If you don't have time to cook from scratch every night after work or if it's a challenge to get everyone in your family around the dinner table at the same time, freezable meals are an easy solution. Since many of these dishes can be prepared in bulk, they may also save you some money on your monthly grocery bill. Clean-up is simplified, too -- a bonus if you're making these simple meals for household guests. Add a salad with creamy dressing, bread and beverage and dinner is on the table.
Almost any combination of meat, vegetable, cheese and cream-based soup can be paired with pasta, rice or potatoes for a make-ahead meal. The secret to successful freezing is allowing your cooked casserole to cool down until it reaches room temperature, then placing it in a well-sealed container. An easy way to make this transfer is to line your casserole dish prior to adding your ingredients and baking it. You can then easily lift it out of the original baking dish. This saves clean-up, too. Shallow containers expedite both the freezing and the thawing process. Always label your containers with information on what it is, the date it was frozen and the number of servings it contains. Although unbaked casseroles can be frozen as well, do not freeze any that contain defrosted meat, sour cream, mayonnaise or raw vegetables. If your casserole has a breadcrumb, potato chip or cracker topping, add the topping when you reheat the meal. These toppings do not fare well when frozen.
If you're making a batch of stew to freeze for future meals, the secret is to undercook your vegetables and withhold the potatoes. Vegetables get a tad limp and mushy when frozen, and potatoes tend to fall apart altogether. Add your parboiled potatoes during the reheating process along with additional gravy and wine. The intensity of ingredients like garlic cloves and onions will only increase the longer your stew is frozen. Even salt and pepper will have an influence, the salt slowing the freezing process because of the moisture it attracts and the pepper imparting a bitter taste. Use both sparingly.
A large pot of homemade soup can go a long way, and there are several easy ways to freeze it in individual or family-size portions. The first method is to pour your cooled soup into a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Do not fill all the way to the top, however. Leave at least a 1/2 inch of space to accommodate expansion. The second method is to pour it into quart or gallon freezer bags. Use a small cutting board and lay the first soup bag flat on top of it. Use paper towels to separate subsequent layers. Defrost the soup packets by running them under warm water and pouring into a cooking pan. The third method -- which also takes up the most room -- is to freeze the pot in which you originally made the soup. The frozen soup is subsequently thawed out in the refrigerator and warmed on the stovetop. Since most pots lack a tight-fitting lid, however, you will need to affix freezer tape to create an effective seal. Do not use enamel pots for this freezing method because of potential interaction with acidic ingredients in the food.
Meatballs not only lend themselves to multiple cuisines but can also be immersed in sauce, stuffed into deli sandwiches or speared with toothpicks and swirled in dips. If you make several dozen at once, you'll have plenty to parse out for multiple meals. The secret to freezing meatballs is ensuring that they don't stick together and then defrost into a giant meatball blob. After you remove them from the oven, allow them to cool to room temperature and then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Make sure none of the sides are touching. Put the baking sheet in the freezer for approximately half an hour. When the meatballs are completely frozen, transfer them to freezer bags. Cooked meatballs can also be added to sauces and then frozen, although the taste will not be quite the same as sauces prepared on the day the meatballs are actually used.