I started making homemade frozen meals back as a college freshman with no meal plan. I initially got the idea from my mom, who’s a great cook and would thoughtfully freeze leftovers for me to take back to UNC when I visited home. Then, in my dorm, I started doubling and freezing recipes so I could spend less time cooking later on.
Healthy freezer meals are awesome to make in advance when I anticipate a busy upcoming time, like final exams. I genuinely love cooking, but the one exception is when I’m crunched for time because then cooking becomes much less fun and feels like more of a hassle/stress.
So, I really like front-loading my cooking and spending more time cooking (and cleaning up the kitchen…) when I have more free time. Over the years, I’ve learned some tips and tricks for making healthy freezer meals, plus a pretty good idea of what types of recipes freeze well.
There are definitely lots of different ways to do freezer meal prep, so I’m sharing what I typically do, but I’d love to hear any of your tips + tricks, different methods, and favorite recipes to freeze, too!
Since I’m usually cooking for one, I freeze a lot of meals in individual portions, which I love for adding some variety into my weekly meals. During a busy week, I could have turkey chili for dinner one day, pasta the next night, and a burger the next night…all without cooking anything that week!
A peek into my freezer
Right now in my freezer, I have individual servings of butternut squash turkey chili, jars of homemade spaghetti sauce, slow-cooker refried beans, turkey meatballs to serve with pasta or spaghetti squash, rice & black beans with chicken, flourless double chocolate muffins, and raw brownie bites.
I save most of my homemade freezer meals for my busiest days or low-on-groceries days. For example, here’s a very loose meal plan that I shared on my Instagram stories during a busy week when I used a lot of frozen meals, along with low-prep meals like salads:
How I do freezer meal prep
I usually restock my freezer whenever something runs out, so I’m typically not doing a giant session of freezer cooking at one time.
For example, If I’m about to finish the homemade soup in my freezer, I’ll add ingredients to my grocery list, make a double batch when I have a chance, freeze most of it to restock my freezer stash, and enjoy the rest for a day or two right away.
Some tips and some of my favorite meals and snacks to freeze…
Healthy meals that freeze well (fully cooked & ready to enjoy)
• Soup and chili: Just about any soup, stew, or chili recipes freezes perfectly. Right now, I’m especially loving this Paleo sweet potato chili and this vegetarian sweet potato chickpea stew.
How to freeze: I usually freeze soup and chili in individual portions in mason jars. I use both pint and pint-and-a-half mason jars depending on how hearty/filling the recipe is. Mason jars are my favorite because after I let the soup or chili thaw in the fridge, I pack the mason jar in my lunchbox and then microwave it directly in the jar after removing the metal ring and lid.
In the past, I’ve also used 1) glass or plastic Tupperware containers and 2) a freezer Ziploc bag (pressing the air out and then laying flat in the freezer when initially freezing to take up less space). The only issue I’ve run into with Ziploc bags is that occasionally, they’ve gotten slightly punctured while frozen and then leaked while defrosting in the fridge, so that’s just something to be aware of when thawing them.
• Pasta dishes: Pasta generally freezes really well. Regular white pasta, whole wheat pasta, lentil pasta, and chickpea pasta are all freezer-friendly options. I’ve found that rice pasta doesn’t freeze quite as well as other types of pasta and tends to get a bit mushy after being frozen and reheated, but it’s still a pretty good option, especially if you’re gluten-free and that’s what you prefer to use.
I typically freeze individual portions of dishes like already-baked lasagna, baked ziti, or even regular spaghetti with meat sauce. I also love freezing a combo of spaghetti + spaghetti squash for a giant portion and a guaranteed serving of veggies later on (usually leftovers from a typical meal for me).
• Burgers: I freeze homemade beef or turkey burgers to eat later in a lettuce wrap (or even add to pasta like meatballs).
• Casseroles/Rice-Based Dishes: Casseroles were the original freezer-friendly meal because most of them freeze incredibly well. Some casseroles are even pretty healthy, like this Mexican chicken cauliflower rice casserole and this cheesy quinoa casserole. My mom also makes a Cuban-style black beans & rice with chicken recipe that’s really good, and it tastes exactly the same after being frozen . I haven’t shared that recipe on the blog yet, but this one looks similar.
How to freeze: I usually freeze an individual portion (of meals other than soup/chili) on a square of unbleached parchment paper, fold in the sides to wrap it up tightly, and then place each wrapped portion into a small individual fold-top Ziploc bag. Double-wrapping helps prevent freezer burn and any possible leaking situations when you let the the meal thaw in the fridge later.
In the photo below, you can see parchment-wrapped squares of a few frozen meals (inside individual bags) in the top right corner.
I always label the meals since some things look similar once they’re frozen (i.e. bolognese sauce and chili). Writing dates on frozen meals could be helpful, too, although I typically don’t since I go through them quickly enough that the dates don’t matter!
How I reheat homemade freezer meals
You can reheat homemade freezer meals straight out of the freezer, but I usually move one from the freezer to the fridge the day before. Depending on the meal, they take 12-18 hours to thaw in the fridge.
I think most meals, especially ones with chicken, taste better with less time in the microwave, and I’ve also read/heard some conflicting things about zapping nutrients out of meals, so letting them thaw in the fridge is just my personal preference when I remember to plan ahead.
You can also reheat most frozen meals in a skillet or even the oven, of course, but I usually use the microwave for convenience.
Ingredients to quickly throw together healthy meals
In addition to fully-ready-to-eat freezer meals, I freeze some prepared ingredients (mainly sauces and proteins) to quickly whip up some quick meals later. These are some of my favorite meal components to freeze:
• Turkey meatballs: I usually have turkey meatballs with spaghetti squash, which I cook most weeks to have in my fridge, (or sometimes lentil pasta) and marinara sauce or pesto.
• Shredded cooked chicken: I freeze extra shredded chicken (either rotisserie from Whole Foods or that I cook myself) in a freezer bag. Then, I thaw it in the fridge to toss into recipes like Mexican stuffed spaghetti squash or even add it frozen to a cauliflower crust pizza before cooking the pizza for more protein.
The texture of chicken after being cooked, frozen, and then defrosted isn’t quite the same, so I usually add it to recipes, rather than eating it on its own or putting it in a salad.
• Homemade bolognese sauce that I make with lean ground turkey and lots of veggies like mushrooms and peppers and then later enjoy with spaghetti squash or pasta.
• Pesto: I pick up a container of Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale Pesto (amazing and dairy-free) every time I go to Trader Joe’s, use some of it, and keep the rest in the freezer to add to spaghetti squash or pasta.
• Slow-cooker refried beans: If you’re into Mexican food, this recipe is hard to beat! I defrost a mason jar of refried beans overnight, quickly sauté some ground turkey or beef with taco seasoning at dinnertime, and enjoy a fab taco salad or quesadilla within about 15 minutes.
• Black bean sauce: This recipe for easy Mexican skillet chicken with black bean sauce is a family-favorite. One recipe only uses about half of the sauce, so I freeze the other half of the sauce in a small mason jar for a future meal.
• Leftover spaghetti squash: Every time I buy spaghetti squash, I grab the biggest one and freeze any leftovers to later defrost and add some bulk & extra nutrients to pasta dishes or rice-based meals.
Healthy snacks that freeze well
I keep lots of fruits & veggies in my fridge for snacks, and I also have a stash of healthy snacks and treats in my freezer most of the time. I usually pack an energy bite or muffin in my lunch, and I like having treats for friends when they come over a study session or girls’ night.
• Energy Bites: I love these super simple 4-ingredient peanut butter energy bites, raw brownie bites, and raw cookie dough bites.
• Quick Breads: Quick breads like banana bread freeze really well, so if I usually immediately freeze whatever I won’t eat within the first day or two of baking them. My current favorite is this almond flour banana bread.
• Healthy Cookies & Brownies: I freeze these banana oatmeal cookies and raw brownies for healthier dessert options after dinner.
• Baked Oatmeal Cups: For a quick grab & go breakfast option, I keep mixed berry baked oatmeal cups or peanut butter banana baked oatmeal cups in my freezer. I’ve found that baked oatmeal cups a little freeze better than regular baked oatmeal, so I typically make oatmeal cups if I’m planning to freeze them.
• Healthy Muffins: Most often, I alternate between my two favorite muffin recipes: these oat flour pumpkin muffins and these flourless double chocolate banana peanut butter muffins. I branch out to other muffin recipes, too, but always come back to these two!
How to freeze: I usually freeze all snacks/baked goods in a single layer in a freezer bag, which takes up less space, or in a freezer-safe glass container if I have lots of available freezer space (which is rare 😉).
And that’s generally what I do! Hope this was interesting/useful. Again, please feel free to share any of your favorite tips + tricks, methods, and favorite recipes to freeze, as well! Or let me know if you have any questions. 😀
AMY P WANG says
Great post, Liv! Wish I had you to rely on when I was in college in the 90s!!
Thanks so much, Amy! 😀