Freezer meal ideas
August 7, 2007 6:50 PM   Subscribe

What are your favourite "don't cook before freezing" freezer meal recipes?

I'm expecting a (second) baby in 2 months. For our first baby, we stocked the freezer with tons of pre-cooked meals. By the end of the first 2 weeks, I was often resorting to take out or delivery, because I couldn't stand another hamburger dish or another reheated meal.

This time around, I'd like to have a good selection of frozen meals that have NOT been previously cooked. I honestly don't like reheated meals. I'd rather have things that are prepared raw and frozen, then cooked once before serving. (I don't mind having leftovers.)

I'm trying to avoid hamburger recipes, as I can think of a million of those on my own. I don't eat a ton of processed foods, so please go easy on the canned soups and sauces -- although I will accept some. (I will not eat stuff like processed cheese, though.) Our toddler has not yet been introduced to nuts and shellfish. Kid-friendly meals are a plus, but our little guy likes Thai, Mexican, Indian and other foods, since he's a Vancouver kid. Not all meals need have meat, although my husband would probably prefer that they did. Recipes for side dishes are also welcome. Any meal of day is fine -- breakfast, lunch, dinner. Healthier dishes preferred, but I'll only be so fussy once I'm sleep deprived.

So, what are your favourite "don't cook before freezing" freezer meals? Thanks!
posted by acoutu to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I just want to get a bit of clarification - are you asking for recipes that primarily use frozen raw produce and meats?

To me, it seems a bit odd because the whole point of freezing is to save time on/skip the cooking part; if you're looking to use food that has not been cooked, then you're increasing the preparation and cooking time by having to defrost first.

Could you maybe provide an example? I'm being honest and I'd really like to help.
posted by junesix at 7:21 PM on August 7, 2007

I think they mean food that is prepared, not cooked and then frozen. Once it's thawed it can be cooked. I think.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:42 PM on August 7, 2007

Veggie Stirfry. Optional: add frozen shrimp. And maybe get a rice cooker? I can't eat stirfry without rice. Well, I could, but I'd feel hollow and shameful inside.
posted by spec80 at 7:55 PM on August 7, 2007

Response by poster: I mean I'm looking for recipes where the casserole (or whatever) is not cooking before I put it in the freezer. For example, I have made meatloaf, put it into a loaf pan, and put it in the freezer. When I'm ready to eat it, I put it in the oven for whatever amount of time.

I don't mind if the sauces or even some of the veggies have been cooked in advance. It's just that I don't like reheated previously cooked meat, for the most part, except for hamburger. And I'm not short on hamburger recipes.

I'm not worried about having to defrost and cook later. I can pull something from the freezer the night before and put it in the fridge and then put it in the oven an hour or so before I want to eat it. Because both of us will be home for the first month, it's not a problem to have to put something in the oven for an hour. It's just more that we won't have time to grocery shop, chop up produce and assemble meals.
posted by acoutu at 8:01 PM on August 7, 2007

I don't have any specific recipes, but the phrase and acronym you want for googling are "Once a Month Cooking" and "OAMC". I did a lot of research into this idea a few years ago, and then lost interest before making any of the meals. There seems to be a pretty widespread community of people online sharing ideas and recipes in this vein, so you should be able to find some good stuff. (Congrats and good luck with the new one!)
posted by vytae at 8:06 PM on August 7, 2007

With a crock pot, many frozen meats and vegetables become easy to prepare roasts, stews, and soups. Literally, pull a chunk of frozen meat, a chicken or frozen chicken parts, or fish out of the freezer, put it in the crock pot, turn on low, add 2 to 4 cups of water, a couple of bouillon cubes, and a dash of pepper and fines herbes. 4 hours later, toss in a bag of frozen vegetables, of your choice, and cook an additional hour. Put frozen or canned biscuits in the oven 20 minutes ahead of meal time. Maybe some frozen potatoes, mac and cheese, or rice, if you want additional starch.

Ice cream and ice cream novelties (ice cream sandwiches, push ups, cones, etc.), frozen yogurt, sherberts, freezer cakes, popsicles, etc. on hand for treats and desserts.
posted by paulsc at 8:07 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks. I should clarify that it's mostly the reheated meat that I don't like -- I'm okay with reheated mac and cheese and stuff like that. I'm not sure I've done a good job of communicating what I'm looking for.

Crock pot is a good suggestion. I may look into that.
posted by acoutu at 8:13 PM on August 7, 2007

acoutu, I used to cater and I would very much like to help you. I don't want to derail the thread offering you tips outside the parameters you set in your question. Is there an e-mail address I could send something to you, or would it be alright to post suggestions that are outside the scope of your question here? I just helped a friend of mine who's expecting a baby next month with this very thing.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:15 PM on August 7, 2007

Response by poster: TTT, please feel free to derail a bit. It sounds like whatever you were planning to post is relevant. If you do want to contact me, there's a link to my feedback form in my profile. THanks!
posted by acoutu at 8:21 PM on August 7, 2007

I think this is exactly what you want: Saving Dinner: Freezer Meals You do the prep for work for multiple meals in just a few hours, freeze and then quickly cook it up on the day you want to eat it. The food is good and flavorful but not fancy or ethnic. I think the cost if $9 for 22 recipes plus shopping llists and instructions.
posted by metahawk at 8:23 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, that's the idea. I basically want to do what you do at those meal assembly places, like Sensational Suppers, but not have to pay their insane prices. I will check out that link. But more info welcome!
posted by acoutu at 8:44 PM on August 7, 2007

Oh, great. I'll give you an overview here for posterity and e-mail you personally with some more detailed quick recipes that might help.

First off, paulsc's suggestion is fantastic. Slow cookers are a wonderful way to minimize active cooking time. They're also a great way to tenderize less expensive cuts of meat, if cost is a factor for you, which it is for my other friend who's expecting.

A quick tip - you can defrost food quickly by placing it in an aluminum pot and covering it with water. Seriously. Place a package of chicken breasts in an aluminum pot covered with water and they will thaw in about an hour. Less so if they are portioned out and frozen in packs of two. We don't have a microwave, so this is our method.

A few suggestions alternatives to hamburger:

- Turkey breast cutlets. You can find them in many markets these days, or you can buy a turkey breast and cut it into individual portions that you can freeze separately. Ziploc baggies and containers are your friend.

- Lamb chops. Lamb chops freeze beautifully and cook in a flash. Thaw and sear in a pan for perhaps three to four minutes per side for desired doneness.

- Ditto for pork chops. Again, take a few minutes to separate them into packages of two or three.

- Chicken breasts will broil quickly if you place them in a plastic bag and pound them thin using a can of tomatoes, a wine bottle, or a heavy skillet. Salt, pepper, olive oil and chile powder sprinkled over the top, broil for about three minutes per side. Freeze in packages of two if you buy them in bulk for quick thawing. Better still for you, chop breast meat into strips and freeze in individual containers. Thaw for a few minutes in the microwave or in the aluminum pot. Stir fry with veggies, soy sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve over rice.

- Turkey or chicken meatballs. Trader Joe's sells some pretty tasty varieties.

- Fish fillets like tilapia (try it!), catfish, trout, flounder freeze beautifully. Thaw overnight. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, perhaps some chile powder and paprika, and broil for four or five minutes.

- Egg whites! Egg whites sauteed with spinach and goat cheese and served with toasted bread and jam makes a great healthy, satisfying meal. Also great with a simple green salad.

On starch:

- Cooked pasta and rice both freeze beautifully. Again, portion it out before freezing. Refresh pasta in boiling water for about a minute or two. Add olive oil, lemon, grated parmesan and perhaps a little crushed garlic, if you like, salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread. Rice can be refreshed by adding a half cup of water or store-bought chicken stock in carton to a sauce pot, adding your rice, covering it and steaming it for about five minutes.

- Couscous, couscous, couscous! Cooks in five minutes. Add a handful of raisins, a squeeze of lemon, and some slivered almonds. Stir in some olive oil or butter and serve.

- Trader Joe's sells pre-cooked brown rice, wild rice, and rice blends that need about five minutes in the microwave to finish. I think they're really good, and I'm a pretty picky eater.

- Toss chopped potatoes with olive oil, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper. Freeze. Defrost in your microwave or aluminum pot. Roast in the oven for about half an hour.

On veggies:

- Some veggies freeze well:

Chopped onions
Chopped shallots
Broccoli florets
Cauliflower florets
Shucked corn - corn on the cob tends to turn to mush (It's a starch, but still.)
Squash - acorn, butternut, hubbard all do pretty well
Sliced zucchini and yellow squash
Sliced carrots
Hulled peas - also, organic peas are pretty great thawed under cool water for a few minutes and allowed to sit for about five minutes. Add to salad for something different.

- Baby carrots are your friend. Steam, saute or snack on whole.

- Avocados are delicious, full of good fat, and add depth and substance to most salads. Also good mashed on crackers or toast for a light snack.

- Pre-packaged organic greens are now increasingly available. Try to find a mix with tarragon, parsley and dill mixed in - an "herb mix" - if you can. Top with lemon juice, olive oil, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Add a little shaved parmesan if you get ambitious. Serve. Also works with bagged spinach.

- If you can find bagged greens like spinach, kale and chard, go for it. Saute in olive oil for five minutes with a little garlic and soy sauce, salt and pepper, serve.

Little extras:

- Boil some eggs. Put them in the fridge for a snack or to add to salad.
- Almonds. Roasted almonds are a healthy snack and a good addition to salads.
- Store bought cartons of chicken stock are immensely helpful. You can add carrots, onions, and celery to it, simmer for ten minutes, add a bundle of frozen pasta or a cup of frozen, cooked rice, and a bit of frozen, cubed chicken breast. Simmer for ten more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
- If you get ambitious, chop up some parsley and mint. Add it to two cups of chicken stock. Pour your stock into an ice tray and freeze. Add a cube or two to your pan after you've cooked your chicken breast. Add a bit of soy and honey. Instant pan sauce. You can also keep chopped parsley and mint on hand in ziploc containers in your fridge just to sprinkle over meat, fish, or chicken.
- Keep olives around for snacking and adding to salads to keep things from getting mundane. Also great sauteed with chicken breasts.
- jarred tomato sauce (without the basil or oregano) can be turned into a good indian sauce by adding a tablespoon of garam masala, a teaspoon of cumin, a tablespoon of coriander, and a quarter tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Enrich with a little yogurt. Serve over chicken, cubed lamb, or pork. Always adjust to your taste; this is just a basic guideline. This also works great in a slow cooker. Add your yogurt last, though, or it might curdle.
- If you have a food processor, process onions and shallots in large batches. Store in your fridge for easy addition to sauces.
- Lemons and limes are great to have on hand. Squeezed over chicken breasts, pork chops or turkey cutlets, or on salad, they just brighten things up a bit.
- Stouffers makes one hell of a good macaroni and cheese for those days where you just can't take it. Ditto on their lasagna. Watch the sodium, though. But once in a while won't kill you.

Okay. That's it off the top of my head. As I said, I'll e-mail you some quick recipes for soups, stews, casseroles. Good luck with everything.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:10 PM on August 7, 2007 [39 favorites]

I did the same as you with the first, and couldn't stand the casseroles shortly thereafter either. Here's what I did when I was expecting twins the second time round:

Instead of freezing prepped anything specific, I froze prepped ingredients and ingredient mixtures. Now's a perfect time from farmers' market etc. Chunked red/green peppers (raw), strawberry/rhubarb, pureed fresh basil/garlic (ice) cubes (to add to other dishes, eg rice/pasta, or to make fresh pesto), cooked hamburger/onion/garlic frozen on a flat tray then bagged so you can scoop out exactly how much you need, Mexican spiced black beans, vegetable soup bases, tomato/onion/fresh basil & oregano.

Currently I also make bulk homemade hamburger patties that are about 1/3 veggie mass (grated zucchini or green pepper) and bake them packed in on cookie trays (bulk = fast), drain juice off and freeze flat, then transfer to freezer bags. That way SO and I can eat something adult yummy and still give kids something good and quick that they like (1 burger = meat + veg). Some weeks that's the only way I get a really good adult tasting meal without fighting the peanut gallery.

The idea is that you can use these to make a variety of dishes depending on what you're into, fast and easy, that will make homemade cooking the preferred mode over another take out meal. You also want to make it worth freezing. Anytime you can buy a bag of frozen x from the supermarket, but you can't buy frozen x/y/z already prepped to go in whatever.

You might also consider freezing meals in portions specifically for your older child, so you sometimes can pull a fav dish and save the day when otherwise it might have been hard.
posted by kch at 9:22 PM on August 7, 2007

Breaded Eggplant - There is a fair amount of prep in this but it can be frozen raw and then cooked without thawing - e.g. fry a slice in a pan to make a sandwich with some cheese and a table spoon of bottled marinara (or whatever) sauce.

The prep can involve (if you follow all the steps in a some recipes): slicing, salting, waiting while water weeps out, breading, and setting on a rack to dry and firm up.

When I want me some breaded eggplant I generally by buy 2 or 3 and freeze what was not used in an immediate meal.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:27 PM on August 7, 2007

Dump chicken

Some recipes here and lots more if you google for Dump chicken. You dump the chicken parts in a freezer bag and add sauce or marinade ingredients, then freeze. Alter according to your taste.
posted by anitar at 10:44 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another slight derail.
I freeze lots of ingredients for very quick one pot dishes, rather than freezing the whole dish. For example, I freeze single portions of lamb from a roast. Then I reheat them and have them with couscous, spices, sultanas and lemon. Sure there's a little bit of chopping required, but it's minimal.

Fish fillets are good (as someone mentioned), or cooked chicken - buy some Thai curry paste and some of those really cheap noodles and have almost instant fish/chicken noodle soup. Freeze some prawns and/or mussels to make it extra interesting.

Buy some chillies, chop them into chunks and freeze them. Divide a tin of anchovies into twos and freeze them. Buy some lemons, presto - yummy super quick anchovy/chilli/lemon pasta sauce.

A sliced up hot sausage and a ready made pizza base (or mix) with the above chillies and anchovies makes for almost instant pizza.

I would imagine you could make almost instant fish pie. Chop up some fish, mix with some chopped boiled eggs, cooked spinach, creme fraiche, mustard and lemon juice. Put mash on top and freeze.

Cheap smoked salmon offcuts plus pasta or brown rice plus spinach and lemon juice makes a super speedy nice meal (but you can't really freeze any of that).
posted by emilyw at 2:04 AM on August 8, 2007

I just realized I forgot about beans! Canned beans - black beans, red beans, navy beans, etc. - can be doctored up with shallots, chopped carrots, chile powder and cumin, soy sauce, etc. and served with rice for a satisfying side dish. Saute your veggies first to soften them a bit and then add your beans. Simmer for about five minutes. Also freezes very nicely.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cook's Illustrated's Cover and Bake got us through the first two months postpartum. It contains "make ahead" instructions - where you make the dish to step X and then freeze - for most recipes. Good luck and congrats!
posted by hsoltz at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. These are great (and yummy sounding) ideas. I look forward to trying them out.
posted by acoutu at 9:05 PM on August 8, 2007

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