Freezer meals do not have to be complicated with the correct knowledge! This post provides you with the knowledge to utilize the skills you already have to make great tasting freezer meals to make ahead for the nights you are too busy to cook or for the nights you just do not feel like cooking! In this post you will learn the best storage containers for freezer dump meals, how to label meals that can be frozen, tips for reheating freezer recipes, and what ingredients should not be frozen!
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What are freezer meals?
Freezer meals are meals that are either assembled and frozen, partially cooked and froze, or completely cooked and froze to be eaten at a later date. This can help people preplan meals for their busy days, or just have something to eat for the nights they don't feel like cooking. These are also popular to give to people when they are going through a tough time or when they just had a baby.
What are the best recipes for freezer meals?
It can be easier to discuss what ingredients will not be ideal for freezer meals when deciding which of your favorite recipes would be an ideal freezer dinner. Here are some tips on ingredients that should not be used:
- creams-custards, ricotta cheese, milk, and other types of dairy products do not freeze well as they can separate while freezing when they are in a dish. If your favorite recipe requires a cream, try to freeze it without the cream ingredient, and add it in later while heating up to eat.
- vegetables-raw vegetables are not ideal for the freezer due to the amount of water in them. Slightly undercooked vegetables like carrots, spinach, and green beans are more ideal when they are blanched. Having them undercooked while frozen allows them to become fully cooked during the heat to eat process.
- meats-try to avoid cooking a meat before putting it in the meal. Instead, add it later while heating to eat. If this is an impossible task (such as making chicken enchiladas), slightly undercook the meat. This will help the chicken not get dried out during the reheating process.
- pasta-freezing lasagna and other pastas taste better reheated when the noodles are slightly undercooked. This allows them to cook more during the heat to eat process.
There are plenty of recipes out there for meals that can be frozen. Click this link to get the first 15 pages of my cookbook for free!
When to make freezer meals?
A good time to make freezer dinners depends on the day of the week you typically need them. Here is an example: I had dance class every Wednesday night as a kid. My mom knew she would not be home to cook dinner on Wednesday nights. Wednesdays would have been the ideal day to plan to eat a freezer meal on. The ideal prep day for our freezer meal could have been planned on Sunday. Then, my parents could have taken the meal out of the freezer and warmed it up for us kids to eat after we got home from dance class. This method would have been a lot more nutricious than the cardboard pizza we had every Wednesday night instead.
If you still want a freezer dinner on a designated day of the week, you could also prep them a month in advance instead of once a week. You could designate one Sunday at the beginning of the month to make 4 meals. A way to make this easier is to quadrouple a recipe into 4 meals you can freeze. Another option for more variety would be to add slightly different ingredients to each of the 4 meals. An example of this could be lasagna with meat, vegetarian lasagna, lasagna with different vegetables, lasagna with different cheeses, etc.
Some people need freezer meals to eat at least 2-3 times a week. In this case, you can designate 1 day to making the freezer meals for a month you need on those certain days of the week. You can make this easier on yourself by quadroupling 2-3 recipes and having different variants described in the previous paragraph.
Freezer friendly meal prep tips:
Make sure to keep an inventory of the meals you are prepping. I keep mine on the inside of a cupboard. When I pull a meal out of the freezer, I cross it off the list to know we ate it. This will help you know when you are getting low and need to make more again.
Are freezer meals worth it?
Yes! Freezer meals can help you save so much time if you have a good system down. If you are making enchiladas for tonight, double the recipe and freeze one of them. One freezer meal already done for later in the week when you are tired after a long, hard day of work and don't feel like cooking.
Even if you do not want to prep a whole meal to eat later, you can still cook a rotisserie chicken and distribute the meat between several bags. This way your meat for your chicken enchiladas, chicken soup, chicken and dumplings is already cooked. You can do this with any other meat as well.
Freezer meals also help with dinner prep time. While making something that is not a freezer meal, you may forget an ingredient and have to run to the store. With freezer meal planning though, the meal is already made so there is no extra steps in running to the store to get that one ingredient you forgot was in your recipe.
If you want to know other reasons to decide if freezer meals are worth it to you, click here.
How long are freezer dinners good for?
Freezer meals made ahead typically taste good being in the freezer up to about 3 months. Technically they can last a lot longer than that. It is just not recommended to go longer than that or else they begin to taste like the freezer.
If being left in the freezer for too long, it can become freezer burned as well. When the dish has been in your freezer for quite a few months, it is not like you really wanted to eat it anyway. In that case, try making a meal you are excited about and are going to eat sooner to prevent this from happening. If you happened to forget about it in the freezer, try making a list of all your freezer meals and cross them off when you take them out of the freezer. This will help you know which ones are in the freezer left.
How to store freezer meals:
How a freezer dinner you made ahead of time should be stored depends on what it is. If it is a soup or something that is liquid such as a crock pot meal, you can place the contents in a reusable silicon bag. You can use a regular, plasic, gallon ziplock bag as well. If going this route, it kind of wastes a lot of plastic. Unless you were to wash them all, but depending on the amount of time they were frozen, it may not be worth trying to wash a plastic bag. The washing any bag out is ideal if storing contents that do not have raw meat in them. I do not recommend washing out a bag that stored raw meat in it. To buy the silicon bags, click the image or the green button.
For lasagna and other 9x13 dishes, I like to store mine in metal containers wrapped in saran wrap first (stops air flow) and alumium foil over the saran wrap. Just make sure to remove the saran wrap before baking! The saran wrap really does help keep it fresh though, so it is a crucial step.
If stacking these alumium foil pans and lids in the freezer, I like to place cardboard inbetween to prevent them from getting indented.
Tip for baking make ahead freezer meals in a nice container
If you are baking a 9x13 dish in your favorite container that you use normally, obviously you are not going to want to keep that dish in the freezer.
To be able to keep using your favorite container while your meal is freezing, try putting aluminum foil down before the meal. Allow extra aluminum foil to hang off the edges, enough to be able to grab it at the top. Freeze meal until frozen. Then, lift the meal out of the container by the aluminum foil hanging off the edges. Fold over the aluminum foil and wrap in plastic wrap twice to ensure it is air tight. Freeze meal, and continue to use your pan for personal use until it is time for the meal to be cooked. When it is time for your freezer dinner to be reheated, unwrap the plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and place in your pan to be reheated.
How to choose a storage container
First, look at the item you are freezing. A 9x13 pan of pasta can easily go in the freezer as long as it has a lid that seals well. You can even seal with with saran wrap and aluminum foil if your pan no longer has a lid. Or if your freezer containers come with alumnium lids that are not very air tight, ensure extra protection by wrapping them in 2 layers of plastic wrap. This will prevent air flow and leave the meal not tasting like the freezer. A soup or any other liquid can be stored in a bag. These can be frozen flat and do not take up a lot of space in the freezer.
Tips for storing freezer meals to make ahead
Make sure if cooking your meal before going in the freezer that it is cooled down before setting it in the freezer. This prevents the item from heating up your freezer.
Removing excess air before freezing is also necessary to prevent freezer burn. Try sucking air out of your freezer bag with a straw or wrapping your baking dish in saran wrap before freezing.
If you like to make your freezer meals in batches, move any old freezer meals to the front of the freezer and the new ones you make to the back of the freezer. This will help you eat the older meals first, which will prevent freezer burn.
If storing in a bag, freezer them flat. This will help save freezer space.
How long can freezer meals last in the fridge?
Just like anything else, if it is a freezer meal you have cooked and want to store the leftovers in the fridge, it is typically good for about a week.
How to reheat freezer meals:
How to reheat freezer meals really depends on what meal it is.
- uncooked casserole-you can thaw them in the fridge 24 hours before cooking. Then, bake at original temperature, but just add 15 minutes to it. If it still cold in the center, add more time accordingly. Make sure to check it frequently to ensure it does not burn with all the extra time.
- for fully cooked casseroles-follow the same directions as above, but skip the fridge thawing part. I recommend covering with foil while baking as well for at least ¾ of the way through cooking.
- soups and other liquids-if the liquid if fully cooked, you can thaw it out in the fridge before reheating. After you thaw it, you can heat it on the stove and add any noodles or creams that you did not include in the freezer bag. Soups are best reheated on the stove as well because they are typically cooked on the stove normally. Add about ¼ cup of water to prevent scortching.
- breads and muffins-these can be thawed at room temperature. If you want to eat your muffin quickly, you can put it in the microwave to thaw it.
How to cook frozen meals also depends on the container they are stored in:
- glass-if the meal is frozen in a glass container, allow it to thaw out for a bit before heating in the oven. This will prevent the glass from breaking.
- metal-if the meal is frozen in a metal pan, it is best to heat it in the oven. Do not try to microwave a metal pan in the microwave. Microwave can help thaw it out faster, but it is best to not microwave something in a metal pan.
Tips for reheating make ahead freezer meals:
- if you feel the meal is a little dry-sometimes while reheating, the dish can be a little dry. Adding a few drops of water or chicken broth to the edges of the dish is sure to do the trick! You can add the water or chicken broth to the pan when you check it halfway through. I like to add chicken broth to the 9x13 dish of pork loin I am reheating to prevent dryness.
How to label freezer meals:
While working in the restaurant industry, we always labeled everything that went in the freezer with a washable label. These labels stuck to anything you would stick them to, but they also came off super easy by dissolving in the dish water. They came right off with no residue left, and the dishwater was not full of any particles from it at all. Click the image or this link to buy the washable labels.
If going the homemade label route, painters tape works well for labeling foods you can freeze. As not everyone paints to have painters tape on hand, ducktape is another option. Ducktape works sometimes, but it does not always stick as nicely as it should. If you really needed to use ducktape, you can write on a sticky note with the meal title and reheat instructions, and tape it on all four corners to the container you wish to stick it to.
No matter which label route you choose, try to peel the labels off before heating in said container.
How many freezer meals to make ahead before baby?
Freezer meals for new mom are one of the most common reasons people make freezer meals after making meals for people going through a tough time. It is up to you on how many freezer dinners you want to make. I have not had a baby before. However, based upon my research, making about 2-3 dozen freezer meals before the baby comes seems to be standard. Don't think you have to come up with 24-36 different meals though. If you take your favorite lasagna recipe and triple it, then you already have 3 done. Take 9 more favorite meals you have and triple them and you have 30 meals all ready to go before the baby comes. If you want to learn more about making freezer meals for baby, click here.
Freezer meals do not have to be complicated with the correct knowledge! I hope this post provided you with enough information to utilize the skills you already have. This will help you make great tasting freezer meals to make ahead for the nights you need them most!
If you are looking for freezer meal recipes, I am in the process of writing a cookbook for them! In the meantime, click here to receive 3 free recipes from the cookbook before it comes out.