Your Freezer Is the Back-to-School Bestie You Need Right Now
Back-to-school is upon us, and regardless of how different or unusual this school year might look, one thing is evergreen: The first weeks of school are a bit crazy-making. Kids transitioning back into regular wake-ups and homework, parents adjusting to juggling everyone's schedules, and yet, breakfast, lunch, and dinner still need to happen, even if the table is covered with science projects and textbooks.
But, you have at your disposal the single best tool for making mealtimes simpler, and that is your freezer. Whether it's the regular freezer attached to your fridge, or you are blessed with a bonus chest freezer, now is the time to do a clean-out and reorg, and prep some key items in anticipation of back-to-school needs.
Clean and Organize
Right now your freezer might be a summer jumble of popsicles and heat-and-eat snacks, frozen fries and chicken nuggets. Take stock of these and see if you can't make a concerted effort to use them up in the coming weeks; and as you clear room, fill the space with useful building blocks for weeknight suppers.
Load in Some Pizza Staples
Try this recipe: Two-Ingredient Pizza Dough
Let's be real: More last-minute pizzas get ordered in the first few weeks of school than almost any other time of year. But pizza night doesn't have to be a takeout night. Does your local grocer or favorite pizza parlor sell balls of pizza dough? Did you know these freeze beautifully? Grab a few, wrap them well in plastic wrap and put into a ziptop bag. They just need to thaw overnight in your fridge and they are ready to go for homemade pizzas. If your family loves freezable toppings like sausage, pepperoni, caramelized onion, etc., make small one-pizza's worth bags of these and freeze, so that you are halfway to pizza without any prep. Keep a jar of pizza sauce or a can of peeled whole tomatoes in juice in the pantry and a chunk of mozzarella in the fridge, and you might never have to resort to delivery again.
Make and Freeze Double Batches of Your Favorite Entrees
Try this recipe: Mamaw's Chicken and Rice Casserole
Making meatloaf or Sloppy Joes? Assembling a lasagna or casserole? Slow-cooking up some soup, stew, or chili? Is there a batch of pasta sauce in your future? Make double now, when things are calmer, and freeze half for a future dinner that is just thaw-and-go.
Capture Summer Abundance
Summer vegetables are perfect now, but winter is coming. Freezing bags of sweet corn on or off the cob, green beans or shelling beans, ripe tomatoes and summer squashes, greens of all kinds — these tastes of sunshine will give you a much-needed break from fall and winter vegetables. Perfect for those school nights when a rotisserie chicken is in need of some side dishes.
Related: How to Freeze Fruits and Vegetables
Freeze Single Servings
Sure, it's great when the whole family can sit down to a meal together, but too often someone has a practice that runs long, or someone has a late meeting to attend; there are many nights when it needs to be a bit flexible getting everyone fed. But "catch as catch can night" doesn't mean everyone needs to be eating cereal and PB&J. Pack up some single servings of soup, pasta, cooked portions of meats, and squares of casseroles. Write reheating instructions on the bags and pop them in the freezer. If you have the room, put them in a freezer-safe bin so no one has to go digging and they can can easily grab what they need for a hot meal.
Sunday Breakfast All Week Long
Try this recipe: Veronica's Apple Pancakes
Don't forget your freezer for making your mornings better! Making homemade pancakes or waffles? Getting your biscuit or scone or cinnamon roll game on? Make a double batch, freeze uncovered on a sheet pan, then toss into a ziptop bag. Reheat from frozen in your toaster or oven for fast weekday breakfast that feels like the weekend. You can also make a batch of breakfast burritos and freeze in individual bags for a one-hand hot breakfast to give your kids or partner as they head out the door (or to their virtual classroom or work-from-home office).
Sure, we would all love to feed our families only from-scratch fabulous meals. We would also all like to win the lottery and have someone invent clothes that launder themselves. In the meantime, if there are some commercially available products that can make your life easier? Embrace that. Companies like Tiller & Hatch are making high-quality frozen one-pot meals that you make in your Instant Pot in minutes, and they serve a family of four. Add a salad and dinner is on the table in no time. Deep Indian Kitchen, known for delicious quality frozen Indian entrees and side dishes, is now doing family-size and multi-packs that can be ordered direct. Another convenience food idea: Picking up a couple rotisserie chickens at the store and shredding the meat and freezing means that you are a bottle of barbecue sauce away from a pulled chicken dinner.
Don't Forget Dessert
Try this recipe: Ginger-Touched Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies
Many cookie recipes can be frozen as dough balls for baking a few at a time as needed. Pound cakes and sweet breads can be sliced into individual portions and frozen. Fruit pies can be frozen before baking. If your family has a sweet tooth but you don't have time or energy to bake in the back-to-school madness, prep and freeze now for a sweet treat at your fingertips when you need it.
Store Properly and Label Everything
Keep a Sharpie on hand to label anything you freeze with what it is and when you made it, so that you can always find what you need and use the oldest stuff first. If you want your food to be at its best in the freezer, air is the enemy. Wrap everything that can be portioned tightly in plastic wrap and then foil before putting in a freezer bag. Liquids like soups or stews or sauces store in ziptop bags with as much air pressed out as possible, and if you can, freeze flat on a sheet pan so that you can stack them up once frozen. If you have a food saver or vacuum sealer, it will be your best pal for freezing.
Related: Browse All Freezer Meal Recipes