HAPPY FRIDAY!!!! Today I want to chat about an awesome sanity-saver for busy lives.
Sometimes we have time to sit down as a family to eat dinner, but I don’t have time during the day to actually make dinner.
Sometimes unexpected things happen to where I don’t have time to make the dinner I had planned to make.
Sometimes I have a friend in need, and I want to send over a home-cooked meal but I don’t have time to make one.
Sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking! (Can you believe that?!)
Freezer meals are the answer!
There are a couple of ways to do freezer meals, but the easiest in my opinion is to double your dinner recipe to make two of the same dish. Cook one for dinner; freeze the other. Almost any meal can be converted into a freezer meal with the right tools and practices.
First, you’ll need some type of container in which to freeze your meal. What you use depends on your preference and what you are freezing.
Here’s my breakdown of the three types of containers I use for freezing:
Aluminum baking dishes
PROS: Easy clean up. Easy to transport. Can put frozen meal directly into oven without thawing. If you are a Costco member, you can get a ton of aluminum baking dishes for an insanely low price as compared to buying the same containers elsewhere. Gotta love Costco!
CONS: One time use. Some people try to avoid using aluminum when cooking due to concerns over excessive aluminum leaching into food.
Glass baking dishes/Mason jars
PROS: Reusable. Glass is extremely non-reactive so there’s no worries with leaching chemicals.
CONS: Glass could be considered expensive compared to the other options, but you can use them indefinitely.
You probably shouldn’t take these out of the freezer and then put them directly in a heated oven. I’ve read that some people take them from the freezer and put them directly in an unheated oven, but even that seems a little risky to me. The last thing I want is my dinner in the bottom of the oven with a shattered glass dish. I prefer to thaw meals in glass containers completely in the fridge and then bake or reheat.
Ziploc Freezer bags
PROS: Space-saving when you lie them flat to freeze. Relatively inexpensive.
CONS: One time use. Some people try to avoid plastics due to concerns about unsafe chemicals leaching into foods.
Some meals to consider freezing:
- Fajitas (Freeze raw sliced meat in marinade along with the veggies)
- Mac n cheese
- Any casserole-type recipe
- Sandwiches (OMG, did you know you can freeze PB&J?? YES, YOU CAN AND YOU SHOULD. Just put them in your lunchbox in the morning, and they’ll thaw by lunch! Same goes for frozen meat and cheese sandwiches! Skip the veggies when freezing, and pack those separately to add after thawing!)
- Oatmeal (Freeze a big batch of oatmeal in single servings and reheat for breakfast!)
- Pancakes/waffles/french toast/muffins
- Cakes, cupcakes, icing/frosting (Yes, even icing!)
- Cookies, cookie dough, brownies, pies
In addition to whole meals, you can also freeze parts of meals. For example:
- Seasoned or plain ground meat
- Shredded meat
- Marinated meats (Freeze the meat with the marinade, and it will marinate the entire time it thaws)
- Cooked beans (I buy dried beans in bulk, cook them, then freeze them. Add them to soups or other dishes, or use as a side)
- Diced/Shredded veggies (onions, peppers, carrots, zucchini, etc)
- Pasta sauces and pesto
- Mashed potatoes
- Cooked rice (Freeze plain rice, and add it to dishes or reheat as a side dish)
- Cooked quinoa (Freeze plain quinoa, and add it to dishes or reheat as a side. FUN TRICK: I use frozen quinoa in my SMOOTHIES (!) for extra protein.)
- Cheese (Shredded, sliced, etc)
- Pie crust
- Butter (I know this isn’t really a part of a meal. My children eat butter as if it were a meal on its own AND you can freeze it, so I threw it in the list for good measure.)
Although most foods can be frozen, there are a few things that you may want to avoid freezing in a meal:
- Fresh greens – A salad is not going to be a good freezer meal! EXCEPTION: I’ve found that you CAN freeze uncooked fresh spinach and kale for smoothies! That’s a nice trick to have up your sleeve when you buy kale in bulk, right?!
- Cucumber – just no.
- Whole or chopped potatoes – Freezing changes the texture, making them not as appetizing.
- Sour cream, mayonnaise, or dairy-based dishes – These can separate upon thawing, making the final dish watery.
How to cook a meal that has been frozen:
The best option is to thaw the meal in the refrigerator a day or two before needing it. If you have a meal in a Ziploc bag, you can always thaw it by filling the sink with water and changing the water out every 20 minutes or so.
You can also cook meals straight from the freezer too. I would avoid pulling glass from the freezer and putting it into the oven. However, metal or aluminum pans can go right into the oven from the freezer. You’ll need to cook the meal much longer than whatever your recipe calls for.
For instance, a frozen lasagna will take about 1.5 hours in the oven whereas a non-frozen lasagna will take about 30 minutes. You can try increasing the oven temperature to try to get it to cook faster. However, from my experience, it’s going to take more time since it is frozen no matter what you do.
If you are pressed for time, it’s probably better to choose a freezer meal that is quick to thaw rather than trying to cook from frozen.
- If you have previously frozen raw meat, you should cook it before refreezing.
- One of the biggest things to keep in mind when freezing a meal is to make sure to remove all the air from Ziploc bags and to wrap dishes tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to where air cannot reach the food.
- Labeling your frozen meals can be useful if you plan to make it a habit. Keeping a list somewhere so that you don’t forget what you’ve frozen can also be helpful. It would be terribly sad to go through the trouble of making a meal only to forget all about it and find it a year later when you decide to clean out the freezer.
- If you start doing freezer meals, and you feel like it’s something you’ll be able to do regularly, you may want to invest in a food saver. This seals food tightly so that it can be stored for longer periods of time. You may also want to look into getting a deep freezer as well!
Check out my Pinterest board for other freezer-friendly ideas! Let me know your favorite meals to freeze in the comments!