Meal prep is great for knocking out various components to use in breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week, but complete make-ahead freezer meals can be even better for those nights you just can't manage anything beyond reheating, or if you're stuck indoors from a bad storm or self-isolation and can't make it to the store.
Just a few hours of prep and cooking time can give you enough freezer meals to last you a month -- especially if you double the recipes below.
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What freezes best
- Hearty soups and stews (e.g., beef and barley, lentil, bean)
- Long-cooked braised dishes and stews (beef short ribs, osso buco, beef stew, chili, curries)
- Casseroles and baked pastas (e.g., sausage and peppers, enchiladas, mac and cheese, lasagna)
- Juicy meats cooked in (or to be served with) sauces
Tips for freezing food
- Divide recipes into whatever portion sizes work for your needs before freezing. If you have space, make multiple batches at once, then divide.
- Be sure to label each package with contents, preparation date and reheating instructions.
- Another trick is to line small gratin dishes with nonstick foil (or spray it with oil), fill the dishes and freeze. Once the food's frozen, you can peel the foil off and pop the frozen "bricks" of food into freezer bags, which stack neatly. When it's time to reheat, the packets fit right back into the gratin dishes for serving. It's an idea Chowhound member funwithfood gave us.
- Small foil takeout containers and lids from a restaurant supply house are another easy solution. These are the right size for single servings of entrees or doubles of soup and they're easy to freeze, stack and reheat. Sixteen-ounce hot/cold cups (sold at Costco) are also good for freezing and reheating soups.
These extra thick, leak-proof silicone bags are perfect for storing broth until you need it; lay flat to freeze without taking up much space.
Make-ahead freezer meal recipes
1. Jerk turkey chili
With its not-so-secret ingredient of a wedge of bittersweet chocolate to add depth, this chili develops even more flavor after a day or two, so make some on the weekend and stash it in the fridge or freezer to eat later in the week. Get Chowhound's jerk turkey chili recipe.
2. Roasted butternut squash soup
This simple fall-winter soup using one of our favorite squashes is pretty straight-forward to make. It gets a bit more complexity with sautéed onion, apple and sage, and a bit more rich with a hit of heavy cream. Once you let it cool, store it in the freezer for up to a month. Get Chowhound's roasted butternut squash soup recipe.
3. Swedish meatballs
Make and freeze these meatballs in their creamy sauce. When it's time for dinner, all you have to do is boil those egg noodles and defrost the saucy meatballs. Add vegetables if you wish. And lingonberry preserves, of course. Get Chowhound's Swedish meatballs recipe.
4. Slow-cooker split pea soup
This filling, comforting soup infused with ham flavor from a bone or hock is easy to make in a Crock-Pot first off, and then it's easy to freeze for the week. Get Chowhound's slow-cooker split pea soup recipe.
5. Cheesy enchiladas
You can make the enchiladas through step 3, then cover and freeze for up to two weeks. To finish, bake it at 350°F uncovered and straight from the freezer, until the cheese is all melty and awesome, about 40 minutes. Get Chowhound's cheesy enchiladas recipe.
6. Chinese brisket and turnip stew
Brisket can handle time in the freezer. It's already falling apart, and it's supposed to. You can swap turnips for daikon radish or another hearty root vegetable. Get Chowhound's Chinese brisket and turnip stew recipe.
7. Easy spinach lasagna
If you're new to making lasagna, this recipe is a good starter one. Learn the basics and then throw in the twists and substitutions. You can freeze it cooked or uncooked. If you freeze it cooked, let it cool down first, and then cut it into single servings, placing the portions in Ziplock bags or Tupperware.
If you freeze it whole and cover it with aluminum foil, spray or rub oil on the foil so it doesn't stick to the cheese and you can get it off when it's frozen. For unbaked versions, people often don't cook the noodles beforehand to avoid mushiness. Get Chowhound's easy spinach lasagna recipe.
8. Cauliflower green curry
Besides the name sake vegetable, you get green beans, yellow onion and chickpeas in there, and the sauce made with Thai green curry paste (bottled or canned... it's a weeknight, OK?), coconut milk, soy sauce, garlic and lime juice. You might want to use only half the salt suggested in the recipe, and then add more after it's ready, to taste. Get Chowhound's cauliflower green curry recipe.
9. Beefy macaroni casserole
No one will complain about this simple, comfort food classic. It's like Hamburger Helper, but from scratch and without all the time and effort if you're pulling it out of the freezer to reheat. There are peppers, onions and tomatoes in there too, so it's not just meat, cheese and pasta. Get Chowhound's beefy macaroni casserole recipe.
10. Pressure cooker cola-braised beef short ribs
Meat like short ribs in sauce does well when reheated, and it can be time-consuming to start from the beginning on a weeknight. But not so much if you make it in an Instant Pot -- or, even better, make it ahead and pull it out of the freezer to thaw and reheat. Get Chowhound's pressure cooker cola-braised beef short ribs recipe.
11. Easy lentil soup
Use any color of lentils to make this soup that you can adjust to your liking. It's got the fiber, protein and vegetables you need, all in one bowl. Get Chowhound's easy lentil soup recipe.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.