Before we had our first daughter, I made several batches of our favorite meals to put in the freezer. At the time, my favorites were chili, taco meat, and spaghetti sauce. These were easily thawed and prepared in those early days postpartum and helped me get satisfying dinners on the table with minimal mess or stress.
Fast forward over three years and two kids later now, and I have expanded what I make as freezer meals. Many new moms have seen "freezer meals" as one of the items on their to do list pre-baby, but some may be wondering what freezer meals are and how exactly it helps make meal times more manageable.
Read on to see why this is an important cooking concept to know, learn, and better yet, apply in your home!
What are Freezer Meals?
Freezer meals are meals that have been assembled ahead of time with the intent of being cooked (or reheated) in the future. These are frequently touted as a time-saving, cost-effective technique to any meal, as freezer meals provides you with already assembled easy, healthy recipes to have on hand.
Many meals can be converted into a freezer meal with a little modification to the ingredients needed (multiplying the batch to make more) or by shifting the time in which the instructions are done (some in advance; some saved for after the meal has been frozen).
How to Prepare Freezer Meals?
For some freezer meals, you simply prepare a double batch of something. By prepping and adding all raw ingredients into a particular container for freezer storage, these are later removed to be cooked. This way, one batch is ready to cook immediately as part of your weekly meal plan while the second batch is frozen for later use. These types of recipes typically include items like lasagna, casseroles, or chili, where you may combine everything in an individual pan or bag, while repeating the process a number of times to reproduce two or more batches worth.
Another approach to freezer meals is called "batch-cooking." This basically means you prep and cook a large batch of something in advance, then divide it up into more realistic serving sizes to freeze separately. Once divided, you remove each serving at the time it is needed to simply reheat.
In each of the recipes that follows, added insight on how to best prepare and freeze is provided.Such meals may include items like spaghetti sauce, taco meat, quinoa, or pancakes, where you make an extra-large batch and then divide up how much you would want for any given meal into each storage container.
Tops Tools for Making Freezer Meals
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These are available at any grocery store, but by far the best deal I have found is at Dollar Stores. Often, you can get 2-3 smaller pans in a single pack for only a dollar! Similar items are easily $3-4 per 2-pack at the store. Stock up on these before planning a big freezer meal making session, or buy extras so you can use to bring meals to new moms in these too (so that they don't have to worry about washing and returning your dishes!).
Freezer-Safe Ziplock Bags
I try to be conscious of the environment and prefer to use glass over plastic when possible. But when it comes to marinading meats and making efficient storage of freezer meals, I truly love using freezer-safe Ziplock bags. Whichever size you choose, simply fill; remove the air (manually); seal; lie flat to freeze. Then, once frozen, all meals can easily be stacked on top of the other or upright in a row in the freezer. This both helps to save space and find items easily.
- Freezer-safe gallon-sized Ziplocks (for chilis, soups, fajitas, etc)
- Freezer safe quart-sized Ziplocks (for quinoa, rice, and spaghetti sauce)
Plastic Food Storage Containers
For these, you want something sturdy and reusable and yet disposable (in case you don't want to deal with any dishes). My favorites for these are the following:
- 8 ounce (for frozen marinades)
- 16 ounce (for frozen sauces)
- 32 ounce (for extra chicken stock, leftover soups ready for lunches)or
Costco also carries a very economical option that serve as perfect leftover containers for lunch the next day (similar to these). These are not my favorite for liquids and sauces, but they work well for grains, a muffins, taco meat, beans, and other items you may only need 2-4 cups worth of per container.
I love mason jars for a lot of things and prepping freezer meals are no exception. Mason jars can be great for storing marinades or making smaller batches of soups, say to pull out and have for a serving or two worth of soup. Just be sure to leave a little space at the top when storing liquids in mason jars so there is room for the food to expand (when frozen).
Now that you know some of the basics for freezer meals, let's dive into what you really want:
Favorite Freezer Meal Recipes
These are a compilation of my family's favorites as well as those favored by many fellow dietitians. Where appropriate, suggestions on how to best prepare these as freezer meals are listed.
These freeze really well in an air-tight container or freezer Ziplock bag. Reheat pre-cooked meatballs with some whole grain pasta and a bagged salad mix, and you can have dinner ready in the amount of time it takes to boil noodles!
I love how as Noelle says, this recipe could fit for "meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thrifty Thursday, Fast Friday, Soup Saturday, or Stay-at-home-Sunday." What a versatile, vegan option that is an easy one to keep in your freezer for any of the above menu needs!
Once made, let this one cool then transfer to a large gallon-sized Ziplock freezer bag. Freeze flat, then thaw when it is time to enjoy! This one is a great one to make a double batch of. Or for an easy lunch, consider storing 1-2 servings in a mason jar to easily be removed and reheated for lunch!
This was one of the first meals I ever made as a freezer meal, way back when we were preparing for our first daughter to be born. It remains one of our favorites for warm, comfort food served up with fresh cornbread or on occasion as a healthier twist on a classic Texas favorite - frito pie!
This is one of Lindsay's favorite meals to bring new moms and to make ahead as a freezer meal. I love her suggestion to easily prep this ahead of time by putting it all in a ziploc bag to freeze, then thawing the night before and throwing in the crockpot before work.
This is a great option for a dish that you can make two of in foil pans; freezing one and baking the other later. Or as seen in the last post from this "Foods for New Moms" series, make one for your family to freeze and one to take to a fellow new mom too!
This is an item we almost always have in our freezer. It is versatile to make with whatever ground meat or meat-alternative you have on hand, plus it is an easy meal to batch cook then freeze. Each batch requires very little freezer space, and yet having a favorite spaghetti sauce is one of the quickest and easiest dinner options when you need a simple idea to act on!
Here are a few other dietitian-approved freezer meal recipes from sites we know and love:
Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken (from Six Sisters)
Chicken Spaghetti (from the Pioneer Woman)
Crockpot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (from Iowa Girl Eats)
Slow Cooker Beef Stew (from Six Sisters)
Tomato Soup (from Pioneer Woman)
In the spirit of this series on Foods for New Moms, I hope these freezer meal recipes give you some great ideas for items you can prep ahead, freeze, then pull off easily -- whether you have a new baby at home or not!
If you have a friend who you think may enjoy these as well, please consider sharing the love with them too with the links below. Or better yet, bring them one of these freezer meals or a meal idea for new moms from the first post in this series here.