So I’ve been at my desk for a couple hours on this quiet Wednesday morning. I have a really full day ahead with client deadlines and projects that need my attention. But, I’m feeling incredibly grateful that I’m able to work at home today, so I can mix in a few house-related chores throughout the day by leveraging time otherwise spent on commuting.
Still, the one thing I AM sweating a bit today is dinner. Starting tonight, we have the girls for the next 5 days. So, a little pre-planning on my part would’ve been good…
Right about now, I’m wishing I had a freezer filled with healthy meals that are ready to just heat and eat.
No, I’m NOT talking about TV dinners.
I’m talking about good old-fashioned “make your own” freeze-ahead meals and shortcuts. This is definitely on my to-do list for this weekend. It will take some time, but I know I’ll be really happy to have those meals ready to go on days like this.
Of course, preparing freeze-ahead meals takes time and planning. You need to decide which meals to prepare, make a shopping list, go to the grocery store or farmers’ market – and then do the actual prep work and cooking.
For your sanity’s sake, you may want to spread it out over a couple of days.
For freeze-ahead meals, nothing beats a good crock pot. (The largest one you can afford will no doubt be a great investment). Simply doubling your recipes for roasts, stews, chili or soups is an easy way to knock out two meals at once. Before serving, transfer half to freezer-safe containers or bags ~ and voila, there’s one less meal you need to make.
Lasagna is also a great meal to make ahead and freeze. Again, doubling or tripling your favorite recipe is a real time saver. You’re already doing the work anyway, right? Enjoy tonight – and again (and again). For the pans you aren’t baking right away, simply place a cover on the pan after you add the last cheese layer.
TIP: let it cool in the refrigerator or place the casserole pan in a sink of ice water prior to freezing to ensure it freezes uniformly.
As I mentioned before, soups and chili are also great make-ahead freezer meals, especially in the colder months. Make more than you need, then freeze in one larger container or divide into individual servings. For a quick lunch or when you have a kid-free night, it’s so easy to just reheat individual servings as needed.
Save Some Money While Saving Time
Next time you find a great sale on ground beef or turkey, buy more than you need right now. Then, cook it up right away with some onion and garlic. Add your seasonings when you are ready to use it, because freezing can alter the intensity quite a bit. Freeze it up in multiple containers for a variety of meals – spaghetti sauce, tacos, chili, stuffed peppers – you name it.
For even more flavor, cook up some sweet or spicy sausage with your ground beef. It adds more depth to the flavor and gives your recipe a little something extra that people will notice. This is especially good in Italian dishes like lasagna or in tomato sauces.
Finally, one of my favorite time saving tricks is to chop up garlic and onion in a food processor, then freeze in individual serving size bags. If you’re like me and use these two ingredients in almost everything – you’ll really appreciate all the time you’ll save by taking this one simple step.
What are some of your favorite make-ahead freezer meals and shortcuts?