Like many busy parents, I sometimes dread the hour before dinner. It can be such a chaotic time, racing home from after-school activities, supervising homework, and trying to get a decent meal on the table before everyone in the house gets hangry.
Sure, I try my best to make a weekly menu plan but, like cleaning house, sometimes my plans take a backseat to real life. Like the days when my son has just 90 minutes between getting out of school and having to be back there for a football game, so I need to race home and feed him in a rush. Or the time I got the flu and no one in my family knew how to make any of the meals listed on our menu board.
That’s when I turn to my freezer, which I’ve learned to stock with these five foods you should make and freeze for times when life overcomes your best intentions.
5 Foods You Should Make And Freeze
1. Cooked Ground Beef
When ground beef goes on sale, buy as much as you can afford and cook it immediately. Portion family-sized serving into resealable bags, flatten them for easy storage and freeze. (Here’s how to save money on meat.)
Since they’re pre-cooked and flattened, it takes just minutes to defrost a bag in a sink of warm (not hot) water or the microwave. Now you’ve got a jump start on several easy meals like tacos, spaghetti, or Sloppy Joes.
2. Grilled Foods
Anything you can grill, aside from fish or fruit, will be almost as good the second time around. So the next time you’re doing a cookout, double what you’re grilling and freeze half. I particularly like to make extra Tangy Curry Chicken Kebabs then slide them off the skewers before freezing.
You can do the same with burger patties, steaks, chops, even chicken — just freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop them into resealable bags. From there you can simply defrost and serve with a quick side of vegetables, slice and add them at the last minute to a stir-fry, or use them in a casserole.
Who doesn’t wind up cooking too much pasta every time they make it? Sometimes I even do it on purpose, because pasta-based meals come together even faster when you’ve got precooked bags of it in the freezer. To reheat it just bring a covered pot of water to boil, remove the lid, and add your pasta for 2 to 3 minutes then drain.
Now you can top it with a quick marinara sauce and a little freshly grated cheese for a quick meal. Or combine it with the sauce along with some of those grilled vegetables and meat you froze, pop it into a 350°F oven for 20 minutes, and you’ve got a hearty casserole.
4. Beans or Legumes
Beans really are the magical fruit, especially when you make extras to freeze. I spread a layer of cooked beans on a baking sheet and freeze them then transfer them to gallon-sized resealable bags.
Add them straight from the freezer to soups and stews, or put them in a colander and run warm water over them for a minute to use in casseroles. You can even mix up a quick batch of “baked” beans by combining defrosted beans on the stove with some sauteed minced onion, a little brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard.
5. Homemade Pizza
We make a dozen or so personal-sized pizzas every few weeks using our favorite homemade dough and partially cooking the crusts in a 450°F oven for 4 minutes then letting them cool. Everyone adds their favorite toppings — the kids are strictly pepperoni fans, while I like spinach, thinly sliced zucchini, homemade marinated artichoke hearts, and mushrooms on mine.
Once the toppings are on, we wrap them in plastic then again in aluminum foil and freeze them. When we’re craving pizza, it’s as easy as preheating the oven to 550°F, unwrapping a frozen pizza and sliding it right onto the center rack to bake for 8 or so minutes.
When you get in the habit of feeding your freezer, you’ll find it’s faster to feed your family on days when you’ve got too much on your plate to cook from scratch.
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Note: This entry first appeared May 21, 2012. It has been revised and updated for republication.