Any ideas for make ahead freezeable meals to make weeknights easier?

Hi! As a working mom, I'm looking for some make ahead freezeable meals. Have any favorites?

  • Posted by: nycmlr
  • April 5, 2016


BerryBaby April 15, 2016
I find that using the slow cooker is better than frozen meals. It cooks slowly all day and you have a fresh, hot, meal when you get home. JMO
Stefania April 13, 2016
For me, lasagna is the most convenient! I make a double amount of everything I need and make two separate trays; one to cook that night and the other to freeze. When the day comes for me to use the second one, I take it out of the freezer in the morning, pop it in the fridge, and when I get home it's good to go :)
AntoniaJames April 12, 2016
A new best friend for weeknight cooking: this tomato curry sauce, which essentially preps your aromatics and basic spices in tomato sauce (I use canned!): You can't find a better kitchen helper than a scalable, freezable sauce that kickstarts weeknight meals.

I made a double batch last week, have already used it twice, and froze the rest in small containers. You only need 1/2 to 1 cup in your curry or dal, it is so intensely flavored. I'll be re-stocking my freezer with this on a regular basis.

Ideas for using it are in this article by the same author:

I made the Quick Punjabi Dal Fry, linked from her website, which is terrific. I also made Chickpeas with Spinach on a weekday evening using chickpeas from the freezer, and baby spinach from the farmers' market (the recipe says you can use frozen, which I'll no doubt do in future), served over brown rice, also from the freezer. Total active time: 5 or 6 minutes at most.

This one's a keeper! ;o)
nycmlr April 12, 2016
Thanks so much to everyone responded!
LeBec F. April 12, 2016
In our house, we find that if we have easy pre-made starch, we can then concentrate on the entree and a quick veg or salad. We use a good number of Trader Joe's frozen starches (couscous, multigrain medley, quinoa, potatoes w/ mushrooms, japanese rice) and, frozen okra, french green beans, or broccolini. Then we get creative with roasted or grilled meats, or casseroles-- that will be good for 2 dinners.
MMH April 11, 2016
We love chicken so when I'm grilling it, I cook twice the amount we need in whatever form. I freeze the leftovers so I always have that great grilled flavor even when I don't have time to grill. When I'm ready to use them, I defrost them & crisp them up under the broiler because the microwave makes them rubbery. Side dishes are easy to add.
I also grill boneless skinless thighs or breasts and freeze them. They are so versatile & easy to add to a salad, soup, pasta dish, sandwich, burritos, etc.

I do this often on Sunday when I have the time and can convert the meat into other dishes throughout the week. Many times on Sunday I simultaneously make & freeze chicken stock because it has so many uses. And, while that is going on, I also Cook rice in chicken stock & then freeze it in 2 cup portions. You'd never know it was frozen.

Likewise, many things are easy to double & freeze so you always have a back up in the freezer. As long as you are cooking & the oven is hot, it doesn't take more time to make 2.
AntoniaJames April 11, 2016
Here are a few links to items that are often in my freezer: (Add cream when heating for serving) (So easy! I use canned tomatoes, year round, because they are more convenient and more flavorful even than what we get in the summer here) (sauce only; add cream and cheese on the day it’s served) (freeze in sauce; add cream on the day it’s served)

Dals (for nearly all, I add the tadka right before serving, i.e., I don’t freeze that component)

Crusts (When I serve a dessert pie/tart or savory tart on the weekend, I often make two or four crusts worth, at least, and freeze what I’m not using):

I've been subjected to cruel, snarky criticism for providing extensive and/or detailed information - intended to be helpful -- in my responses on this site, so if anyone wants more examples of what I keep in my freezer to help with weeknight meals (items made in bulk, cook-once-eat-twice mains, prep-once-cook-multiple-times components, etc.), feel free to send me a note and I'll share those with you.
Incidentally, did you know that "snark" is a portmanteau for "snide remark"?
ktr April 11, 2016
Someone else might complain, but I'll give you a big thank you! Personally, I've gotten some great advice from reading the comments on this site. And I've discovered new recipes to try when people link to their favorites. And now, I've added a few more to my list to try.
ktr April 8, 2016
Nycmlr, you may also want to think about meals that can be thrown together really quickly with pantry staples. Bean burgers, salmon patties, spaghetti and this recipe are ones that I rely on quite often.
ktr April 7, 2016
I agree with the majority here that freezing dinner components is oftentimes the way to go. I will also do an occasional slow cooker soup or roast. It took me a while to figure out how to prep things in advance. I used to assemble tons of casserole style meals and freeze them, but like AntoniaJames, casseroles aren't a favorite in my house (with the exception of lasagna), and they took up a ton of freezer space. Also, I didn't like that I was spending so much time prepping meals on the weekend using that method. Now, I normally make a double batch of sauces or soups and freeze them for quick meals.
The one hangup I've run into is that my family enjoys eating long cooking grains (I'm considering anything over 30min long) but I don't have time to cook them most week nights. Yes, I could think ahead and cook a big batch on the weekend, but I prefer them right after they are cooked, and on more occasions than I can count, my husband will eat them before I can use them for supper. I've been considering a pressure cooker to help out with cooking these grains on a weeknight. Does anyone here have any experience with this? Is it really as fast as I've read?
AntoniaJames April 8, 2016
ktr, I first heard about soaking rice in the morning and cooking in the evening back when I had a one year old and another on the way, and I was desperately looking for shortcuts in the kitchen. Marion Burros at the New York Times wrote a great piece on it: (My primary source of cooking information back then and until 2009, when I joined Food52, was the Wednesday section of the Times, which I devoured every week, clipping and taking notes.)
I find that it takes me at least 20 minutes to put any meal on the table. If you soak and then put the pot on the stove before doing anything else once you walk into the kitchen in the evening, the rice will be perfect, and "just-cooked" to your family's liking.
That said, I always make double batches of rice and put one and two-cup containers in the fridge. With a curry or other dish with a sauce, on a weeknight, defrosted and heated in the microwave flavorful rices are a god-send! I also make Julie Sahni's brown rice, broccoli and cashew pilaf on weeknights at least once a month, with a dal on the side (red lentil base from the fridge or freezer - an easy advance prep component!) to which I add sizzled onion, garlic and spices. That recipe requires rice cooked in advance.

I recently put this recipe, which also calls for pre-cooked rice
in one of my collections, to test. I hope it finds a place in my weeknight repertoire, with dal, as an alternative to Sahni's pilaf. I'm going to experiment with adding some blanched (weekend or weeknight advance prep!) vegetables, lightly steamed with the aromatics using Sahni's technique - to make it a one-pot dinner with dal supplementing the protein.

I'll post a list of some of my freezer-staple favorites over the weekend.

Cheers. ;o)
ktr April 8, 2016
Soaking grains is a great idea. I'm going to give that a try and see how much time it shaves off when cooking them. The ones I always want to make but rarely do because of time are buckwheat groats and wheat berries. I have a small kitchen so if it can keep me eating the foods my family enjoys and keeps another pot out of my kitchen I'd love it!

Also, that recipe looks great! Leftover rice is the one grain that never gets eaten in my house so I'm going to keep it in mind.

I'll keep an eye out for your freezer staples. I think part of the struggle initially is just making yourself take the time to plan out a menu each week. I often try to plan more than a week in advance because I live in a rural area and end up ordering items online because I can't get them in my local stores.
AntoniaJames April 7, 2016
I've provided a lot of information on this topic over the years here on Food52, in response to Hotline questions and on blog posts. A good summary of my approach can be found in my comment to this post from 2012: 

Like some of the others who have commented here, I don't often make entire meals ahead of time. There are several books and even more blogs out there on make-ahead freezer meals. Most seem to focus on casseroles, but my family just doesn’t like casseroles, other than cassoulet, so I’ve developed a different approach. I make in multiple batches components to keep on hand, both in the freezer and the fridge, to mix-and-match or otherwise rely on when pulling dinner together.

I'm actually starting an invitation-only private online group for sharing dinner planning strategies and techniques, as well as recipes and links to recipes and other resources; participants will also be able to share, if they wish, and view other people's actual meal planning calendars. I plan to post my freezer inventory to the group -- so you can see exactly what I'm talking about -- with links to recipes + tips pertinent to any particular recipe. (Seeing a freezer inventory at work, with a regular circulation of useful "dinner helpers" in and out, and their relation to menus planned 7 - 10 days at a time, will quickly convince you how well these strategies work.)

If any of you are interested, send a message through my profile. I'll get back in touch with you as the details of this project shape up.
Cheers. ;o)
ktr April 8, 2016
You can however freeze pizza dough. I normally make enough pizza dough to make 4 large thick crust pizzas or 6-8 thin crust pizzas and then freeze them either in oiled plastic bags or in freezer containers.
luvcookbooks April 6, 2016
Just recently made a huge batch of lusty tomato sauce w eggplant and porcini meat balls (veg meat balls). Can google the recipe. Also meat meatballs for the non veg. Worked out well til my refrigerator passed away. Now canning Seville orange marmalade and using an icebox.
Kristen W. April 6, 2016
Ricotta gnocchi also freeze well. I like to boost their nutritive value by adding whatever greens I have on hand to this recipe:
You can toss them with EVOO + fresh herbs as he does, or they're great with a simple (also freeze-able) tomato sauce, like the genius Marcella Hazan tomato-butter sauce that's on this site and all over the Internet. Cook from frozen, add a green salad, and you're good to go!
Em April 5, 2016
Meatloaf freezes well, as do meatballs. Rice and beans freeze well. Next time you're in the supermarket, check out the frozen foods aisle for ideas -- but don't buy! Your homemade versions will be more nutritious and cheaper.
pierino April 5, 2016
One of the best standbys is good old mac and cheese for a lot of reasons; it's satisfying, it freezes well and unlike the supermarket variety you can control the salt. With some of the big name brands you'll find that they are LOADED with salt. Often more than 1000 mg per serving.
I also like to have a bag of frozen peas handy for casseroles and stews.
LeBec F. April 12, 2016
Frozen Pea-Hater clocking in here! I use frozen okra like you use frozen peas!
HalfPint April 5, 2016
I always have a bag of meatballs in the freezer and canned tomatoes or marinara sauce in the pantry. Then it's a matter of heating meatballs in the sauce which you could eat with pasta or as sandwiches.

I like having sauces like XO sauce and Black Bean Garlic in my fridge. From there, stir fry some protein, vegetables, and a generous dollop of each sauce and dinner can be ready in about 20 minutes or so.

Susan W. April 7, 2016
HP, do you make your own xo sauce? If so, which recipe do you like and use?
HalfPint April 9, 2016
@SusanW, I use the recipe from Grub Street. Just made a batch a few weeks ago
Susan W. April 9, 2016
Thanks HP. I found it and that led me to an article on this site where the author went into great detail about her experience with making it.

I wonder if I could use shrimp paste in place of dried shrimp. I have a small container of it. I think I bought it for a Kim chee recipe. Sadly, it sits in the back of my fridge not being used.
HalfPint April 10, 2016
@susan, don't use shrimp paste. It's too salty and way too pungent. The Food52 article was great but making XO sauce does not need to be that arduous and the author did not use the a Grub Street recipe, which is relatively easy. I believe AntoniaJames posted her recipe in the comments. And I tend to trust her recipes.

Btw, should you use the Grub Street recipe, for some reason the ingredients is missing the amt of shallots. I recommend ~1/2 cup or so chopped.
Susan W. April 10, 2016
Thanks HP, headed to H Mart early next week to pick up the shrimp and scallops.

From what I found in search, AJ posted a link to Grub street xo sauce recipe so I'll use that one. Their eggplant with xo sauce sounds out of this world.
dinner A. April 5, 2016
My favorite things to freeze for quick meals are sauces -- not quite as fast/no fuss a fully cooked-in-advance meal, but more versatile and less taxing on freezer space. Some favorites: shakshuka sauce (you just need to thaw and cook the eggs in it, plus some bread and a salad is nice), various sorts of pesto (you can blanch some vegetables in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking, then stir the pesto into the drained veg./pasta mix), and various Mexican sauces like pipian verde for basic enchiladas (corn tortillas dipped and folded around some sauce, good topped w/avocado, cilantro, minced onion, a fried egg, etc).
For fully pre-cooked meals, my favorites are soups and stews, since their texture doesn't suffer: chili, lentil soup, winter squash soup (try this one:
sexyLAMBCHOPx April 5, 2016 The kitchn offers great ideas.
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