8 Meal Starters for your Freezer

By Sandi Haustein

Does putting together a full meal sound too daunting o fa task for your busy weeknights? It so, you might consider stocking your freezer with several meal-starters to help save you time and money. Even if you don't enjoy cooking, making a few treasures for your freezer is an easy investment of your time that will help later when you need a quick meal for your family. Here are eight meal-starters you can put in your freezer for a busy day.

smoothies

Don’t pay big bucks for the brand-name smoothie kits in your grocery store’s freezer section. Make your own by combining your favorite fruits, some yogurt and maybe a handful of spinach (you won’t taste it). Package up your smoothie kits in quart-sized Ziploc bags, and all you’ll have to do in the morning is take one out and throw it in the blender with some water, juice or milk. Voila! A yummy smoothie at the ready.

burritos

If you like breakfast burritos, cook up a batch of scrambled eggs, add sausage or bacon and cheese, and fold it up in a tortilla. For regular burritos, put a layer of refried beans on a tortilla, add your choice of taco meat, and top it off with cheese. Wrap your burritos individually in aluminum foil and freeze them in a Ziploc bag. When you’re ready to eat one, remove the foil, wrap the burrito back up in a paper towel and heat it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.

sandwiches

Get ahead with your children’s lunches by making your own PB&Js and freezing them in individual sandwich bags. Ham or turkey work, too, if you hold the mayo (try a little butter for moisture instead). The frozen sandwich acts as an ice pack for the rest of the lunch but thaws by noon.

taco meat

Whether you use prepackaged or homemade taco seasoning, nothing can help get a meal on the table faster than having some frozen taco meat on hand. Think beyond just tacos and serve your Mexican-inspired meat in quesadillas or burritos; on top of chips as nachos; in a salad; or over rice with beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa and guacamole. You can even throw it in your vegetable soup to add an extra dimension of flavor.

grilled or shredded chicken

Cook chicken breasts in water on the stove or in a crockpot or fire them up on the grill. Cut or shred the cooked chicken into small pieces, and package in 2-cup portions. These little poultry packages can be defrosted in a hurry and used in any recipe that calls for precooked chicken like a poppy seed chicken casserole, chicken salad or white chili.

meatballs

With meatballs in your freezer, you’re set for a variety of dishes based on the sauce you choose for your meal. From barbecue to spaghetti sauce, or from sweet and sour to a creamy Swedish sauce, meatballs can be prepared to suit your pickiest eater. Cook up a huge batch of your favorite meatballs and flash-freeze them: arrange the cooked meatballs one inch apart on a cookie sheet and leave them, uncovered, in the freezer for an hour. Then, pop them off the cookie sheet and package them up in meal-sized portions. When you’re ready for a meatball meal, reheat one of your packages, add your favorite sauce, and serve them over pasta or rice.

spaghetti sauce

Does your family love pasta? Make a huge batch of sauce and freeze it in meal-sized portions. All you’ll need to do on spaghetti night is defrost your sauce, boil some pasta and throw together a salad.

marinated meats

With bottled or homemade marinades, you can fix teriyaki chicken, seasoned steaks or pork souvlaki for your family at any time. Put your favorite meat in a freezer bag, pour enough marinade to cover it, zip it up and stick it in the freezer. When you want to use it in a meal, take it out the night before and put the bag in the fridge to marinate while it thaws. Once your meat is fully defrosted, drain off the marinade and grill, bake or even stir-fry the seasoned meat.

With homemade meal-starter kits in your freezer, you’ll be less likely to go through the drive-thru or to run up your grocery bill with Stouffer’s lasagnas. Instead, when that 5 o’clock hour rolls around and your kids ask that inevitable “What’s for dinner?” question, you’ll look inside your freezer and smile.

freezer-friendly recipe

Turkey meatballs

Recipe courtesy of Alaska From Scratch

1 1/2 lbs lean ground turkey
2 eggs
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbs fresh basil, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients until combined. Shape mixture into 1-inch meatballs and place them on a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until cooked through and browned. Let cool. Place cooled meatballs in a Ziploc freezer bag and label. Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the bag of meatballs in the refrigerator in the morning and they will be thawed by dinnertime. Or toss frozen meatballs into a pot of your favorite sauce and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

*1 teaspoon of dry mustard can replace the Dijon mustard in this recipe.