For days when you just don't have any time to cook, pulling out a frozen meal can save you from having to order takeout. Home-cooked frozen meals are much healthier than store-bought ones, not to mention cheaper, because you can use your favorite ingredients and control what goes into them.
All types of soup freeze well, so there is rarely a good reason to make only enough soup to feed your family for one meal. Some kid-friendly soup ideas include chili, puréed butternut squash soup, chicken noodle soup, beef stew and hearty vegetable soup. After reheating it, serve soup with store-bought bread or homemade cornbread to complete the meal. You can also freeze bread and reheat it in the oven while you heat the soup on the stove. To revive frozen bread, brush it lightly with olive oil or melted butter, and sprinkle on some dry ranch dressing mix before reheating it.
Moist casseroles are ideal candidates for freezer meals. If you do not have many casserole dishes to spare, purchase disposable aluminum pans and reuse them for your freezer casseroles. Lasagna is a classic freezer meal, and many people claim that it tastes better after being frozen because the flavors have had more time to meld. Shepherd's pie, tuna casserole and enchiladas are a few more options. Chances are, your family's favorite casserole will freeze well. Add a dash of dried herbs blended with dressing and seasoning mix if your frozen meal needs a fresh kick.
In general, meat dishes with more moisture freeze and reheat better than drier meat dishes. You'll also want to choose dishes that will not result in overcooked meat after reheating them. Meatloaf and meatballs both freeze very well and provide easy meals when you reheat them. Store cooked meatballs in a zip-close plastic bag and just take out as many as you need for each meal. Pulled pork in barbecue sauce is another type of meat that freezes well. Cooked ground beef in taco seasoning or sloppy joe sauce also freezes well and makes a good starting point for a later meal. You'll only need a few minutes to reheat a thawed meat dish and microwave a vegetable side. Open a salad kit with croutons and creamy dressing, and you can have a hot, nutritious dinner on the table in under 30 minutes.
Rather than preparing just one dinner's worth of a meal and freezing it all for another night, make your time more effective by preparing enough for two or three dinners. You can serve one portion for tonight and freeze another portion or two for other nights. When you want to freeze a meal, cool it in ice water or in the fridge before freezing it. Protect it from freezer burn by putting it in an airtight plastic or glass food-storage container or a freezer-quality zippered bag. Label each meal with the contents and date, and eat it within three months for best quality. When you decide to use a freezer meal, start thawing it in the refrigerator the night before you plan to serve it so it has plenty of time. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the safe ways to thaw frozen food are in a refrigerator, with a microwave, or in cold water. Don't thaw your frozen dinners on the counter.
- Allrecipes.com: Freezing Foods -- A Real Time-Saver
- United States Department of Agriculture; Freezing and Food Safety; June 2010
- "Joy of Cooking"; Irma S. Rombauer; 2006
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