Nov 19, 2009

Quicker Dinners through Freezing (Or, "Pizza Again?!")

At the end of a long day, does making dinner sometimes seem impossible? Do you order pizza? Grab take out? Prepare a highly processed meal, like macaroni and cheese? I completely understand and have been there many times myself. But with a little preparation, you can ensure those I-don't-think-I-can-cook nights end up healthier and more economical.

The real trick to quick, easy, affordable, and healthy meals every single night is your freezer. And no, I'm not talking about those seemingly impossible "cook once a month" plans.

Try this plan of action:

After you read this post, take a few minutes and remove every single thing from your freezer. If any of the food looks freezer burned or otherwise questionable, toss it. Then make a list of everything else and put place it back inside in some way that makes sense. For example, you could put all the vegetables in one location, all the meats in another, and so on.

Next, plan meals for a week or two that will use up everything in your freezer. As you consume the food, cross it off your list.

Now you can make your freezer really work for you.

Begin by taking a few hours one day to cook meals that can easily be frozen. This includes any type of casserole, chili, stew, soup, spaghetti and meatballs. (For more ideas, visit Recipe Link.) Allow the food to cool, then transfer to freezer containers and freeze. For casseroles, be sure to line the pan with waxed paper before putting any food inside. Then, once the food cooks and cools, place the pan in the freezer. Once the food is frozen, remove the casserole from the freezer by lifting the waxed paper. Then you can transfer the casserole to a freezer bag.

If you keep a list of the meals available in your freezer, then cross off items as you consume them, you'll quickly know what's available to you on nights you don't feel like cooking.

Great, you may be thinking, but where do I find the time to prepare all those meals? If you can't imagine taking a few hours to prepare meals for the freezer, try this: For every meal you cook fresh, cook double, then freeze the extra. It really isn't much extra work, and doesn't add much time to your cooking.

You can also freeze more than just complete meals. When you cook rice, for example, make at least double. Allow the extra to cool, then chill it in the refrigerator. When it's thoroughly chilled, put it in containers in the freezer. Then, instead of cooking up Minute Rice (which has very little nutritional value) at your next meal, just heat up your frozen rice and serve it. This also works well with meats; fry double the hamburger, allow it to cool, and place in the freezer. Then the next time you want to make fresh chili (for example), all you have to do is toss the frozen hamburger in the pot and heat it up with the rest of the ingredients.

Whenever possible, be sure to freeze food in portion sizes. That means instead of freezing cooked chicken in a full one pound bag, break it up into small bags suitable for one meal, for example.

Also, be sure that whatever type of containers you use, they are freezer-appropriate. After you place food in them, remove as much air as possible. These two simple steps will keep the food fresh-tasting.

And always, always mark the container with information about what the food is and when it was frozen. I don't recommend using freezer tape for this purpose, since, in my experience, it sometimes falls off. A Sharpie pen on freezer bags works best for me. To avoid lots of small, slippery bags from floating around in the freezer, try using boxes or tubs to hold specific types of food. For example, keep all the casseroles in one container, all the pre-cooked meats in another, et cetera.

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  1. This is a really good post and i love your blog. I have been doing that for a while. I will cook a pound of beans, season them like you usually eat them and them after dinner is over I will pour the left over into container and freeze it. next time we want beans, all I have to do is take it out of freezer, defrost and re-heat. I do the same with brown rice. I cook huge batches of it and freeze it in ziploc bags in portion sizes according to our family. I also do this for ground meat. I will brown a huge amount and add onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers and any other veggies I like and freeze in portions. When we want past I take a bag out, add our favorite tomato sauce and dinner is ready. :) I have a question for you since it seems you are seasoned cook. :) Recently I assembled some lasagna and froze it in aluminum containers. The lasagna is raw and I will defrost it and then cook it in the oven for an hour when we are ready to eat it. I had read somewhere that it was not good to freeze in metal containers, but my Mom used to do that when we were kids and we never had a problem with it. What is your take on the subject?? thanks again, Tereza

  2. I'm delighted you're enjoying the blog :) And you have an interesting question...My mother in law freezes casseroles in metal containers all the time, and I never much thought about it. I guess it is possible the metal might taint the flavor of the food, but if it is safe to bake in, I see no reason why it wouldn't be safe to freeze in.