, it will be nice to have meals prepared,” she said.

Pontius decided to start preparing meals a few months ago, which should make for the timely consumption of the meals before they hit the suggested six months mark for being frozen too long.

In addition to freezer meals, Pontius has used her slow cooker frequently in order to have a meal ready shortly after arriving home. She also plans to use it with her made-ahead frozen meals this year.

Pontius said she will take a meal out of the freezer the night before so it can thaw in the refrigerator during the day. Her boys can then bake it when they get home and are ready for their supper.

One piece of advice Pontius gives for freezing meals is, “Just be organized,” she said, “and know what you have in the freezer.”

Pontius has learned through her research while preparing to meals in advance that when freezing cooked dishes, to slightly under cook casseroles or lasagna. Also, going from the freezer to the oven, one must increase cooking time. Uncooked casseroles can also be frozen.

She has read that sour cream, cooked potatoes and pasta do not freeze well and those are ingredients that should be added to dishes after taking out of the freezer.

Meals should be stored in freezer bags, wrapped in several layers of tin foil or plastic containers.

Pontius has just moved onto her family’s farm – being the third generation of her family to live there – back to her childhood home where her cooking experience began.

“Being the oldest of four daughters, I had to help Mom in the kitchen,” she said.

Pontius has instilled her cooking knowledge into her boys.

“I think it’s important for them to know how to cook,” she said.

In addition to working eight years for West Central Cooperative, Pontius is also a 4-H leader for the Cedar Reading Rockers in Calhoun County and is a member of the Xi Eta Sigma Sorority in Gowrie.

Breakfast burritos

Choose from cooked sausage, cooked and crumbled bacon, chopped ham

Shredded cheese


Large soft tortillas

Select toppings, scramble eggs and set up an assembly line. Placing tortillas on a cutting board, build burritos with cheese, egg and meat. Fold the sides of the tortilla and tightly roll the burrito up.

To freeze, place rolled burrito on lined baking sheet with seam side down. Flash freeze for an hour, remove and individually wrap burritos in plastic wrap and place in Ziploc bag.

To warm, unwrap and warm up in microwave.

Big batch freezer

cinnamon rolls

Mix three cups hot water with three tablespoons of yeast and 3/4 cup of sugar. Let sit a couple minutes to activate yeast.

Add two cups flour and mix.

Add 1/4 cup oil, one teaspoon salt, three eggs and mix.

Add seven cups flour, mix and knead until all of the flour is incorporated and dough isn’t sticky.

Set dough in a large greased bowl. Let rise and double.

Divide dough in half, roll out one half into a long rectangle.

Spread with softened butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon. Roll up.

Floss the roll into 18 pieces. Lay them in a pan and freeze them immediately.

Once frozen, bag your rolls and stick them back in freezer.

To bake, simply place the desired number of rolls on a pan and set out overnight covered with lightweight towel.

When ready to use, bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.


1/4 cup melted butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 tablespoon milk

Sifted powdered sugar

Mix and frost rolls.

Freezer meatballs/meat loaf recipe

3 pounds of ground beef

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

3 1/2 cups milk

1 cup minced onion

2 eggs

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients. Divide into two foil loaf pans (9-by-5-by-3-inches). Wrap, label and freeze.

On cooking day, remove from freezer and unwrap 1 1/2 hours before cooking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and cook for 2 1/2 hours.

To shorten cooking time, remove from freezer in the morning and check for doneness after one hour.

Or divide and make into meatballs, cook, let cook and flash freeze on cooking sheet, then wrap and label.

Slow cooker French onion meatballs

1 24-ounce package of precooked frozen meatballs (or make your own and freeze)

2 10.5-ounce cans of condensed French onion soup

Put the package of meatballs into the crockpot and pour soup over top. Cook on low for four hours or high for two hours.

Slow cooker Hawaiian meatballs

32 ounce package of precooked, frozen meatballs (or make your own and freeze)

13.5 ounce can of unsweetened pineapple chunks with juice set aside

1 large green pepper, diced

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2/3 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Place meatballs in crock pot and top with green pepper and drained pineapple chunks.

In a separate bowl, mix reserved pineapple juice, brown sugar , cornstarch, vinegar and soy sauce.

Pour sauce over meatballs, pineapple and green peppers. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours until heated through. Serve over rice.

Frozen beef stew

1 cup diced onion

3 cups beef broth

2 cups diced carrots

1 cup cubed red potato

1 cup green beans

2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

1 1/2 beef stew meat, browned

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients into a one-gallon Ziploc freezer bag removing all excess air and freeze.

Crock pot directions:

To serve, thaw completely in refrigerator and cook in crock pot for 6 to 8 hours

Stove directions:

To serve, thaw completely in refrigerator and cook on stove, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer 30 to 45 minutes until vegetables are cooked through.

Serves four

PB and J uncrustables


Peanut butter


Cover on side of each slice of bread with peanut butter, being sure to go to the edge. Then put jam or jelly on half of the slices, leaving about an inch from the edge on all sides. Put sandwich together and use rim of cup to cut and pinch edges together.

Put in baggies and freeze. On lunch day, simply pull a frozen sandwich and put in lunchbox, and by lunch, the sandwich should be thawed.

“Our school is peanut free,” Pontius said, “so these are more of a snack for field work, my lunch or toss a few in the fridge in the morning for an after-school snack. If I make them ahead of time, at least I don’t come home to jelly all over the counter.

Sausage and pepper penne

1 pound smoked sausage, diced

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

12 ounce penne or any pasta

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

26 ounces pasta sauce

Cook pasta according to package directions. In a large skillet, brown sausage, peppers and onion, add pasta sauce. Drain pasta and mix with sauce and add cheese.

Freezer directions:

After mixing with sauce, portion into freezer containers and sprinkle with cheese. Cover, label and freeze.

To serve, thaw. Reheat in oven or microwave until heated through.

Quick frozen mini pizzas

(Easy snack or for lunches)

English muffins, mini bagels or hard rolls

Pizza sauce

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Pizza toppings

Place bread of choice on cookie sheet. Spread sauce over bottom, sprinkle with cheese and add toppings of choice.

Flash freeze on cookie sheet. Then place in Ziploc freezer bags. When ready to eat, bake at 375 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Chicken spaghetti


1 whole cut up fryer chicken

1/2 cup butter

16 ounces white mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup dry white wine

Kosher salt and pepper

1/4 cup flour

2 cups chicken broth (reserved from chicken or canned)

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup (additional) dry white wine

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup whole black olives, chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra cheese for topping

1 pound thin spaghetti

Place chicken in a pot of water and boil on medium-to-low heat for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool slightly. Keep broth in pot.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Throw in mushrooms, add 1/4 cup white wine and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until liquid has totally evaporated. Remove mushrooms from skillet. Set aside.

Bring broth to a boil. Break spaghetti into short pieces. Add spaghetti pieces to boiling broth and cook. Drain when al dente. Remove meat from bones and shred until you have 2 cups of shredded chicken.

Return to large skillet to medium-low heat. Add six tablespoons butter. Sprinkle flour over butter, whisking to combine. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in 2 cups broth and whisk to combine. Pour in milk, additional 1/4 cup of wine, salt and pepper to taste, then cook and bubble until thick. Turn off heat, add Parmesan cheese and stir.

Add mushrooms, chicken and chopped olives. Stir to combine and check seasonings. Add cooked spaghetti and stir. Turn into a 9-by-13-inch pan or small portions if freezing.

At this point, wrap, label and freeze or bake at 350 degrees or until golden brown and bubbly.

Taco casserole

1 pound ground beef or pork

1 medium green pepper, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup chunky salsa

15 ounces plus an 8-ounce can tomato sauce

15 ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

7 flour tortilla shells

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Brown meat with pepper, onion and garlic powder. Drain. Add beans, tomato sauce, salsa, cumin and salt, simmer 10 minutes.

Layer like lasagna beginning with a little meat mixture to coat the bottom, then half the tortilla shells (they fit better in the pan if cut in half). Then half the meat mixture, 1/2 the cheese and repeat.

Cover and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees, remove foil and bake an additional five minutes. Let stand before serving, top with lettuce, sour cream and fresh tomato or salsa.

If you freeze, don’t bake, just put in the freezer well wrapped. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly, remove cover and bake an additional five minutes. Can also remove from freezer before going to work, place in fridge to thaw and bake for regular amount of time.

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