I'm a huge fan of freezer meals, which is somewhat surprising as I am not a fan of leftovers. Even more than I dislike leftovers though, I am reallllly not a fan of dishes, and a freezer meal lets me have a tasty meal for pretty much zero effort and zero dishes, which is basically how they became my favorite kind of meal.
When Charlotte was born my mom brought us an entire cooler full of frozen meals. (It is the best baby gift we've ever received.) Chicken Parmesan, Pot Roast, Beef Bourguignon, Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Piccata, Lasagna, Enchiladas….all packaged into two-serving ziploc bags. It was genius. All I'd have to do is remember to fetch one from the freezer before 1p, set it on the counter for a few hours to defrost (overnight in the fridge works well too), stick it in the oven to warm and TA DA DINNER IS SERVED for about four total minutes of actual work.
(If I was feeling very fancy I might heat up a bag of frozen vegetables. So, nine minutes of meal prep on fancy nights.)
This sounds kind of bland and boring (after all: FREEZER MEALS) but it was AWESOME! Some things freeze really well! We were super sad when all of the Grammie meals were gone. I figured out the key is to add a few fresh toppings or condiments to the frozen entree. Then the frozen meal starts to look and taste like I just made it: it's not all frozen like a Lean Cuisine, there's fresh stuff on there too, adding lots of flavor and texture. For example:
Frozen Chicken Parmesan: Boil up some noodles, grate parmesan on top of the whole thing, crack some pepper, pinch some basil from the plant in the yard. Add a salad.
Frozen Pot Roast: Boil some egg noodles and add a (frozen) twice-baked potato. Add some salad! You probably still have a a lot left in that giant box of lettuce from Costco that only cost $3.
Frozen Chicken Piccata: Make some rice, or if you forget to make rice because rice is kind of a bitch that way since it takes thinking about in advance, make some couscous because it only takes four minutes and is very forgiving. Grate parmesan over your whole plate. (Really, freshly grated parm goes MILES towards improving ANY meal.) Add a bag of frozen vegetables or the ubiquitous $3 salad that makes seven nights of salad plus some lunches. (Very economic buy there, the giant box of Costco salad.)
See? It doesn't SOUND very blah Freezer Meal, does it? It sounds TASTY.
Now, the best thing about the meals last year is I didn't actually have to MAKE any of them the first time. When they ran out and we'd developed a taste for freezer dinner and its simplicity, I tried to figure out what I wanted to re-stock with. I've been penciling in "Freezer Meal!" about twice a week for a year and it's so awesome and it really keeps us from eating out on hurried nights where nobody wants to actually COOK but everyone would like to EAT.
Here's what I usually have in the freezer, and most everything lets me have dinner on the table in under 20 minutes (assuming I have remembered to defrost in advance).
I'll make these for dinner and only heat up the 4 or 6 we eat that night. I put the rest on wax paper, on a cookie sheet, and stick it in the freezer. In the morning I collect them into a plastic bag and they live in the freezer that way. They take about 20 minutes to heat through (I stick them in the oven frozen) and I top with sour cream, salsa, guac, sliced avocado, halved cherry tomatoes, or whatever tex-mex type condiments float my boat (or, more realistically, whatever I find handy in the fridge that day). Occasionally, I'll double it and make a LOT of egg rolls.
I modify the heck out of this recipe. I've added hatch chiles (which I also buy in bulk each August and keep frozen), diced red pepper, left out the cheese entirely, done a mix of black and pinto beans and they're delicious any way I make then. So, tailor to your tastes. These are pretty hard to screw up.
Enchiladas (Red Ones and Green Ones [I use the recipe on a can of Old El Paso Green Enchilada Sauce])
We love enchiladas. Add some salsa, sour cream, or sliced avocado after you heat them up and it's a legit Mexican Fiesta Night. Or, don't add those things because you don't have them since TOMORROW is Walmart day, and guess what? They're still delicious. I don't add cheese to mine unless guests are coming over, and I usually add black beans, red peppers and hatch chiles (to both versions). Sometimes I heat them in the oven, sometimes in the microwave. Pair with a salad (Seriously, leafy greens all week for only $3) or a bag of those frozen Chipotle Vegetables from Costco, which are my new favorite thing.
These freeze SO WELL. I bake four or six potatoes, scoop out the insides, mash up with green onions, salt, pepper and sour cream, stick in the freezer on a cookie sheet and then keep in a plastic bag. (We'll eat two the night I make them.) They're awesome. It FEELS kind of fancy, but I didn't have to cook them that day!
It's so easy to make Pot Roast and it's SO GOOD. I pair mine with a twice-baked potato since I agree with Ree that baking the potatoes in the pot makes them mealy. Heats up in the microwave like a dream. Make a salad. BOOM, you have dinner.
You definitely have to find a few hours to make pizza crust, since it requires a bit of babysitting, but it's so worth it because pizza is so easy and you can use up all the random things in the fridge. I make two recipes at a time, which gives me four crusts. The dough is ready to use as soon as I defrost it and hello, everyone loves pizza. Also goes well with….salad. (WE EAT A LOT OF SALAD.)
This recipe makes enough risotto to feed about six adults. It's a GIANT PAN of risotto. Thusly, I always freeze the leftovers. I do not put chicken in mine because I kind of dislike chicken these days and it's a lot of extra steps and…I think the risotto is amazing on its own. When I heat it up, I add fresh parmesan, fresh herbs and freshly cracked pepper. I make a salad with it. This is a no-stirring recipe, winning it major points in my world.
I finally realized we do not need to each eat a half-pound turkey burger when we make burgers. Because the thing is, turkey comes in one-pound packages so we always felt like we have to use it all up. NO MORE. I make 1/3-pound burgers (flavored with whatever), cook two and freeze one. Two rounds of this and I have a freezer-ready meal that Chris still has to cook, but then I don't have to touch raw meat or do any prep. WIN! Add frozen sweet potato fries.
Costco sells a six-pack of red peppers for a sometimes not-jaw-dropping price and when they do, I scoop them up and make this sauce. I'll sometimes actually make the chicken parm along with it (this recipe is very good and I've made it for years), but this sauce on just noodles or tortellini is what I really like. Homemade pasta sauce (even when frozen) is always just SO MUCH BETTER than jarred to me. Sometimes I run an immersion blender through the sauce to make it less chunky.
So, that's how we do Freezer Dinner at my house. Anyone else keep a stocked freezer? I'm always looking for new things to keep up from getting bored, so please share if you do!