Homemade Freezer Meals make busy weeks SO much easier, and help you avoid takeout! Learn the best way to freeze & thaw and get great recipes for healthy make-ahead freezer meals.
At Prep Dish we mostly focus on weekly meal prep. You know, prepping healthy dinners, snacks, etc. to set you up for success each week.
But I actually use quite a bit of freezer meal prep in my own home to supplement our weekly meal plans. Stocking homemade freezer meals means I always have something handy for healthy lunches, extra dinners or those super crazy weeks when there's literally zero time for weekly meal prep.
Another way I love to use freezer meals? For guests! I don't know about you, but when I have family visiting the last place I want to be is stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is catching up. This is a great time to pull out a healthy freezer meal. That way you can still serve a homemade meal to your loved ones, without missing out on the action.
Whether you have guests visiting for the holidays, are welcoming a new baby or simply want to feel more prepared in your day-to-day life, I have some great freezer meal prep tips for you today. Make sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post for a free download with recipes for make-ahead freezer meals too!
3 Methods for Stocking Homemade Freezer Meals
Anyone who follows Prep Dish knows I strongly believe that meal prep isn't one size fits all. The only way to stick with the habit is to make it work for you!
The same goes for freezer meal prep. There are several different approaches to stocking homemade freezer meals. They all have the same result – delicious, healthy food at your fingertips no matter how busy you are. I personally do a little bit of all three methods, so no need to limit yourself to one! Experiment and see what works for you.
Mega Freezer Meal Prep Session
The first method is likely what comes to mind when you think about freezer meal prep. Some meal preppers like to dedicate a few hours every month or so to stocking their freezers.
This method has some definite advantages. First, it's easier to thoughtfully select the types of meals you want handy for the coming months when you plan a dedicated meal prep session. This method allows you to look at your calendar and plan for any events coming up.
Are you hosting a kids' Halloween party?
Do you have friends coming to stay with you?
Do you need a quick but festive breakfast to pull out Thanksgiving morning?
Planning a dedicated freezer meal prep session allows you to account for all of these things and prepare meals specifically tailored to the season's needs.
Another plus? You're more likely to remember what's in your freezer if you've carefully planned it out. This means fewer forgotten items destined for freezer burn and less overall waste.
While a mega freezer meal prep session does have its advantages, it also has one major disadvantage – time. It can be hard to find an additional 2-3 hours for freezer meal prep, on top of your normal weekly meal prep. It simply isn't always possible, which leads us to the next option…
Doubling up is a method I frequently use to stock my freezer.
What does it entail? Basically, I look at my weekly meal plan and determine if any of the recipes would be good freezer meals. If so, I make a double batch and freeze half for another week. It's every bit as easy as it sounds.
This is the kind of meal prep that you hardly even notice you're doing, but it pays off big time when your friends arrive to the smell of homemade lasagna in the oven with little effort on your part.
Lastly, freezing leftovers is a great way to stock your freezer while also avoiding food waste!
You know your family better than anyone. Do they happily eat the same meal two to three nights in a row or do they get sick of it? If your family doesn't love leftovers, try freezing them and bringing them out a few weeks later when everyone's ready for more.
I also love freezing leftovers in individual serving sizes for quick, healthy lunches. Especially in the colder months, there's something so satisfying about a warm lunch.
Tips for Avoiding Freezer Burn
While I love a well-stocked freezer, there are few things more annoying than finding items you carefully prepped covered in unappetizing freezer burn.
Fortunately, this doesn't have to be your fate! There are indeed things you can do to minimize freezer burn.
First of all, it's useful to know that freezer burn is not harmful in terms of food safety. You can totally eat items with a bit of freezer burn…but they may not taste as good. So it's worth it to learn how to prevent this annoyance if you plan to make freezer prep a regular thing (which you totally should!).
Freezer burn happens when food loses moisture and it evaporates into the air in your freezer. The #1 thing you can do to prevent this is to minimize how much air your food is exposed to in the freezer. Here's how:
- Wrap individual items (like mini frittatas and muffins) in plastic wrap or freezer paper before placing in a freezer bag or container to minimize freezer burn. You can also add a layer of foil around the plastic wrap to be extra thorough.
- Use appropriately sized containers. If you store a 1/2 cup of soup in a 2 cup container, there is going to be a lot of extra space, and therefore air, in that container. That will lead to freezer burn. Try to choose a container that will be almost completely full when you add your food to it before freezing.
- OR use freezer bags. I am a big believer in glass food storage containers, both for environmental reasons and because I really try to minimize plastic exposure in my house, especially when it comes to food. BUT, if you're having problems with freezer burn, you may want to try freezer bags instead. Why? You can squeeze all the air out! This will really cut down on freezer burn. Reusable bags, like Stasher Bags, are a great compromise here.
- Put a cup of water in your freezer. This hack from Martha Stewart adds extra humidity to your freezer which helps keep food from drying out and getting freezer burn.
- Keep your freezer cold. If your freezer does not stay consistently cold, you'll also notice freezer burn. You can use a thermometer to check if your freezer is 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, which is what you want. Then, avoid keeping things in the door of the freezer, which warms up more easily. Also, don't put hot food in the freezer! This raises the temp of the freezer overall, leading to dreaded freezer burn.
- Use what's in your freezer. Even with all of these hacks, if you leave food in the freezer too long, the quality will suffer. This is why regularly cleaning out your freezer and labeling what's in there is key! While food can last longer in the freezer, try to use items within 4-6 months to avoid changes in texture and freezer burn.
Everything You Need to Know About Reheating Frozen Food
Now that you've carefully prepped and frozen your homemade freezer meals, what's the best way to thaw and heat to maximize deliciousness?
Here are a few of my best tips:
- Do not thaw on the kitchen counter. This leaves food in an unsafe temperature zone that bacteria love. The best method is to thaw in the fridge for 24-48 hours but you can also thaw under cool running water if you're in a hurry.
- While you can reheat food in the microwave, it will taste better if you opt for the stovetop or oven. Don't forget to remove any foil or plastic wrap before doing this!
- Check the internal temp and make sure your reheated food reaches 165 F so you know it's safe to eat.
- If you're really in a hurry, try reheating things like soup in the Instant Pot – no need to defrost! Bon Appetit recommends 6 minutes on high pressure followed by a quick release. Again, check the temp to make sure it's 165 F or higher!
- If you're freezing your meals in glass containers, make sure it's tempered glass if you plan to reheat the food in that same container so it doesn't crack.
Bonus – My New Favorite Freezer Meal Prep Hack
If you're a regular Prep Dish follower, you may know we hosted a 21-day freezer meal prep challenge a few months ago. In preparing for the challenge, I learned even more about freezer meal prep than I already knew! As a bit of a meal prep aficionado, this is saying something.
Probably my favorite tip I learned came from a fellow Prep Dish team member. She introduced me to the super simple but ingenious hack of freezing meats in their marinades.
For example, you could freeze chicken breasts in my zesty citrus marinade. Simply make the marinade, add the raw chicken and stick in the freezer. It will marinate while it's thawing and all you have to do is grill or roast for a flavorful dinner! This parsley marinade or chimichurri would also work well for this hack.
Make-Ahead Freezer Meal Recipes
So now that you have all of the information, what freezer meal recipes do you want to make?
If you're not sure, you're in luck! I have some favorites to get you started:
Lasagna: As I mentioned above, lasagna is one of my favorite recipes for the “doubling up” strategy. I recommend fully assembling the lasagna (but not cooking) and then freezing. Let the lasagna cool before tightly wrapping and freezing.
Healthy Shepherd's Pie: My dairy-free version of shepherd's pie uses a mix of mashed cauliflower and mashed potatoes for the topping, making it both healthy and totally delicious. To turn this into a freezer meal, cook the components and assemble, but tightly wrap and freeze before baking. When you're ready to serve, thaw for 24-48 hours. Then cover with foil and bake at 350 F for one hour. Remove foil and cook for another 30 minutes.
High Protein Almond Butter Energy Bites: Freezer meals aren't just for dinner! Incorporate some breakfasts and healthy snacks into your freezer meal prep and you'll basically feel like super mom (or super dad…or super person 🙂 ) Energy bites are the perfect candidate here because they easily do double duty as a breakfast or a snack. They also require zero forethought. These nutrient-packed little bites thaw quickly so just grab a couple from the freezer and bring them along with you.
Freezer Breakfast Burritos: These freezer breakfast burritos were a HUGE hit both with our subscribers and in my own house. My favorite thing about them is their versatility! They of course make a great grab-and-go breakfast option, but they also work well for a make ahead lunch or even a quick dinner!
Want more? Make sure to download your free crockpot freezer meals below!