Meal Plan

10 Freeze & Reheat Meals for When You Don't Feel Like Cooking

Your future self will thank you.

Photo by Julia Gartland

I don’t always want to cook—cue shock, horror, and “but you work in food media, that’s your thing"—but I don’t. Just like, I’m sure, you don’t either. When this mood strikes, sometimes egg tacos or avocado toast will suffice. Other times, you don’t want to cook but you do want a real, home-cooked dinner. I'm here to tell you that, in fact, you can have it both ways. You just need a little help from your freezer.

These 10 meals can be made-ahead, frozen, thawed, and reheated for when you just can’t in the kitchen. Below, I’ve also suggested fresh plus ones to make along side your frozen food. However, you can totally just make the main dish and leave the sides aside (ha!).

And, if you’re new to freezer-friendly foods or just skeptical about what should and shouldn’t be frozen, check out this guide.

1. Soup & Biscuits

Need help with defrosting your soup (or help finding the best soup recipe)? We've got you covered in this step-by-step guide. For how to freeze and cook biscuits, see here. To really make a meal of it, add a fresh dollop of yogurt for on top of the soup.

2. Dumplings & XO Sauce

If you need help freezing your dumplings, we've got a guide for that. For how to cook said frozen dumplings see here. For freezing the XO Sauce, let it cool and portion it into ice cube trays, so you don’t end up with a big ol’ frozen block of un-portionable, un-scoopable sauce. After the cubes are frozen, transfer to a freezer bag. When you’re ready to cook, you can thaw the sauce in the fridge or just throw it right into some stir-fried vegetables to thaw and cook.

3. Meatballs & Sauce

Cook the sauce as the recipe states and let cool completely before portioning into freezer bags and placing in the freezer. To thaw, place the bags of sauce on a plate or bowl (no spillage!) and leave in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 hours. The sauce probably won’t be completely cooled by then, but that’s okay! Just put it into a pot, turn the heat on, and that’ll do the trick.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Rather, as noted in comments to other, recent posts, I'd like to see a round up of building block, component recipes, to make it easy on a regular, planned basis to cook on the weeknights using freezer-friendly time-savers -- recipes like Mallika Basu's tomato curry sauce which is a favourite, I gather, of Antonia James. This, however, is a good start, for which I am grateful. ”
— Mrs B.

For the meatballs, cook as the recipe states. Let cool, then place, separated, on a parchment-covered sheet pan and into the freezer to freeze. Once frozen, put them in a freezer bag. To reheat the meatballs, place into your pot of thawed tomato sauce and simmer until warmed through.

Looking to level-up your frozen meal? It’s meatball sub time. Grab a baguette (or, if you’re feeling ambitious make one and freeze that, too), fresh mozzarella, and pepperoncini—and the meatballs and tomato sauce, of course!—and get to layering your subs.

4. Enchilada Casserole & Black Beans

Assemble the casserole and cover very well with aluminum foil and secure the foil’s edges with tape. To cook, you have two options: Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as described in the recipe or place directly into the oven, without thawing, knowing you’ll need about 15 minutes or more of extra cooking time (if you see yourself doing the former, use an aluminum pan to avoid any glass shattering). To freeze and thaw beans, cook and follow the same instructions for the tomato sauce. For a fresh element, add sliced avocado and chopped cilantro to the casserole when it's time to serve.

5. Chicken Fingers & Sweet Potato Fries

After breading the chicken fingers (but before baking), place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and into the freezer. Freeze until frozen, then place into a freezer bag. When ready to cook, arrange on a baking rack set on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and bake at 425°F for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

For the sweet potato fries, cook the fries as directed and let cool completely. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and into the freezer. Once frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag. To cook, place onto a parchment-lined sheen pan and pop them into the oven (at 425°F, so the same as the chicken fingers) for about 10 minutes, or until they’re warmed through.

Ketchup and/or ranch dressing are a must for dipping the chicken fingers. For a fresh green thing, serve a salad on the side.

6. Samosas & Dal

After filling and forming your samosas, place onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and pop into the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag. When ready to bake, place once again on a parchment-lined sheet pan and cook as directed in the recipe, adding on a few more minutes to account for the samosas being frozen.

For the dal, cook as the recipe states, let cool, and follow the same freezing and thawing instructions as the tomato sauce. When it's time to eat, make a pot of rice for the dal, and some sort of vegetable (perhaps Steam-Roasted Carrots with Cumin?).

7. Chili & Cornbread

Cook the chili as the recipe says to, let cool, and follow the same freezing and thawing instructions as the tomato sauce. For the cornbread, cook as directed and follow the freezing and thawing instructions here.

For serving, prep whatever fixin’s you like adding to your chili—diced red onions, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped cilantro, and pickled jalapeños are my faves.

Meal 8: Chicken Stock & Leftover Roast Chicken

Make the chicken stock, let cool completely, portion into freezer bags, and freeze. Put the chicken stock in a pot and turn the heat on low, stirring occasionally to break up the stock. Heat until thawed and at a simmer.

For the chicken, once cool, shred some of that roasted bird and place into freezer bags and freeze. If you had the foresight to thaw your chicken in the fridge the night before, great! If not, add it right to the pot (that’s why you shredded it).

Stock + chicken = chicken noodle soup. Grab some noodles, frozen peas, chopped celery, and peeled, thinly sliced carrots (on the bias, if you like). If you’re unsure of how to make chicken noodle soup, here’s a good guide. Right before serving, throw in some minced parsley and a smattering of freshly ground black pepper.

9. Chicken Tamale Pie & Salsa

Follow the casserole freezing, thawing, and cooking (following the time and temperature directions in the pie's recipes) instructions as described for the Vegan Enchilada Casserole. For the salsa, cook and let cool. Then, portion it into freezer bags and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or, in a pinch, in a bowl of cold water, refreshing the water several times until thawed.

A side of guacamole and chips are great fresh additions for when it comes time to serve. And perhaps a green salad, too, dressed with a spicy lime vinaigrette.

10. Mac & Cheese

Cook as stated, let cool, and cover with aluminum foil, sealing the edges with tape. Place into the freezer. When ready to cook, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat at 375°F until warmed through.

Do you have a favorite freezer-friendly meal? Tell us about it in the comments.

This article was originally published January 2017.
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Keesje February 1, 2017
Thanks for these. Particularly interested for meals I can cook and freeze for some older people to then heat up and eat. So these are great ideas.
Amy L. January 30, 2017
I make a triple batch of Marcella's pasta sauce (with those giant cans of tomatoes from Costco) then freeze it in ice cube trays. Once it's all frozen I throw the cubes in a big freezer bag and just pull a couple out and microwave them for our pasta or pizza (or subs or dipping sauce or pizzadillas for the kiddo or...... It's such a versatile sauce!). It takes about two cubes per person for spaghetti, I've found. With a wild three-year-old I really like the convenience of freezing in smaller, quicker-defrosting units.
Cindy N. January 28, 2017
What a wonderful collection of delicious ideas for meals. Even better they aren't complicated and have ingredients that appeal to me and are available in my cabinet!
Karen R. January 27, 2017
I usually cook the spaghetti sauce to be used for lasagna and other meals mentioned in the article. I cook the lasagna and let it cool in order to cut for individual servings. Not only do I have dinner but can take to work for lunches. As my family got bigger, I would cook 2 big pans of lasagna for dinner and 1.5 pans for the freezer.
Mrs B. January 27, 2017
Thank you. My situation is rarely that I don't want to cook anything, as the headline / tag for this article suggests. Rather, as noted in comments to other, recent posts, I'd like to see a round up of building block, component recipes, to make it easy on a regular, planned basis to cook on the weeknights using freezer-friendly time-savers -- recipes like Mallika Basu's tomato curry sauce which is a favourite, I gather, of Antonia James.
This, however, is a good start, for which I am grateful.
AntoniaJames January 27, 2017
Yes, that curry sauce is terrific - so handy! Here are some other ideas: (things I make and freeze for use during the week, with annotations)

You can see this system at work here:

(I will continue to add to this document throughout 2017, so check back for updates.)

I hope others will recommend their favorite recipes for freezer-friendly components to mix and match for easier weeknight (or weekend) dinners. Thanks, everyone. ;o)
AntoniaJames January 27, 2017
I just learned that those two links may not allow everyone to gain access, so here are shareable links:

Freezer-friendly Component MVPs:

Planning documents:

Sorry for any inconvenience. ;o)
Jennifer January 27, 2017
Thanks for this--so helpful to hear how others cope. I'm not really big on eating pork-three-ways-over-course-of-five nights (or lamb, or whatever). My "way to dinner"/"playbook of recipes" for this week includes--
--shatshuka! in early fall I freeze chunky tomato sauce (in plastic bags) and use as base for shatshuka for many months
--turkey chili--yep, those delicious leftovers from T'giving (isn't it time you defrosted yours?)
--braised beef, using the Gourmet recipe (can of tomatoes and some garlic)--I'll eat some and freeze most, to serve later over a grain or pasta or with a hunk of bread.
For all of this, I'll use seasonal sides--some roasted carrots, or turnips, or sauteed kale. (And by early March, there won't be any produce at all in Syracuse and we'll be buried in snow--that's when the frozen veggie aisle is my best nutritional friend.)
Imho, this makes more sense than trying to repackage the same seasonings multiple times in a week
AntoniaJames January 28, 2017
Jennifer, I couldn't agree more, on all counts. Even alternating two main dishes doesn't cut it here. And funny you should mention the turkey . . . . I used the last from my freezer this week, in a marvelous turkey and wild rice soup. I always braise extra legs or thighs because they freeze so well, and I make extra braising liquid to use in sauces and soups. Over the weekend I quickly prep my "base" for soups like that -sweat onions, add diced celery, carrots, parsley stems, thyme, whatever. (I typically prep two or three similar meals for the week at the same time, but that's another story.) I just add the cooked turkey, wild rice from the freezer (I always cook 3X what I need and freeze 2X), and stock from the freezer, with some chopped parsley leaves. Oh, what a marvelous, easy weeknight supper!
Thanks, too, for posting the details of how you use your freezer. ;o)
Maura January 28, 2017
Antonia, what a lovely share, you're amazing, thanks so much!
AntoniaJames January 29, 2017
Maura, you're welcome! I update the planning doc every few days, to adjust to accommodate my schedule, to work in new recipes found or seasonal produce that's just become available, etc. The list of helpers I kind of threw together off the top of my head, when a Food52 member contacted me privately, asking me to mentor her in make-ahead planning and execution. (Coincidentally, she also is a lawyer.) I plan to update that document as well on an ongoing basis. ;o)
Anne13 January 29, 2017
These are gold, Antonia! Thanks so much for posting your docs. I'm trying to have a system, but it's nowhere near this elaborate. And much of my "cooking ahead" is purely aspirational...I don't quite get around to actually doing it. :-)
AntoniaJames January 30, 2017
That;s very kind of you, Anne13. It’s actually not that difficult. I’ll send you a direct message within a few days or this weekend, with more tips on how to make this system work for you. As they say, you can give me a fish and I’ll eat tonight, or you can teach me how to fish and I’ll eat for the rest of my life. ;o)
ErinM724 July 26, 2017
Thank you! This is very helpful!