It’s officially fall and that means an abundance of pumpkin spice, lots of busy schedules, and hectic weeknight dinner adventures in which wholesome meals aren’t always an option. Because really, who has time to whip up a gourmet meal when all we want is a big bowl (or sandwich) of comfort?
That’s where freezer meals come in handy. Nothing is easier than plucking a bag of pre-prepared goodness out of the freezer, throwing it in the oven or crockpot and then having a delicious dinner basically waiting to be devoured. Simple, inexpensive and an easy go-to for those busy nights when you just don’t want to cook? Um, yes please.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But let’s be honest — if you don’t know where to start, freezer meals aren’t just daunting, they’re also easy to mess up. To avoid putting in all of that time, effort and money only to wind up ordering a pizza, here are some golden rules of freezer meals that we consider game-changing.
We’ve all heard of the rule of KISS—keep it simple, stupid. Well that applies to freezer meals too. Rather than setting out to prepare 40 freezer meals in one weekend like some blogger did for his or her family, start slow and simple. If you haven’t tried a recipe before how do you know you and your family will like it? A better way to dive into the process is to make double of your family favourites the next time you’re in the kitchen, and freeze half. Or, pick one or two recipes to test on the weekend and go from there. Your taste buds (not to mention your wallet) will be much, much happier.
Avoid foods with high water content
You’d think that everything keeps in the freezer, but that’s just not true. While the freezer is home to some stars like bananas, berries, pastry, meat, bread, soups and stews, it is not a great place for high-water produce like cucumbers, celery, lettuce or melon. Mayo and most dairy products are other freezer fails (but butter seems to be the exception), and anything fried is generally something you want to just eat fresh.
Consider the ingredients when you’re looking at whether a recipe can be frozen for later or if it’s best consumed fresh. Because nothing sends your crew to the drive-through faster than a warmed up, water-logged freezer meal.
The best meals are the easiest
The hardest part about throwing together a bunch of freezer meals should be the cutting and slicing. That’s because the most successful freezer meals combine a variety of ingredients together (often in a marinade, but not always) that are essentially raw until you’re ready to cook them up to eat. Once you start getting into recipes with a whole slew of steps you might want to reconsider your efforts.
Use fresh ingredients for maximum taste
If you freeze fresh ingredients then they’re going to taste fresh when you thaw and cook them up. But if your food is about to turn when you put it in the freezer, just know that your meal will also reflect that.
Pasta doesn’t freeze as well as you’d think
If you are a pasta family and you want simple, delicious pasta at the ready, we feel you. Unfortunately freezing a bunch of pre-boiled pasta in a sauce just won’t give you the delicious meal you seek. When you re-cook pasta it becomes extremely mushy, making it unpalatable. It’s better to freeze the sauce and then quickly boil water to whip up fresh noodles the night of. The exception is lasagne, which is actually a perfect freezer meal.
Portion, flash-freeze and cool
When you’re putting together a freezer meal try and think along the lines of how you’re going to eventually consume it. Individual packets of shredded pork are a lot handier than a meal for six if you plan on making a quick mid-week pulled pork sandwich, for example. Or if you’re freezing a bunch of meatballs consider flash freezing them – arrange them on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet and place them in the freezer until just frozen, then transfer them to a plastic bag. That way you can take out as many as you need for one specific meal, without them all clumping together.
Meanwhile, if you do have to cook something ahead of freezing, be sure to cool it down in the fridge before putting it in the actual freezer. Otherwise your dish could raise the temperature of the freezer, causing others items to partially thaw and refreeze.
Don’t refreeze raw meat
It’s perfectly fine to thaw meat, cook it and then refreeze it. What’s not okay is to thaw meat, portion it out and then freeze it without cooking it. That’s a perfect recipe for bacterial growth and potential food-related illness.
Wrap and label everything really well
To avoid freezer burn, make sure to wrap and double wrap your meals. Some people like to use a vacuum seal, while others will close a sealable bag almost all the way and then suck out the remaining air with a straw. Pressing out as much air as possible helps to keep your meal fresh, and it also gives you more storage room in the freezer.
It’s also a good idea to label your meals really well, including what it is, the date your froze it and how to cook it, so that you don’t have to second-guess yourself when you do pull it out. With simple and clear instructions at the ready, you won’t have to overthink dinner ever again.
Now excuse us—we’ve got a some freezer meals to make.