Baking Basics: Stocking Your Freezer with Make-Ahead Meals
It’s about that time again! My due date is exactly a week away and I’m starting to get slightly anxious, eeeeek. Right before Joseph was born, my mom made a ton of food to stash in our freezer, and it was a huge lifesaver. Especially since I was recovering from an unplanned c-section, just being able to throw some baked ziti into the oven or heat up a batch of chili was amazing.
My mom just spent two weeks in Montreal for work, flew home on Friday night, and then proceeded to spend all day Saturday in the kitchen. On Sunday she showed up to our house with trays of baked ziti, meatloaves and pasta sauce to stash in the freezer, and then said she was going to be making chili, soup and breaded chicken over the next week. So basically, my mom is awesome times a thousand.
While this isn’t exactly a “baking basics”, it’s certainly a food basics and it seemed like a great time to talk about some of my favorite freezer meals and some tips on how to keep your frozen meals as fresh as possible.
If you’re planning to stock your freezer either because you’re expecting or maybe just to make things a little bit easier on weeknights, your first plan of action is to decide what to make. Some recipes freeze better than others, but your possibilities are vast and nearly endless. This list is nowhere close to being comprehensive, but here are some of my favorite freezer meals:
- Baked pasta of any sort – lasagna, ziti, stuffed shells, etc.
- Pasta sauce for quick spaghetti dinners
- Pizza dough for quick homemade pizzas
- Pizza sauce
- Fully assembled pizzas
- Meatballs (serve with spaghetti or throw in the slow cooker with sauce for meatball subs)
- Taco meat
- Muffins (banana, blueberry and chocolate chip are my favorite!)
- Breakfast burritos
- Breaded chicken (great for a meal or adding to a salad)
- Cookies or cookie dough balls
TIPS FOR FREEZING MEALS
- Sauce-based dishes: If you’re freezing something like baked ziti or enchiladas, I’ve found that adding extra sauce to the dish before freezing keeps the reheated dish from being dried out.
- Pizza dough: Freeze after the dough rises, but before shaping. Just form it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.
- Large-yield recipes: For things like baked ziti, chili or a big pot of soup, freeze in smaller portions. This lessens the likelihood that the food will go to waste or that you’ll get tired of eating the same thing for days on end.
- Soups and sauces: To save freezer space, portion out soups and sauces into gallon-size freezer bags, seal and lay flat to freeze, then stack them.
- Containers: Whenever possible, I freeze in disposable containers so that clean up is easy and there aren’t any dishes to wash. For baked pastas or casseroles, this means foil pans. For things like muffins, cookies or breakfast burritos, I wrap individually in plastic wrap then place then a freezer bag.
Whether you’re planning ahead for yourself or making something for a loved one, having an easy hot meal in the freezer is a fabulous idea!
What are your favorite recipes to keep in the freezer for a rainy day?
What is the breaded chicken recipe?!
I don’t have one posted, but both my mom and my father-in-law make simple breaded chicken cutlets – pound chicken breasts super thin, coat in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs and pan fry.
I make freezer meals as a new baby gift every time someone I know is expecting and they always say it’s the *best* gift they received!
Thanks for the great ideas!! How do you freeze your breaded chicken? Already cooked? I freeze cutlets breaded but I still have to cook them when they are thawed.
Hi Karin, Yes, already cooked. Once they are cooked and cooled, place on large baking sheet in a single layer and freeze until firm, then place in an airtight container or freezer ziploc bag.
This looks great! Yum.
Great post! Have you heard of crockswap? http://www.crockswap.com
Interesting concept for sharing meals.
Thank you for the great ideas. We are looking forward to our first grandbaby’s arrival in spring and I would love to do some meals for my son and daughter-in-love! I am wondering how you prep and bake the breaded chicken? Thank you, and many blessings to you and your new little one.
Hi Lisa, My mom made a standard flour/egg wash/breadcrumb coating, then fried. Once drained and cool, she laid them on a baking sheet to freeze, then transferred to a freezer-safe ziploc bag.
Can I come live with you…or your mom?
thank you so much for this post. the timing is perfect.
Labeling frozen food is crucial. I use green painters tape and a Sharpie. The tape sticks to any surface and pulls off easily. It is so easy to write what the food is, a date, weight, and cooking instructions. Use as long a piece as you need or use two smaller pieces. Once you try painters tape you will never use post its and scotch tape again.
I respectfully disagree with your pizza dough direction to form it in a ball to freeze. Balls don’t stack. Every freezer meal that I store in baggies is laid flat. That way I can stack a huge pile of them on top of each other or even stack them inside a bin of some kind for neater storage.
Also, white cream based sauces don’t freeze well. Sick to red sauce dishes.
For pasta dishes I also add extra sauce. It’s also important to cook the pasta only part way! If you cook it totally through, then reheat it in the oven, you’ll have mush.
Also, think about how you stack or set things in the freezer and put your labels in a spot on the wrapping/container where you can see it – without having to empty the whole freezer just to find the label. And do label! Things change in appearance once frozen and there’s nothing more annoying to defrost a baggie of tomato sauce for dinner only to discover that it’s actually the strawberry puree and now you have to Plan B your dinner.
Thanks for this post. I am also curious about freezing the taco meat.
In dishes like casseroles, lasagna, etc. do you fully bake first, and then freeze, or do you assemble the dish, freeze and then fully bake. I never know if I should bake before freezing! Thanks.
Hi Jan, You could totally do either! I personally like to assemble then freeze – less up front work and you’re going to need to thaw/heat it up anyway.
Thank you so much for this! Anyone know how you go about packaging/freezing taco meat?
Hi Debs, I just put the cooked meat in a ziploc freezer bag, squeeze out all of the excess air, and then press flat so I can stack them.
What a sweet mother you have! Hope all goes well for you and the new baby boy next week.
Thank you for all these great suggestions. Love your blog. Prayers for the birth of your second child.
Good luck with the deliver hopefully you will not have to have another emergency C section. This is great advice. My only advice is don’t freeze things in plastic. Plastic leeches and is an endocrine distributor. I highly recommend freezing in glass. There is a great site here http://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/ on how to live plastic free due to issues with plastic and also plastic ruining our environments as well, our waters, wild life etc.
When using glass, how do you avoid the long thawing wait times? Most glass dish manufacturers (Pyrex especially) say to avoid placing cold glass in a hot oven because the glass can shatter. I would imagine losing your meal to the bottom of the oven and having to clean it all up would negate the easy factor of freezer meals. I have no idea on frozen glass in the microwave, if it has the same danger of shattering.
Depends on the product but i always let it thaw first i never cook frozen food right away. I take it out the day before worst case i put it in hot water so i can remove it from the container and put it another container. But i mostly thaw and put it in another container. I would also not put my glass container in the oven just for this it might chatter. I would also never put anything aluminum in the oven it leaches really bad.
This is why I don’t use glass for make-ahead meals :)
This is such a great idea, and bless your mom’s heart! How long do meals like these last in the freezer? I’m expecting a baby in February, so how soon in advance could I prepare and freeze? Also, on soups with pasta in them (Chicken noodle soup, etc.) would you add the noodles when reheating, or freeze the noodles in with the soup? Thanks so much! This is a GREAT blog topic!
Hi Tara, I usually like to use mine up within 2 months just so they stay fresh and avoid any possibility of freezer burn. I freeze the noodles with the soup.
What wonderful ideas! This blog is THE BEST of all the baking blogs, and YOU are terrific! Praying for the birth of your second child. How blessed your children, husband, and family are to have you in their life!
I always, always, ALWAYS keep some homemade brownies and cookies in the freezer for “personal emergencies.” Those emergencies usually consist of me wanting a cookie or a brownie and they come up all the time. ;)
My favorite thing to freeze is chicken from rotisserie chickens. My local grocery store frequently marks them down on Saturdays. I check each week and buy as many as I can when they are marked down. I take them home and strip them of all the meat. I use the bones with scraps from onions, celery and carrots along with seasonings to make homemade broth (which also goes in the freezer after it is completely cooled and fat skimmed off). It’s so easy to pull a bag of chicken meat out of the freezer for chicken salad, to go over a salad, enchiladas, chicken spaghetti, chicken casseroles, chicken pot pies, soups, etc.
That is so sweet and thoughtful of your mom! You are truly blessed!
I forgot to add one of the most important and useful things I keep in my freezer — 1-pound bags of cooked shredded chicken, pork and beef. There are so many uses for shredded meat.
Thank you!!! I am also expecting (a baby boy!) but not due until Feb 1st. I was thinking the other day how I should start brainstorming about dinners I can freeze after Christmas. This list is a great start, and I’m keeping my eye on that baked ziti!
I’m a single person living alone, and my freezer is the difference between eating well and deciding I don’t feel like cooking for myself. I love those pre-cut 5″ squares of parchment paper. They go in between the big stack of crepes that’s always in the freezer, along with waffles, pancakes and several kinds of homemade bread that I slice and freeze separately.
Paillards of chicken, pork and beef are great to freeze and have on hand for quick meals. I can make chicken piccata or chicken fried chicken (or pork or steak) in no time. I don’t eat veal, but it would also work for this. Frozen burger patties are handy, but so are 1-pound portions of cooked ground beef and sausage.
I make several big meat meat loafs at a time, slice and freeze them in individual slices so I can pull out one for a sandwich or more for a meal.
Chicken pot pie is a great freezer dinner. I freeze until slightly firm, then cut into serving size portions. Same with lasagna, macaroni and cheese and cavatini. In fact, most casseroles work great for this.
I always have some good broth in the freezer for quick soups, along with a few different kinds of pasta and pizza sauce.
Many desserts work well for freezing in individual servings. I always have slices of pound cake for a quick strawberry shortcake or other emergency dessert. Brownies freeze surprising well, and so do most cakes, pies, cobblers and cookies. I scoop cookie dough, freeze them individually and put them in a bag to bake a few at a time, or the baked cookies can be frozen. I like to keep snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookie dough like this so I can bake 2 or 3.
Please tell your good mother she can come live with me any time she wants. She’s a lifesaver.
I hope your baby’s birth goes quickly and without drama. You’re due for that.
God bless our moms! I broke my ankle 2 months ago, not only did my mom and step dad take care 9 my daughter and I for 2 weeks she also filled my freezer with pasta e Fagioli, wedding soup, pork loin (made bbq pork and carnitas enchiladas), shredded turkey ( I’ve made turkey bbq, pot pie, fried rice) cooked chicken (made casseroles etc) it made life on our own so much easier!
Prayers for an easy delivery and welcome your new bundle!
I love to make and give small versions of lasagna to people. I make them in a disposable foil loaf pan. It’s the exact same size as one lasagne sheet and I change up the flavors. I make a traditional Italian meat version, a Greek version, with feta, kalamata olives and sautéed spinach, a Mexican version, using enchilada aside, corn, black beans, Monterey jack cheese, etc. I just assemble, cover in foil, and they stack nicely. They are the perfect size for 2 large portions or 3 regular portions. I save my large ricotta containers and use them to store soups.
Enchilada SAUCE…darn autocorrect.
I love freezing, more for the convenience than anything…. Soups, pasta sauce, pizza dough and grilled chicken breasts are my favorites… Great blog topic, thanks!!!
I love stocking up my freezer for those nights after work that I just can’t fathom much more than a re-heat. Thanks for the storage tips!
I’ve been looking through your bagel recipes and I was wondering if you’ve ever done and onion bagel variation? My boyfriend loves them, but we can’t seem to find them in any store in our area. :/
Hi Casey, I haven’t done an onion bagel, but now I’m craving one! They have them in the bakery section of our local grocery store.
Your mom is the best. You are very lucky.
You are super blessed with an awesome mom! Stocking the freezer before you have a baby is an excellent idea, especially after you have a few other kids at home. Kids are picky and only eat certain foods, usually stuff they are used to because you prepared it. Food from the very nice people from church is an incredible blessing, but kids don’t eat things usually like stuffed peppers. Good luck in a week! Labor and delivery is awesome. For my second pregnancy, I was almost Mercy flown to Pittsburg to deliver from Buffalo because they didn’t have the right docs in town to handle me. And at the last minute they couldn’t because it was too dangerous.