After a busy day, extensive dinner prep is the last thing you want to tackle. Instead of falling back on convenience foods or takeout, turn to your freezer. Make-ahead, freeze-ahead dishes are healthy, homemade, and there for you on hectic evenings.
Try these five healthy meals, then check out our bonus prep tips.
1. Crispy Sheet Pan Gnocchi and Veggies
Use pre-made gnocchi to streamline prep for this balanced meal. Toss the gnocchi with your choice of veggies, roast on a sheet pan for 20 minutes, and serve. When you reheat this colorful, nutritious dish, top it with fried eggs for more flavor and protein.
2. Chicken Burrito Bowls
Freeze cooked brown rice and sautéed or grilled chicken in their own individual bags. At dinnertime, a quick thaw in the microwave or on the stovetop gives you time to retrieve sour cream, salsa, canned black beans, and sliced avocado. And you could even mix up a quick cilantro lime slaw.
3. Forgotten Jambalaya
This slow cooker (or multicooker) jambalaya packs in veggies, protein, and umami (a savory, meaty flavor). You can easily freeze it in family or individual portions. If possible, thaw it in the fridge the night before, then warm it in the microwave or on the stovetop.
4. Pizza Beans
The comforting heartiness of pizza combined with the filling nutrition of beans — and the kids may like it too? Yes, please! Similar to baked ziti, giant white beans fill in for pasta. Make it vegetarian or cook Italian sausage along with the vegetables.
5. Spiced Vegetable Tagine
Have you heard of aubergine and courgette? They also go by eggplant and zucchini, and they add texture and mineral notes to this hearty combo of sweet potato, red bell pepper, tomato, chickpeas, harissa, and dried apricots. Freezing can bring out even more flavor from this mouthwatering Moroccan-inspired dish.
8 Tips to Help You Freeze Tasty, Healthy Dinners
Making food in advance buffers those nights when life is too hectic (or you’re too tired) to cook. Get the most out of your freezer meals with a few pro tips.
1. Avoid putting hot food in the freezer.
A steaming hot dish will warm up your freezer, thaw nearby foods, and it could give pathogens a foothold. Cool cooked foods to room temperature on the counter, then store them in the freezer.
2. Remove air when packing food.
Freezer burn isn’t a safety hazard, but it dehydrates and discolors food. To prevent freezer burn and retain the texture of your dish, minimize how much air is in direct contact with the food. Stir or press the dish to remove air bubbles and wrap it tightly. Bagging your meals works great for freezing but removing air from a zippered bag can be a challenge. Keep a supply of thin plastic stir straws, like the ones you use for coffee. After bagging your food, insert one end of a straw into the airspace. Zip the baggie up to the straw, suck out the air, remove the straw, and close the bag the rest of the way.
3. Use a bag holder for foolproof filling.
Baggies are floppy, which can make it hard to transfer food from a pot to a bag. It’s the sort of problem that can make you wish you had an extra pair of hands. Bag holders, or bag stands, to the rescue! Prop the bag on the holder and add your food.
4. Leave space for expansion.
While air is a freezer meal’s enemy, empty space is an ally. Frozen foods expand. Leave 1 to 2 inches of space in your containers, especially when freezing in glass jars or containers with fitted lids. Along with reducing breakage concerns, secure lids make it easier to stack and organize your freezer meals.
5. Label dishes.
The time you could save on busy nights goes to waste if you have to rummage the freezer trying to remember what meals you froze. Use a permanent marker to label containers with the dish’s name and prep date on a piece of freezer tape.
6. Only refreeze cooked foods.
Don’t refreeze thawed raw foods — especially meats. Pathogens can multiply to unsafe levels. Once you cook a food, it’s okay to pop it in the freezer.
7. Freeze individual portions.
It can be tempting to freeze a big meal, but it makes reheating harder. Freeze individual portions so you can prepare only what you need. Plus, you won’t have to worry about what to do with leftovers.
8. Don’t put frozen glass directly in the oven.
While you can freeze and warm foods in glass dishes, don’t transfer glass straight from the freezer to the oven. When possible, thaw the container in the fridge the night before. Also, set the container on the counter for 30 to 60 minutes before putting it in the oven.
Ready, Set, Reheat
We all have days where from-scratch dinner prep is not a possibility. When your freezer has some pre-made meals ready to go, you can make a healthy, homemade dinner and spend less time in the kitchen.