We were all there. Suddenly, it’s 5:30pm and there are no plans for dinner. You’re hungover, your kids are hungover, and the fridge is running low. What remained was not left: a few eggs, a bunch of spices and a bag of neglected carrots. The thought of tearing apart the pantry – and picking up pieces from the deep-fried pantry – feels daunting. Instead of being a slave in the kitchen, you Sign up for the nearest taco business. An hour later, everyone was well fed and happy. BUT… you put a small amount into your weekly food budget and latest health goal. Solution? Healthy frozen meals. Whether you’re a new mom, working with a demanding schedule, or simply looking to succeed on your own, the meals in the fridge are just right. They are a gift that keeps on giving (or I am convinced). Today, I share the best storage tips, what to do – and not to – freeze well, and the healthiest freezer recipes.
Featured image of Michelle Nash.
Are the meals in the fridge worth the effort?
Let’s start here: Are healthy fridge meals worth the hype? Yes, they certainly are. As a mom of a toddler, when I need a quick and healthy dinner on the table, fridge meals are my go-to. And I’m not talking about store-bought frozen dinners (although there are times and places for those). These are healthy meals that I make, label, and freeze myself. Stored and reheated properly, these refrigerated meals still taste the same as the day they were made. And having a few of them on hand can help conquer any craving. From soups to lasagna, creating a delicious, healthy dinner is as simple as heating one up.
Benefits of Meals in the Refrigerator
When you’re bingeing on healthy fridge meals, it doesn’t seem like you’re saving time. But I promise, it will make sense when the initial work is done. You’ll drop the kids home from practice, and within a 30-minute walk of the door, you’ll have a home-cooked meal on the table. Not only are you saving time (and your sanity!) you’re also saving money. We all know that buying in bulk is better for your wallet. You can save hundreds of dollars by buying and cooking in bulk. When you cook in bulk, you have more food to freeze. It is a win-win outcome and good for all. Finally, this is an opportunity to get together with family or friends. Get together in an iced coffee shop, turn on your favorite cooking playlist, and then it’s all together.
What foods are good frozen?
All these everyday ingredients will coagulate well:
- Meat, Poultry and Seafood (3-6 months).
- Almost all manufacturing Can be frozen (3-6 months). For herbs, freeze them in water (or oil) to be used in cooked dishes or sauces. For garlic, freeze minced garlic (or peeled cloves) in oil. I like to use an ice tray to freeze both herbs and garlic. For bananas, remember to peel them first.
- Dairy products. Butter and margarine can be frozen for 3 months. Grated cheese, like parmesan, can be frozen for up to 4 months and can be used straight out of the freezer. Milk can be frozen for 1 month.
- Most of bread and bagels, with the exception of crisps (i.e. French bread), will freeze well for up to 3 months. Hot tip: make sure your bread is sliced before freezing. You can toast bread right from the freezer.
- Raw pastry dough Will stay frozen for up to 6 months and take an hour to defrost.
- Saucelike pesto and ketchup, frozen is very good.
- Share. Beautiful frozen food and animals. Freeze in freezer bags or ice trays.
In terms of specific recipes, you can freeze everything from lasagna and soups, to stews, chilis, pies and breakfast burritos.
Au Contraire — What shouldn’t freeze
While there are many individual ingredients that you can freeze, some foods are simply not freezer-friendly. For example:
- Vegetables with high water contentlike lettuce, radish and cucumber.
- Sauce made from eggs and milklike mayonnaise and sour cream (they will separate and solidify).
- Speaking of eggs, while frozen frittata are very good, hard boiled eggs do not (they will rubber).
- Soft herbslike basil and chives are great for incorporating into dishes, but not for garnish.
How to label food for the freezer
Now that you know what does (and doesn’t) freeze well, let’s talk about labeling. Labeling is key, as you don’t want to mistake your spicy ketchup for creamy tomato soup. Start by labeling your ziplock or tupperware bags with painter’s and Sharpie’s tape. It’s best to do this before you put any food in your container. In terms of labels, follow this pattern: Name, date, service instructions. Example: “Black Bean Chili, 3/2/2022, warmed in a pot on the stovetop.” Proper labeling will help you avoid confusion, remind you when you’re done, and provide quick instructions for reheating.
Frozen meal starter pack
Good news — you don’t need much! Glass (or BPA-free) tupperware, silicone ice cube tray, gallon storage bag (or eco-friendly bag), duct tape, and a Sharpie. You can also use a combination of parchment and aluminum foil to wrap certain foods, like burritos.
6 tips for freezing food
Regardless of the size of your freezer, use these guidelines for successful freezing:
- Label. Write the recipe’s name, date, and reheating instructions on the container. As mentioned, this is the key.
- Last in, last out. Place your freezer’s newest meal(s) in the back of your freezer. This way, you’re more likely to eat what’s on the front of your freezer. These are the meals that will run out sooner, faster.
- Cool food before freezing. They don’t have to be completely cold, but freezing hot foods will raise the temperature of the freezer.
- Wrap properly. Make sure your meals are properly covered to prevent the freezer from burning.
- Consider sections. Chop or pre-mix certain recipes so you don’t have to defrost chili for eight people if you’re only serving four.
- When in doubt, throw it away (or compost!). Contrary to what most people think, freezing does not kill bacteria. If you’re not sure how long a recipe has been frozen, you don’t have to lose your chance. Note that freezing stale food isn’t necessarily helpful. The point of freezing is to keep food in tip-top shape.
Keep rolling my 12 favorite healthy fridge meals to make weeknights a breeze.
Pan eggplant Lasagna
With veggies, this Skillet Eggplant Lasagna is a cozy one-pot dinner for chilly nights. It’s a simpler, lighter way to enjoy all the delicious flavors of the classic.
Get the recipe for the Skillet Eggplant Lasagna.
Vegan Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Who doesn’t want a bowl of Vegan Cauliflower Mac and Cheese? This recipe is creamy, cheese, warm and comforting – you wouldn’t know it’s vegan. Made with a velvety, vegan cauliflower cheese sauce, this treat is beautifully frozen.
Get the recipe for Vegan Cauliflower Mac and Cheese.
Cookie + Kate’s Crispy Falafel
Baked instead of fried, this Crispy Falafel recipe is delicious, flavorful, and won’t take long to store in your freezer. Right before you’re ready to serve dinner, put the falsies back in the oven and create an assembly line of pita, hummus, store-bought greens, a jar of olives, a box of feta and sliced cucumber.
Get the recipe for Crispy Falafel.
Downshiftology’s turkey meatballs
Forget pre-made frozen turkey. These turkey meatballs really are the best. They’re fragrant, rich, and cooked in a heavenly maple mustard sauce for a favorite weekend dinner coming up.
Get the recipe for turkey meatballs.
Vegetarian pan-fried curry
This Vegetarian Sauteed Curry with Cauliflower and Kale has a great side dish — rice cooked in a pan along with vegetables! Once it cools, toss it in a tupperware to use in your nighttime curries.
Get the recipe for the vegetarian curry plate.
Love & Lemons’ Vegetarian Enchiladas
There’s nothing like hot enchiladas straight from the oven. These Vegetarian Enchiladas are filled with a sweet and spicy blend of pumpkin, black beans, and green onions. Freeze, reheat, and top with sliced jalapeños and guacamole.
Get the recipe for Vegetarian Enchiladas.
Chicken and rice soup
Whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, or simply have leftover chicken and don’t know what to do, here’s the answer for you. Once thawed from the freezer, topped with fresh lemon, avocado and herbs — you’ll never know it’s been frozen before.
Get the recipe for Chicken and Rice Soup.
Detox Lentil Soup by Pinch of Yum
Detox Crockpot Lentil Soup is a simple and clean soup made with onions, garlic, carrots, olive oil, squash and lentils that are high in protein. It’s super healthy and easy to make. Once defrosted, combine it with crusty bread and grated parm.
Get the recipe for the Detox Lentil Soup.
Sweet potatoes and chili black beans
This sweet potato and black bean chili is packed with hearty black beans, flavorful veggies, and loads of seasonings (plus, all of the above) so no one can miss the meat. It’s also the perfect fridge meal for a new mom!
Get the Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili recipe.
Chicken Tuscan Pasta Bake by Rachel Cooks
Creamy, flavorful and healthy, this Chicken Tuscan Pasta Bake is perfect to eat right away or to prepare in advance and freeze for another day. Great for sharing with those in need of a home-cooked meal.
Get the recipe for Chicken Tuscan Pasta.
One-Bowl Morning Glory Muffins
While most freezer meals are centered around lunch and dinner, make sure you don’t forget about breakfast! These easy, healthy One-Bowl Morning Glory Muffins are just that — glory. For those busy mornings, grab a few of these from the freezer.
Get the recipe for One-Bowl Morning Glory Muffins.
Breakfast with a healthy freezer Burritos by Slender Kitchen
These healthy freezer burritos are packed with scrambled eggs, black beans, pepper, onions, and cheese. They make the most delicious pre-prepared breakfasts.
Get the recipe for a Healthy Freezer Burritos Breakfast.
Do you have a few favorite healthy fridge meals? Share in the comments!