There is no shortage of freezer-friendly recipes in the world. I wrote a book chock-full of them, and yet every day I either see or dream up new ones. A stroll down Pinterest will lead you to fathoms of recipes that would take a lifetime to try out.
But through much trial and error, I've learned that some of the very best freezer meals are those that are already our family favorites — converted for freezing.
My mom always made this chicken divan casserole the day of serving — it was my favorite birthday supper — but I've learned how to freeze it in single-serving portions, so that every day can be my birthday.
Aside from fresh vegetable salads and delicate, complex dishes like soufflés, chances are good that your favorite recipes can be tweaked just a bit to be freezer-friendly.
4 Strategies for Freezing Your Favorite Recipes
Here's how you can approach making your favorites into freezer meals.
1. Make and freeze.
Prepare your favorite sauces, soups, chilis, stews, meatballs and cooked chicken (for salads). Cool, wrap and freeze. Easy peasy, right?
2. Make but don't bake.
Some recipes are better prepared but frozen unbaked. I prefer freshly baked casseroles, so I will prepare, chill, wrap, and freeze these prior to baking. Lasagnes, enchiladas, and meatloaves stay moister if they're only baked once. Burritos and hot sandwiches are good to assemble at room temperature, freeze, and then heat at serving time.
Got a favorite marinated meat recipe? Store the uncooked meat in the marinade in a freezer bag. It will marinate while it thaws.
Think about all the meals you've ever bought as a frozen entree, and mimic that at home. Consider this great tutorial for homemade frozen pizzas.
3. Make a kit.
You can't freeze stir-fries, tacos or fajitas in the same way that you serve them, but you can make a kit.
→ Learn how to make freezer stir-fry meals
Store separate bags of meat, vegetables, cheese, rice, noodles, and/or tortillas. Collect complementary components in a larger bag or container so that you have ready to grab for supper-time assembly.
→ Get the 411 on freezer meal kits here
4. Make a meal component.
Some things are better left on their own. Want to make fish chowder? Make the soup base and freeze that without the fish. Since fish cooks so quickly, you can add the fish a short while before serving.
Even if most of the meal is served uncooked, like a favorite chicken salad, consider what parts can be prepped in advance and stashed in the freezer. You can cook and freeze the chicken even if you can't freeze the greens.
If you've ever walked down the freezer aisle at the grocery store, you know there is a wealth of frozen food — in all shapes and sizes. With a little ingenuity, you can recreate that at home, better, healthier, and with recipes you know you already love.
5 Tips to Keep in Mind
- If you're using pasta, be sure to undercook it just a tad; pasta tends to soften during freezing.
- Spices tend to increase in flavor while frozen, particularly hot spices. Be timid with the spice and adjust to taste when you serve.
- Use caution with heavy citrus marinades; the juice can "cook" the meat before you do.
- Fish is better left added after you thaw and heat. See these tips to have your fish and your freezer meal, too.
- When in doubt, freeze a small portion the next time you make your favorite dish. Thaw and reheat a few days later and see what you think. If taste and texture are the same or better, you've got a winner!