By Kim Robson:
Sometimes we just don’t have the time or energy to prepare a meal from scratch. A great solution is batch cooking! Over the weekend, you can make several portions of your favorite recipes, and freeze them for your own do-it-yourself frozen dinners! The bonus: you know exactly what’s in your meals. No chemicals, preservatives or other unwanted additives, and it’s still your own home cooking, with just the right amount of salt or natural sugar for your family’s tastes.
Soups, stews, slow-cooker dishes, pastas, casseroles and breads all freeze beautifully. While you’re preparing dinner for Saturday or Sunday night, simply double the recipe and freeze the excess for a quick meal later in the week when you’re exhausted. The kitchen and dishes needed for preparation will be messed up already, so you may as well take the best advantage of the situation and clean up only once.
A Few Suggested Recipes
- Chicken Parmesan Meatball Casserole (to make this even easier, use frozen meatballs)
- Quick Chili
- Enchilada Casserole
- Individual Muffin-Tin Meatloaf
- Chicken & Pasta Casserole
- Black Bean Taco Soup
- Roasted Veggie Burritos
- Greek Baked Ziti
- Four-Ingredient Slow-Cooker Pot Roast
- Curried Chicken Corn Chowder
- For Chili, Soups, and Stews: Once food has cooled, portion into mason jars, storage containers, or freezer-safe Ziploc bags.
- For Sauces: Freeze small portions in freezer-safe Ziploc sandwich bags and stack in freezer. Or freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer frozen cubes to a larger container. This way, you can quickly defrost only what you need at the time.
- For Cooked Meats: Freeze chopped, seasoned and cooked chicken, pork or ground beef in a freezer-safe Ziploc bag for a quick and easy addition to any weeknight meal.
- For Casseroles: These are best prepared and frozen, covered, in their own baking dishes. For extra ease and convenience, freeze in a disposable aluminum baking pan with a lid.
- Air causes freezer burn, sucking all the moisture out of your food in the form of ice crystals. Try to remove as much air from your containers as possible, while still leaving headroom for expansion. Ziploc bags are great because you can leave a small opening to quickly suck out the remaining air. If you have a vacuum-sealer food-preservation device, that’s even better.
- Mostly-liquid items like soups and sauces freeze most space-efficiently when laid flat. Once frozen, they stack beautifully. Remember to leave room for about 10% expansion. If you don’t, you could end up with cracked jars and split-open bags. Nobody wants to clean a mess out of their freezer!
- To defrost, place items in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours before use. Keep in mind that the larger the portion, the longer it will take to defrost. In a pinch, you also can place the frozen food in a bowl with cold running water until thawed, or use the microwave on low; but for both of these methods, check on the item frequently.
If you think you’ll remember the contents of all your new, convenient, ready-to-throw-in-the-oven freezer meals, trust me, YOU WON’T. Clearly label everything with a name, date of preparation, and cooking instructions (oven temp and time). Ziploc bags are great because you can write directly on the bag with a Sharpie.
The federal government’s food safety guidelines are a good resource when considering how long to keep food in the freezer:
- Prepared Soups, Sauces, or Casseroles: 3 to 4 months
- Breads: 3 to 4 months
- Cooked Meat: Up to 6 months