5 make-ahead recipes for “hero status”
Like most of us, you probably have the best intentions for dinner. You want to end the day with a healthy, wholesome meal that everyone in the family will love. Maybe you even have a Pinterest board devoted to make-ahead recipes. But getting from point A to B can feel almost impossible come 5 o’clock. Because it’s hard to do your best thinking when you’re hungry and tired—even tougher if you have other hungry and tired people to feed.
Sound like a lot of problems? Well consider this one a problem solved! Just remember this simple mantra: Your Freezer Is Your Friend. Make-ahead recipes for dinner whenever you have the time and energy, then put up the food like a squirrel stashes his nuts, you can be a dinnertime hero!
Turns out, a “freezer meal” doesn’t have to mean a casserole. Make-ahead recipes like soups, sauces, baked dishes, and one-pot meals, then freeze them so they taste like they were made fresh that evening. Just follow these simple rules to reach freezer perfection (not to mention that dinnertime hero status you deserve).
Freezer Recipe Rules:
- Pass on glass. Glass is great for baking and food storage in general, but avoid it in the freezer. Not only is it a bad idea to put cold glass in a hot oven, but at the risk of stating the obvious, glass breaks. And nothing ruins a good meal quite like a broken glass dish… with your dinner in it. For items you will reheat in the pan, use aluminum. You can wash and reuse aluminum pans a few times, and now your favorite glass baking dish won’t be out of commission when you need it. Freeze sauces and soups in plastic containers or freezer bags. For easy removal, run the container or bag under hot tap water for a minute or two. The food will pop right out.
- Label and date everything. No, really. Even when you’re thinking, “Oh, I’ll remember what this is.” In reality, once you’ve got a freezer full of miscellaneous food, it’s going to be hard to remember what is what, much less when you made it. You can use a permanent marker to write directly on plastic containers or bags or use masking tape. You can even write reheating instructions on things to make dinner prep even easier.
- Double up. When you’re cooking ahead, don’t just make one batch. Double it! By making extra, you get two night’s worth of meals in almost the same time it takes to make one. This is an especially good strategy for those tried and true meals that you know your family loves.
- It’s basic food safety—don’t try to freeze something while it’s still hot. It will take a long time for the food to freeze, and the temperature in the freezer will rise, compromising everything else inside. Not only that, putting warm food in the freezer can lead to big ice crystals forming, which leads to freezer burn. The best strategy is to cool the food to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled, and finally wrap tightly to freeze.
- Soup’s on! Reheating freezer meals can take a while. Granted, it’s hands-off time that you can use to do other things, but sometimes you need dinner on the table five minutes ago. The best option is to think ahead and put the frozen food in the fridge the night before. That way, it will have a whole day to thaw, dramatically decreasing the time you’ll need to heat it up. Most frozen foods that are reheated in the oven should be loosely tented with foil to protect the top from drying out and to ensure the food heats evenly.
Freezer Recipe Round-Up
- Shepherd’s Pie: This hearty, wholesome savory pie is comfort food at its best. Assemble in an aluminum pie tin, then freeze tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for best results. To cook, transfer from the freezer to the fridge the night before or in the morning before heading out the door. When you get home, unwrap it, loosely cover the top with foil, and bake at 375℉ until warmed through, about 45 minutes.
- Classic Chick’n Noodle Soup: Some days, nothing hits the spot like chicken soup! Whip up a batch on the weekend, but leave out the pasta. Freeze in two smaller containers rather than one large container for faster thawing. Run the containers under hot tap water to loosen them and transfer to a pot. Once fully thawed and simmering, add the pasta and cook until tender. Garnish with plenty of fresh herbs.
- Tandoori Chick’n Bake: The old-fangled pasta bake gets a fresh spin in this simple, satisfying dish. If possible, assemble and freeze in an aluminum pan. Remove from the freezer the night before or in the morning. That night, unwrap it, loosely cover the top with lightly oiled foil (oiling the aluminum foil ensures that the delicious cheese topping won’t stick!) and bake at 375℉ until warmed through, about 30-45 minutes.
- Smoky Ham and Cheese Biscuits: Imagine having the time to whip up a batch of homemade biscuits to accompany dinner, still steaming hot when they hit the table. It sounds like something straight out of the ‘50s, but this recipe makes it doable for the modern family! Simply make the dough and cut out the biscuits when you have extra time, then freeze them in a single layer on a sheet pan. When completely frozen, you can transfer them to a plastic freezer bag for easier storage. Then, whenever you have a hankering, simply grab a few frozen biscuit pucks, slap them on a lined sheet pan, and bake as directed in the recipe. They’ll take a few extra minutes to bake, but you’ll have some freshly baked goodness to go with dinner in less than 30 minutes.
- 30-Minute Bolognese Sauce: Not only is this hearty sauce a plant-based take on Nonna’s Sunday sauce, it comes together in a snap! It’s easy enough to whip up a batch on a busy weeknight, but if you make it ahead of time and freeze it, you can simply throw the frozen sauce in a covered pan with a little water and simmer to pasta perfection, freeing up your time to do something else. The best part? This sauce has all the flavor of a long-simmered sauce, but without all those hours spent hovering over the stove.
Print off a few of your favorite recipes so you’re all set to make them when you find a little extra time on your hands. Then rest assured on busy weeknights knowing you’ve got dinner covered. Just open the freezer.