People spend a lot of money on frozen foods. Why? Frozen meals are a fast and easy way to make dinner. Frozen meals are portion-controlled. All the work is already done so all you have to do is heat it up. It’s the easiest thing to do when you get home from work and it’s late and you’re tired. The problem is that store-bought frozen dinners are expensive and some, even the ones that claim to be healthy, have really high levels of sodium, sugar and other ingredients you just don’t need. It’s less expensive and healthier to make your own frozen meals.
Freezing your own meals lets you cook on your schedule. Whenever you make dinner, just make twice as much and freeze half or make 2 dinners – one to serve and one to freeze. On those busy weeknights when you just don’t have the time or energy to cook, pull one of your frozen meals out of the freezer and warm it up. Add a vegetable side or a salad and you’re done. It’s fast, easy, nutritious, economical and probably tastes way better than any store-bought dinner.
Here is our guide to freezer-friendly meals to make your life easier but still delicious.
1. Fast Freezer Facts
Pretty much any food can be frozen but some freeze better than others. I learned this the hard way when I froze fresh cauliflower florets. When I thawed them out, I had a pile of mush. Now I know that fresh produce, especially those with high water content like greens, tomatoes and zucchini, should not be frozen. Other produce like green beans, cauliflower and broccoli should be blanched first, allowed to dry and then frozen. Always allow hot food to cool completely before freezing. Thaw frozen foods in the fridge before heating.
Food can be frozen in glass containers, glass canning jars, plastic containers, freezer foil and freezer bags. One benefit of using glass containers is that you can heat the food (after it thaws) without having to transfer it to another pot or baking dish. A benefit of freezer foil and bags is that you can store food flat and stack them to take up less room in the freezer. Food can be frozen in individual portions or enough for 2 or 3 people, however much you need to serve at one time. Food should be in airtight containers or bags. Be sure to label your dishes so you know what it is and when you made it. Frozen meals should be able to last a few months.
2. Soups, Stews and Chilis
Soups, stews and chilis can be frozen in containers or sealed freezer bags, in large amounts or individual portions. They are fast to heat up and perfect for late nights when you need comforting food. Think how nice it would be to come home, open the freezer and pull out a meal that will only take a few minutes to heat up. Try freezing this Potato Chive Soup, Creamy Vegan Not Clam Chowder, Spicy Peanut Mushroom Kale Soup, Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup and Mexican Black Bean Soup. For stews and chilis, freeze this Beef-Style Vegan Stew, Mushroom Ropa Vieja, Three Sisters Stew, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Chili, Chipotle Chocolate Chili, and Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili. Make it even easier by cooking your soups and stews in your slow cooker. See 10 Nutritious Soups and Stews to Make in Your Slow Cooker.
3. Casseroles and Pot Pies
Casseroles and pot pies are so easy to freeze. You can make large ones in big baking dishes but I like to make individual-sized ones in ramekins. Either way, these dishes can go straight to the freezer after they cool and right back in the oven after they thaw. One tip: if you know you will be reheating these dishes, add a bit of extra liquid to the sauce or gravy when making them so they don’t dry out. Amazing casseroles to make and freeze include Smoky Mac and Cheese, Broccoli, Mushroom Rotini Casserole, Butternut Squash, Portobello and Spinach Casserole with Vegan Sausage, Tofu Pot Pie Casserole and Sweet Potato Rice Casserole. For incredible pot pies, try this Easy Veggie Pot Pie, Indian Tikka Masala Pot Pie, Curry Gravy Vegetable Pot Pie and this Shepherd’s Pot Pie with Tofu.
4. Enchiladas, Burritos and Pizza
Enchiladas, burritos and pizza are probably the most popular frozen meals people buy. Making your own and freezing them for later is so much better. You can freeze pizza dough in a ball or add your toppings and then freeze it flat. See these 10 Tips and Tricks for Rockin’ Homemade Vegan Pizza and then make any of these 27 Vegan Pizzas that Will Blow Your Mind.
Individually-wrapped burritos and enchiladas are great for a meal, snack or to take with you if you can warm them up at work or school. Try these Pumpkin Enchiladas and these Black Bean, Corn and Red Rice Enchiladas. Learn How to Make a Perfectly-Layered Chipotle-Style Vegan Burrito and then try any of these 10 Ideas for Creating Delicious Veggie Fillings for Your Homemade Burrito.
5. Pasta, Big and Small
Pasta freezes well. If you know you are going to freeze and reheat it, cook it a bit under so it won’t overcook in the reheating process. When you want to reheat it, add it to boiling water until it is heated through. It will taste like you just made it. Always freeze sauces separately from the pasta. Delicious sauces to freeze include this Vegan Bolognese Sauce, Pesto Sauce, Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, Homestyle Marinara Sauce, Creamy Cashew Alfredo and Vodka Cream Sauce.
Large pasta dishes like baked ziti and lasagna are perfect for freezing. You can cook them and freeze the leftovers or you can assemble them and freeze them before baking. Small pastas like ravioli, gnocchi and tortellini can be frozen in small or larger serving sizes. Make this Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna, Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti, Turnip Ravioli, Succulent Tortellini and Gluten-Free Pumpkin Gnocchi. This same ideas works for dumplings and gyoza.
6. Meatloaf, Burgers and Meatballs
Whenever I make veggie burgers, I make them by the dozen. Once my burger mix is seasoned properly and feels like it will hold together, I make the patties and wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Then I stack them in the freezer so I only need to pull them out as I need them. Usually, I put them in a hot pan while they are still frozen. They can be cooked first and then frozen but I prefer to cook them once. It takes less than ten minutes to cook them. The same goes for vegan meatballs and meatloaf. When making vegan meatloaf, line the baking dish with parchment paper or foil with the ends sticking out so when it’s done, you can easily lift the loaf out of the pan to wrap it up and freeze. What kind of veggie burgers can you make? See 10 Vegetables You Can Make Burgers With and try any of the recipes. Check out Tricks for Making Veggie Burgers that Won’t Fall Apart for the best burger advice.
For mouthwatering vegan meatballs, try these Tempeh Meatballs, Lentil Meatballs, Chickpea Meatballs, Mozzarella-Stuffed Eggplant Meatballs, and Pumpkin Seed Cannellini Meatballs. Delicious vegan meatloaves include this Diner Style Vegan Meat Loaf, Lentil Meat Loaf with Smoked Paprika Glaze and Country “Meatloaf” with Gravy. Freeze any gravy or sauce separately.
7. Baked Goods and Breakfast
Besides dinner meals, you can freeze breakfast foods and desserts. Muffins, cookies, cakes and waffles can all be frozen. You can freeze the muffins and cookies after they are baked or you can freeze the batter. Just shape them first and then freeze them. Muffin batter can be frozen in lined muffin tins. Then remove the muffin with the lining from tin and store until ready to bake. Try it with these Strawberry Chocolate Chip Buckwheat Muffins, Cinnamon Streusel Muffins, Carrot Gingerbread Muffins, and Zucchini Blueberry Muffins. It works for savory muffins too like these Whole Grain Spinach Biscuit Muffins and these Rosemary, Olive and Tomato Muffins.
Cookies can be shaped and then arranged on a cookie sheet in a single layer and frozen. Then move the frozen cookies to a freezer bag. They can be baked straight from the freezer without defrosting. Imagine having these Maple Cider Cookies, Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies, or Orange Triple-Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies already prepared and just minutes away from snacking on. Plus, since these are all vegan cookies, you can thaw them out and eat the cookie dough!
There never seems to be enough time in the morning but there’s no need to skip breakfast. Waffles can be made in advance and frozen. When morning comes, you can heat them up in the oven or just pop them in the toaster. It doesn’t have to be a Sunday to enjoy these Pumpkin, Apple and Pecan Pie Waffles, Mexican Chocolate Waffles or Peanut Butter-Banana Waffles with Blueberry Macadamia Cream.
These are a ton of ideas but it’s just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of the number of meals that can be frozen for easy eating later. There’s no need to buy expensive pre-made frozen foods when it’s this easy to make your own healthy and delicious frozen dinners.
Lead Image Source: Black Bean, Corn and Red Rice Enchiladas