Cooking ahead and freezing the meals can help you have a home-cooked meal with your family even on your busiest days. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you can freeze just about any food except canned goods and eggs in their shells. But there are some foods that just don't survive freezing very well, such as lettuce and cream-type sauces. The USDA advises that you freeze foods as quickly as possible, using the "quick-freeze" shelf if your freezer has one. To thaw foods safely, use the refrigerator or microwave, or place them in cold water.
Soups freeze well and, when you make them in a slow cooker, are super-easy to prepare. Make hearty vegetable soup with beef cubes and chunky vegetables, chicken or turkey soup with noodles or rice, carrots and celery, creamed soups with broccoli, celery, chicken or mushrooms, chili with ground beef or turkey, onion soup, potato soup or gumbos with sausage, rice and vegetables. Freeze the soup in individual containers and reheat just the right amount for a quick, satisfying meal.
One-dish meals with pasta can be frozen and reheated and will taste as good as when they were first prepared. Lasagna, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, tuna-noodle or ham-and-noodle casserole, beef and macaroni, pasta with Alfredo sauce, baked ziti or rigatoni can be cooked in oven-to-freezer pans, thawed and reheated. Or, if you prefer individual servings, use 1 1/2-cup bake-and-freeze ware. The individual sizes are easy to pop into the microwave when you're dining alone, and reheating two or more will take just a few minutes longer.
If you love Italian food, make up a big batch of calzones and freeze them unbaked. When you're ready, take out as many as you need and bake them according to the original recipe. If it's Mexican food you crave, make enchiladas and freeze them separately from the sauce, also unbaked. You don't even have to thaw them before putting them into the oven. If you like beef pasties, the lunchbox treat that originated in Great Britain, cook beef and potato filling. Fill unbaked pastry dough pockets and freeze them. The frozen pasties can go right from the freezer to the oven. Take a shortcut by using prepared pie crusts rather than making your own pastry dough.
Meatloaf and Meatballs
Meatballs go well with the spaghetti noodles you froze with tomato sauce. They're also a good accompaniment to noodles when you make them Swedish style. Either way, they freeze quickly and can be reheated in the oven or microwave. When you make meatloaf, double the ingredients and make an extra one to freeze. To speed reheating, slice the freezer-bound meatloaf first. When it's time to reheat the meat, add a little more tomato sauce, chili sauce or ketchup. Prepare instant mashed potatoes on the side along with a salad with a creamy dressing.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images