Years ago, freezer meals meant canned cream soups, strange mystery meats and other suspect ingredients that struck fear in the hearts of kids. And, if mom did "once-a-month-cooking," she'd spend days at a time shopping, prepping and running around the kitchen. Then, she was plain exhausted.
Well, dear parents, that's no longer the case. The "make-ahead and freeze" method has matured. You can now fill up your freezer with a bevy of frozen meals that are not only easy to create – but darn tasty, too.
Here are four things you should know about the modern age of freezer cooking – and a couple of recipes from my book Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, featured below with permission from The Harvard Common Press, to get you started.
1. Saves you time, money and sanity
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By making several meals in advance and storing them in the freezer, you're providing for future nights when life is hectic and you just don't have time to cook. You'll avoid takeout, since you know there's a home-cooked meal ready to go. And you'll spend less effort puzzling out what's for dinner. Just grab some homemade soup or burritos from the freezer and have a feast!
2. Deep freeze not required
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have a ginormous freezer to make batch cooking work for you. With careful packaging and organizing, you can store at least a week's worth of meals in the smallest refrigerator/freezer – even more if your fridge is a big one.
3. Way more than casseroles
Some people think that you can only "freezer cook" if you're making tons of casseroles. This is so not the case. Marinate chicken breast to throw on the grill. Precook and season taco meat in order to make quick work of a taco bar later in the month. Mix up a stew or soup to reheat on another night.
There's no end to the possibilities. Think about what part of a meal you can make ahead and prep that.
4. Premade meals can taste great!
You may be worried about freezer burn or freezer taste, remembering those Mystery Meat Casseroles of yore. Honestly, we are food snobs at my house; those situations would not fly with my people! Correct packaging and freezing is key. Cool foods completely, wrap them well and eat them up within a month or two for best taste and texture.
Don't believe me? Try one of these recipes on for size.
Versatile Slow-Cooked Carnitas
Carnita ("little meats" in Spanish) is a seasoned, shredded pork filling used for tacos, tostadas, and tamales. Traditionally, the pork shoulder is boiled and then roasted. Here, it is prepared in a slow cooker for a simpler yet equally delicious result. The moist and juicy carnitas freeze and reheat quite well, making it a perfect addition to your freezer cooking arsenal. Instead of a shoulder roast, you can use country-style pork strips, which often go on sale.
- Servings: 10-12
- Packaging: quart-sized zip-top freezer bags or plastic containers with lids
- One 3- to 4-lb. pork shoulder roast
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium-size onion, chopped
- 1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1⁄4 cup water
- Place the pork roast in a four-quart slow cooker. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. Add the chopped onion and sprinkle the oregano over all. Add the water to the pot.
- Cook on low for eight hours or on high for about four hours. The meat should be very tender and shred easily.
- Remove the meat from the pot. Strain the juices and reserve them to add to chili, stew or soup.
- Shred and cut the meat into bite-size pieces.
Divide the carnitas into meal-size portions in freezer bags or containers. Chill the meat in the refrigerator before freezing.
Thaw and serve
Thaw the meat in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the meat in a baking dish and reheat for 15 minutes, until hot. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Cheddar Soup with Zucchini, Broccoli and Carrots
Fancy cafes charge a pretty penny for their cheese and broccoli soup. Save money and eat at home in style. Keep single-serving containers of this soup on hand for quick lunches and suppers.
- Servings: 4-6
- Packaging: Plastic containers with lids
- 1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick) butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄2 medium-size zucchini, shredded
- 1 carrot, peeled and shredded
- 1⁄2 medium-size onion, shredded
- 1 head broccoli, chopped into small florets (about 3 cups)
- 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1⁄4 cup unbleached all-purpose fl our
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the garlic, zucchini, carrot and onion. Saute until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the broccoli and broth. Simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Whisk in the milk until smooth. Simmer until thickened. Whisk in the cheddar cheese gradually, stirring to incorporate.
- Pour the vegetable mixture into the cheese mixture, stirring to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Portion the soup into meal-size plastic containers. Cool to room temperature. Cover and chill in the refrigerator before freezing.
Thaw and serve
Thaw the soup in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan until heated through, stirring to recombine. Serve immediately.