Made Ahead Meals
Make ahead freezer meals can be made using a wide variety of ingredients and to suit all tastes, budgets and dietary requirements. Chicken commonly features in these meals and is a very versatile and easy to prepare choice but there is no reason why you cannot also use beef, pork, lamb and other meats or even create meatless vegetarian meals based around vegetables, grains and food items such as tortilla wraps, pasta and beans. Any food that can be frozen can be used in make ahead meals.
Preparing make ahead meals can be done in several ways, though generally they are cooked before freezing so that they only need to be defrosted and cooked (or even cooked from frozen) when they are needed. The ready to go meals can be a life saver on busy days. One method of preparation is sometimes called ‘once a month’, ‘batch’ or ‘bulk’ cooking and involves having many ingredients all ready to make into meals and be cooked in one day. The finished and cooled meals are then cooled and packed into suitable containers before being labelled and frozen. Working this way can be a great benefit to people who long hours as it can save food preparation and cooking time on work nights and save you having to resort to expensive and often less healthy ready meals or take-away foods. The cooked meals can also be frozen in portion sized containers if you live alone or have family members who need to eat at different times of the day. For people who live alone cooking most recipes can provide you with four, six or even eight individually portioned meals for freezing. You can also, of course half recipes if preferred.
Making a large amount of meals in one day this way can also have the added advantage that it makes it easier to benefit from special offers and discounts on foods. For example if chicken breasts are on offer take advantage of this and prepare a batch of chicken based meals and enjoy the reduced cost per meal. If you are able to pick up cheap vegetables at the end of a market day or close to a supermarket closing time these can be used in the same way or prepared and frozen to be used later.
Ten Examples of Make Ahead Meals
- Chicken korma and other curries
- Vegetable stew
- Chicken casseroles
- Beef stew and vegetables
- Lemon and garlic chicken
- Chicken wings and sauce
- Cookies or cookie dough
- Meatballs (with or without sauce)
Saving Time on Meal Preparation
If you don’t have time to spend a whole day preparing and cooking meals then do not be discouraged or feel like make ahead meals are not possible for you. When you have an hour or two to spare you can prepare one or two meals which will still benefit you on future days. Choosing meals that require minimal preparation or that can cook will little or no supervision can also help to save time and streamline the process. Once the meal is cook you can carry on with your day and other tasks. Buying ready chopped vegetables or meat can also save time.
Another option for preparing make ahead meals on a smaller scale is too prepare a double batch of whatever you are cooking anyway. Each time you cook a suitable meal, double up the ingredients and cook as normal. Once it is ready divide the food into two, one meal to eat now and one to freeze for another day. Even if you need to chop vegetables, make sauces or carry out other more time consuming tasks it will only take a little more time to make double and also saves time on getting out ingredients and equipment as well as on washing dishes afterwards.
Getting together with a friend or family member to cook can also save time and money. Chose a selection of recipes both of you would enjoy and divide those in half. Each person can then prepare and cook two of each meal and then swap so both have one of all the chosen meals. This could also be done on a larger scale with three, four or even more people grouping together. You do not all have to all be together in one house to cook, in fact that would most likely make the process slower and more difficult unless you have a large kitchen and plenty of utensils. You also do not all have to be able to cook at the same time, just keep a list of who is making which meals and when. Using this method can be an easily and less daunting way to create make ahead meals and may also introduce you to new recipes and foods.
Dump meals are similar to make ahead meals in that they are prepared in advance, often in bulk, to be used at a later time. The difference with dump meals is that they are frozen uncooked. This means that they are quicker to prepare than standard make ahead freezer meals but then need to be defrosted and cooked once you wish to eat them. This has advantages and disadvantages and many dump recipes are intended to be cooked in a slow cooker which means that the later time and attention needed is reduced.
Advantages of dump meals include:
- Minimal or no preparation is required in advance
- Already frozen produce such as meats can be used (just add these last so there are no issues with them defrosting and then being refrozen)
- Often suitable for slow cooking which is a very hassle free method of cooking, especially for busy people
- Some people prefer that they will have only been cooked once, rather than being cooked, frozen and then defrosted and reheated.
Disadvantages of dump meals include:
- Cooking time needed later
- Remembering to defrost them in time
- Some vegetables such as potatoes freeze better when they have been blanched first so this can add to preparation times
Dump meals are very simple to prepare and can be done in any of the methods previously written for make ahead meals. All that is required is that each prepared ingredient is added or ‘dumped’ into a freezer or zip lock bag or other suitable container, which is then sealed and labelled before being frozen. Making similar recipes, for example several using chicken at once can help to reduce time even further.
Dump meal preparation can be shared with friends and family in the same way as make ahead meals and cooking instructions can easily be included when labelling the finished meals. Any meal that contains fresh ingredients that can be frozen is likely to be suitable for preparing a dump meal. If you wish to use already frozen meats or vegetables in making dump meals this is also possible. Prepare the rest of the ingredients and then add the frozen parts, seal and label and then place straight back into the freezer. You can also prepare dump meals on a smaller scale. Each time you are cooking a meal that is suitable prepare two lots of ingredients, then cook one as planned and freeze the other for later use.
Storing Male Ahead and Dump Meals
All foods should be labelled clearly so that they can be easily identified later as one frozen block can look much like another. Sharpie markers and specific freezer proof pens can be used to write on most types containers. Foods can be packed into strong freezer or zip lock bags, foil containers or plastic food tubs depending on the type of food and how it will be reheated. More delicate foods may be better packed in foil or plastic containers so that they have more protections from being broken in the freezer. Some people also use glass such as canning jars to store food in a freezer and bottles can also be useful for freezing soups, juices, smoothies and stock.
© 2015 Claire