Busy moms know how hard it is to get a healthy, home-cooked dinner on the table each night. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we often find ourselves reaching for a prepackaged meal or picking up the phone and calling for delivery. But there is another way. Make-ahead freezer meals save time and money and will help you stay on track with your healthy eating goals.
Not sure where to start when it comes to freezer meals? We talked to Cindy Bielik, owner of The Dinner Club in La Grange, who shared her secrets for successful freezer meals. Cindy would know. Her business takes all the guesswork out of planning, shopping for and assembling freezer meals. With The Dinner Club, you can choose 8-12 meals from their monthly menu, then sign up for a two-hour session where you’ll prepare your meals in their kitchen. (Bonus: You don't have to clean up.) And, if you’re too busy to visit The Dinner Club and prep the meals yourself, they can do it for you.
But if you’re ready to tackle the process at home, Cindy has given us her top tips and tricks for successful freezer meal preparation.
1. You can freeze almost anything. It’s true, some dishes freeze better than others, but you’d be surprised at how many dishes freeze well, including stir fries, sauces, soups, chilies and, of course, casseroles. There are a few items to stay away from when freezing: Sour cream and cream cheese will often lose their creaminess; some vegetables with a high water content can lose their crispiness; and stay away from freezing apples, grapes and watermelon if you need to defrost them for a recipe (but DO put that frozen fruit into your morning smoothie).
2. Think already frozen when it comes to veggies. Some fresh veggies freeze well, but others won’t hold up. If you’re going to be freezing a recipe, substitute frozen vegetables for fresh when you can.
3. Freeze meals before you cook them. Typically, meals will turn out better if you freeze them before cooking, defrost completely and then cook according to the recipe’s directions.
4. Double your recipes and freeze half. Have you ever had to buy one random ingredient for a recipe, and after you've used half, the rest sits in your fridge and goes bad before it gets used again? We’ve all been there. Put those random ingredients to good use by doubling a recipe and freezing half.
5. Don’t cook your grains until mealtime. While stir fries and sauces are great to freeze, rice and pasta that have already been cooked and frozen can turn out mushy once reheated. Instead, cook these easy prep items at mealtime and add them to your other ingredients.
6. Know how long your freezer meals will last. In general, if you’re going to keep your meals in the refrigerator’s freezer that gets opened multiple times a day, three months is a good rule of thumb, especially for dishes with meat in them. However, if you have a chest or deep freezer, your meals will last up to six months.
7. Freeze individual portions. Flash freezing is a great technique for freezing individual portions — think muffins, meatballs, lasagna rolls, biscuits, etc. You can also freeze already cooked grilled chicken breasts individually, then defrost as needed for quick salads or stir fries.
8. Think ahead once your freezer is filled with meals. Typically, freezer meals need 24-48 hours to defrost before cooking, so grab two to three out of the freezer on Sunday and you’ll be ready with dinners for the week.
A special thanks to Cindy for sharing her freezer meal tips. And, if you haven't already, check out The Dinner Club, including their special promotion for new moms.