A freezer full of make-ahead meals can be a real comfort for a busy mom. On those days when life hands you all the complications you can deal with, it's good to know that dinner is already covered. Prepared meals can be cooked from frozen foods or those thawed in advance, they just need to be treated a bit differently.
Thawing Family Meals
When making up meals for the freezer, some people opt for family-sized portions, while others like the freedom of pulling out as many individual portions as needed. If you've frozen family-sized portions, try to thaw them whenever possible in your refrigerator. That way they'll take less time to heat, improving food safety, and the outside will not be overcooked before the inside is hot. If you can't count on having the opportunity to thaw the meal beforehand, freeze it in microwaveable containers or baking dishes. That gives you the option of defrosting your food in the microwave before cooking.
Thawing Individual Portions
Single portions of food are more efficient in some ways than family-sized portions. They're more convenient to store in your freezer, and they thaw much more quickly than a full-sized meal. Put small portions in your refrigerator before bed, and they'll be thawed by dinner time. If you haven't thawed your meal ahead of time, smaller portions only require a few minutes each to defrost in the microwave.
Oven or Stovetop Reheating
Disposable foil baking pans can go directly from the freezer to the oven, simplifying preparation. Your food will normally take 10 to 15 minutes longer than if you were cooking from fresh. If you've frozen your food in a glass casserole dish, warm it in the microwave or let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes, to avoid breaking the glass with a sudden temperature change. Food can be defrosted briefly in the microwave to speed cooking time, either on the stove or in the oven. All pre-cooked foods must be heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered food safe.
If you've frozen your food in microwaveable containers it can be reheated completely in the microwave, without dirtying any pots and pans. Microwaves do not heat evenly, so you'll need to pay close attention. Every two minutes, as the food warms, remove it from the microwave and stir it. Let it stand one minute, then return it to the microwave. Alternate cooking and resting times until the food is completely heated, stirring before every resting period. The rest times allow the heat to spread evenly throughout the food. When the food reaches 165 degrees F, it is ready to serve.
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- Good Housekeeping: Thawing and Reheating Tips
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Freezing and Food Safety
- National Center for Home Food Preservation; General Freezing Information; 2006
- University of Georgia Cooperative Extension; Freezing Prepared Foods; Elizabeth L. Andress, et al.; July 2002
- Betty Crocker: Tips for Freezing and Reheating Food
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.