5 Awesome Easy to Freeze Meals

by Elizabeth Lang on 30 January 2010 30 comments
Photo: MoonSoleil

Knowing that I'd be short on time as a first year law student, my mom offered to help me cook in bulk at the beginning of fall semester. The batch method proved to be a lifesaver by the time finals rolled around (and I'm still feasting on a few of the items).

Here are 5 of my favorite easy to freeze meals. Make these recipes ahead of time and you'll be incredibly grateful when life gets busy.

1. Meat Loaf in Muffin Tins

Use any of your favorite meat loaf recipes (mine happens to be a sweeter version with ketchup and brown sugar like this one). When you bake the meat loaf, cook it in muffin tins instead of a regular pan. Be sure to cut down on cooking time to account for the smaller portions.

2. Lasagna

Like the meat loaf, there's a great freezing trick. Cook the lasagna. Then chill it in the refrigerator overnight. Finally, cut it into individual pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and then freeze.

Make a vegetable based lasagna to even out the meat dishes. Check out these recipes: cheese vegetable lasagna or artichoke spinach lasagna.

3. Chicken Curry

Chicken curry and rice an be cooked ahead of time then packaged and stored in small containers. I save plastic parmesean cheese or salsa containers for this purpose. Just be sure to cook on a plate so that you don't melt the plastic.

My favorite chicken curry recipe happens to be this one:

4 T butter
6 T flour
2 T curry (use a gourmet curry such as one from Penzeys)
3 c chicken broth
1 c cream
1 c chutney (major grey's is good)
4 cooked chicken breasts, diced

Melt butter, add flour and cook until smooth. Add curry, broth chicken and chutney and cook until heated through. Add cream and cook until hot and thickened (do not boil).

When you put together the individual services add some toppings — raisins, peanuts, and coconut are my favorites.

4. Chili

In the middle of sub-zero January temperatures few dishes taste better than chili. Like the curry, you can freeze in smaller containers, throw on some toppings, and then when the going gets tough, dig in. For all you Purdue fans, I've made this chili and it's amazing.

5. Breakfast Muffins

Don't forget about breakfast. Make one of these healthy bran muffins or banana muffins recipes and store them in your freezer. Grab one on your way out the door and it will be thawed by the time you get to work or school.

What are your favorite easy to freeze recipes? Do you have any tips on preparing for individual size portions?

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Guest's picture

Kalyn's Kitchen has a great recipe for Egg Muffins (South Beach friendly, and adapted from that original recipe). Can be frozen and popped into the microwave each morning. My teenage son likes them too.

http://kalynskitchen.blogspot.com/2006/10/egg-muffins-revisited-again.html

Guest's picture
josh anthony

I have to be honest. Every time I read an article like this I tend to cringe a little. I mean freezing leftovers is one thing but to make that your plan to start? Would you go to a restaurant and pay for food that was frozen and thawed out? Of course not and you shouldn't. The best solution to not having time to cook a fresh delicious and healthy meal is to make it a priority and learn to enjoy the process. If every american family spent a half an hour more a day cooking and a half an hour less watching TV we'd all be much happier and healthier.

Guest's picture
Guest

By making and freezing meals like this you are avoiding giving into fast food. And, I'm pretty sure this is much healthier (and tastes better despite being frozen.) And, as a law student (grad student/full time undergrad working 30 hours a week), there isn't always even a half hour of tv to give up for cooking.

Guest's picture
lynette

to be honest, most items you eat at a restaurant have been frozen before. Survey the restaurant if you don't believe. Freezing meals makes smart sense actually. Not for everyone and I understand that.

Guest's picture
Guest

Restaurants that serve frozen, pre-processed nasty food; Applebee’s, Chili’s, Olive Garden, TGIF, Cheddars,O'Charleys....the list can go on, and i wont eat at any of them. Most of the above restaurants food comes already put together. Even the pasta is already cooked, just add suace in a can, heat and charge $10!

You get what you pay for.

Guest's picture
Guest

There may be good reasons for needing to make meals ahead of time. Working hard on a law degree is a bit different from wasting time watching TV. Personally, I came across this article because I am going to be without an oven for a short period of time due to building work. I want ideas for tasty, healthy meals I can make, freeze & reheat to feed my family so that we don't have to resort to shop-bought ready meals or takeaways.

Guest's picture
Amedy

great tips Love it

Guest's picture

Sorry, I just can't eat frozen leftovers.

Guest's picture
Bijan's mom

Well, I really admire Elizabeth (and her mom!) for having the foresight to do this! I remember my college eating habits, ugh! Last minute Kraft macaroni, Jack-in-the-box drive-thru, just awful stuff. Your organizational skills in your cooking AND studies (no doubt!) are to be applauded! Good luck with law school! Everyone else, be kind!

Guest's picture

I think this is a fabulous idea. For those of us who are watching our weight, pre-portioned servings also make it much easier to make sure the amounts we are eating are appropriate.

Guest's picture
Guest

I had to laugh about your meatloaf, I do the same thing! I just cook for me and my DH, so we don't need the larger loaf. I use a recipe from Kraft's website - http://www.kraftcanada.com/en/recipes/barbq-style-meatloaf-minis-111404....

I like it because you can make variations, the mexican style one is nice, especially when you have just a bit of salsa left in the jar.

Guest's picture
Guest

These are some really good suggestions. I find that working full time and having a family of four does warrant eating "frozen" meals sometimes. But they are often very delicious.

I currently have 470k worth of debt - Follow my journey to financial freedom

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

i used to make bisquick dough biscuit pot pies in a muffin tin. i haven't thought about this in years as i now have a lot more cooking time on my hands, only working one job instead of one full time and one part time.

[any biscuit dough would work, i just happened to use bisquick at the time]

mix the dough and separate off a third and set aside
press the dough into greased muffin tin about a third of the way up the sides, making sure there are no holes

pop into the oven at 350ish for about 5-10 minutes to give the base a headstart

i did different versions:

mix together:

1. cooked chicken, diced or shredded
condensed cream of chicken soup [or mushroom, celery, etc] OR chicken gravy

2. cooked beef
gravy OR tomato sauce OR A1

add to either meat/sauce combo:
cooked potatoes, diced
frozen peas/carrots [you don't need to thaw them for this]

spoon the filling to about halfway full
press out circles of dough a little larger than the muffin holes, lay over the filling and tuck down [i used a spoon handle]

if you have it, a little shredded cheese worked into the dough is tasty too.

freeze in a gallon ziploc and heat as needed

Guest's picture
catastrophegirlc

and of course i forgot to put in the bit about actually COOKING them before freezing.
since the ingredients are all cooked, you just cook as long as the biscuit recipe calls for or until the tops are golden brown.

i tended to save leftovers for filling, or cook two chicken breasts for dinner instead of one and using the second one for pot pies.

Guest's picture

I see your point here, and while I do not condone fast food, sometimes in the spirit of time I go pick some up. To me the taste would be a little better than frozen left overs (nutritional value aside).

Several fast food joints have dollar menus which are great. Also, Little Ceaser's has a large pizza for around $6 bucks. That can be 2-3 meals in itself.

If you want to go a little healthier, I often get can of soup for lunch at work. Something like a can of Healthy Request soup and a package of peanut butter and crackers makes a quick and easy meal that is not that bad for you.

Guest's picture
Guest

Sardines and crackers work too, except for the smell!

Guest's picture

What I also like to do is to freeze "bases" for future meals. If I am making a chicken dish that calss for a pound of sauteed chicken pieces, I usually sautee off about three pounds, divide up the extra two pounds into 1 pound containers, and then use those for future dishes.

It cuts down on the prep time significantly.

Julie Rains's picture

I think that freezing homemade meals is a great way to save time and money, and get far better nutrition than fast foods and most restaurant meals (unless you dine at restaurants that purchase items daily rather than weekly) and, as many people already know, frozen vegetables are often just as (or more) nutritious than produce at the grocery store that has been transported from miles away and has been sitting around for a few days.

I do admire those who are able to shop daily for fresh, locally grown food and quickly prepare meals every day. My option though is to get the fresh foods and then prepare some meals daily and others ahead of time and preserve them through freezing. Thanks for the recipes!

 

 

Guest's picture

I appreciated these recipes. I am an older man (65) live alone and always looking for something other than canned chili mixed with rice, that I can take out of the freezer and pop into the microwave for dinner. Recently a friend offered me the remains of a chicken that he and his grandson had partially devoured. I graciously accepted it, put into a pot, added some stock, frozen veggies, rice and froze the chicken soup and have been eating chicken soup for lunch now when its been cold here in FL. (Watching for bones in the process, LOL)

I cannot afford to go out to eat, but I may be able to freeze ahead several meals. Once again, thanks.

Guest's picture
ctreit

Tamales are great to freeze, too. When I make tamales I make a big batch with different spices so that I have a variety of tamales in the freezer. These things keep for 6 months easily.

Guest's picture
Laura

I have to laugh at the people who are grossed out by "frozen leftovers". Have you ever bought a frozen Stauffer's lasagna? What about one of those meal-in-a-bag stews? A frozen pizza? That's exactly what this is, except those of us who do it make our own frozen convenience foods, out of fresh, delicious ingredients, in our own kitchens. I'm a medical student, and a couple times a week I make something that I can prepare extra of, and freeze - that way, when I start studying for board exams this spring and am really short on time, we'll still have healthy, homecooked meals to eat.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Freezing fully-prepped food is in no way always subpar to cooking fresh.  Like Julie said, there are nutritional benefits to doing so:  cooking a casserole with fresh broccoli the day you pick it up from the store and then freezing it can be far more nutritious than letting that same broccoli sit even 2 or 3 days in your fridge before cooking a "fresh" meal -- as nutrition lessons quickly during the time you let it sit in the fridge.

There are also some delicious side affects of freezer cooking.  I often buy fresh meats and drench them in homemade marinades before popping them in the freezer.  Not only does it allow me to be on the ball for drop-in guests who show up and expect a little more than "take out," but it allows the meats to be infused with the fresh herbs and spices during the time it's in the freezer.  The flavor can't be beat!

To the commenters who somehow think that freezer cooking always equates to "leftovers," many recipes allow you to cook a meal partially and then freeze, leaving the remaining steps, garnishes, and fresh additions for after you've thawed it.  This is a sort-of hybrid technique that is mentioned in many of the popular batch cooking books available online.  It's not really a leftover, because you haven't cooked it all the way (and you haven't already eaten it, either.)

FYI -  Freezer cooking can be a wonderful way to extend your hospitality and give back to the community as well!  When a family friend was in the hospital and her hubby had  a hard time getting hot meals on the table for the kids while working his grueling 12-hour shifts, he really appreciate our "frozen-ahead of time" lasagna.  Do you think they knew the difference?  NO.  We heated it up, paired it with a loaf of french bread and a nice tossed salad, and they were so grateful for the hot AND delicious meal.  Sometimes, a little foresight can do more than benfit your own family -- it can help others, too!

Great article, Elizabeth!!!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

is absolutely gorgeous. It is going to be one of the hardest things for me to personally give up when I eventually go Vegan.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am a huge fan of home cooking.... stews, soups, casseroles, etc. My husband hates eating leftowvers for lunch the next day, so I started making an extra batch of whatever I'm preparing at the time and portioning it out into individual servings. Now when I go to fix his lunch the next day I can pull out something from a couple of weeks or so ago and it's not the same thing he had for dinner the night before. He used to laugh at me for doing this, but when I had to go into the hospital suddenly and spent several days there, he was grateful, because all he had to do was thaw & heat some of the prepared stuff for him and the kids. It's also great to have some extra casseroles & such on hand for those times that you want to do something nice for someone else. Just remember to clearly label and date what each package is. Some foods DO lose nutironal value if frozen too long!

Guest's picture

Here's another great way for me to save both time and money! Thanks, I'm going to try this this week!

Guest's picture
Ann Marie

For slightly more work than reheating in the microwave: we've found that making a big batch of homemade ravioli or tortellini and freezing it in individual portions is much cheaper, tastier, and faster than using pre-packaged ravioli or plain dried pasta.
You can make your own simple dough or use thin wonton wrappers. The filling possibilities are endless. Once they're frozen - spread out on a pan and individually frozen before packaging to avoid stickiness - they only take 5-7 minutes in boiling water, about half the time of dried pasta.

Guest's picture
Robert

The muffins idea is fantastic. I think I'll try that one.

Guest's picture
3DGFX

Lol. Im a cook at a cafe. I have about 8 minutes to cook the food before these rough neck customers start getting mad. Some of the stuff takes longer than 8 minutes to cook and I dont care about how good it taste when Im under pressure. My boss and the other cook is the same way. Some food is too low of a volume to keep in the frige because it will go bad in a few days.

I freeze food in small portions at 0 degrees and use a 1000 watt microwave.
Frozen always taste better because I can spend more time cooking it when bussiness is slow. All I care about is the 8 minute rule, quality and safety. Freezing is the only way to go on low volume food.

I worked at Grimmway Frozen Foods as a computer automation tech. It was the worlds largest industrial freezer plant. Blanching veggies makes last much longer fozen but that is what takes away flavor not the freezing. The faster you freeze it the better it taste. If you dont have a freezer tunnel at -40 degrees, try small portions will freeze faster in your home freezer.

Some veggies require blanching. Just boil in water for about 15-20 minutes only long enough to kill the plant cells but not hurt the flavor to much.
Always blanch Potatoes before freezing. They taste better blanched anyway.

Guest's picture
Linda

I know this is an older post but I saw it in the top section on the main page and had to read it. I'm on a biz frozen meal kick right now and you're idea for meat loaf in muffin tins is golden. Thanks for the tip!

Guest's picture
NE Kelly

I use the free self adhesive gift tags that I receive from various charities to label my leftovers and date them. It makes rotating and inventory of your stock so much easier.

We make a pan of lasagnae for dinner, then cut and freeze the leftovers in individual servings for lunches. If we didn't do this, the two of us would get sick of eating the same thing for several days in a row.

We also make batches of breakfast burritos and freeze them for quick and easy breakfasts or lunches. It saves us a ton of money not having to buy overpriced or unhealthy food because we were too tired or lazy to cook.