6 Smart Ideas for Pre-Prepping Frozen Foods for Quick and Easy Dinners

Set yourself up for nightly dinner success with a little help from your freezer.

Any Scout will tell you that "Be Prepared" is a pretty good motto by which to live, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the kitchen of a busy home. Whether you are just feeding yourself and your partner during busy work weeks or have a large family to wrangle daily, getting dinner on the table without losing your mind is something we could all get better prepared for. And your freezer is the key. Having a freezer that is full of easy to grab prepped ingredients and dishes makes dinner not just do-able but a joy.

Freezers are the secret weapons of pro chefs everywhere. James Beard Award Winning Best Chef Ashley Christiansen and her wife, writer Kait Goalen, recently released It's Always Freezer Season: How to Freeze Like a Chef with 100 Make-ahead Recipes. It talks about how advanced prep and a freezer full of recipe building blocks can fundamentally change your cooking practice for the better.

So, here are our top six tips and tricks for setting yourself up for nightly success with the help of your chillbox, and the best part is that it only requires a little bit of advanced prep on a weekend or a quiet night. Most of these are also kid friendly projects, so get them involved!

Pizza Night Faster Than Delivery

Pizza dough is freezeable, and whether you make your own or purchase your dough at the store, stashing single pizza dough balls in lightly greased containers in your freezer is the first step towards making pizza night fast and easy. If you want to really get prepared, freeze small one-pizza bags of sauce and toppings as well! Precooked crumbled Italian sausage meat, a fistful of pepperoni, caramelized or raw onions, roasted peppers, crumbled bacon, all freeze well, and you can ensure that each of the people in your household has their favorites on hand! Just move your dough, sauce, and toppings from freezer to fridge before bed, and you'll be ready for dinner the next night. Keep a brick or ball of mozzarella in the fridge, and you'll always be ready for amazing pizza.

pizza with two slices gone
Tim Shanahan

Try these recipes:

Taco Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays

Set yourself up for Taco Nights by prepping and freezing the main fillings, from black beans to chicken Tinga to carnitas in portions that serve the size of your household. One big batch of any of these can make weeks' worth of meals, and pre-portioning before freezing means you are just a microwave zap away from fresh delicious tacos...with something for everyone in your family. Keep tortillas and toppings on hand in the fridge, and these taco fillings can go straight from freezer to microwave, so no need to think ahead.

three crispy tacos on a plate

Get Your Muffin Tin Working

The muffin tin is your best friend for freezing prepped portions, from individual meatloaves to portions of pasta sauces, to one-person pot pies or individual lasagnas. Use a nonstick muffin tin, and grease it lightly or lay a strip of parchment paper or tin foil across the bottom to use as a sling to remove your portions. Freeze right in the tin, then pop out when frozen, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and stash in a ziptop bag with the cooking/heating instructions written on it. From the mini muffin tin for one-person portions of intense sauces like pesto, to the jumbo tins perfect for mini pies, quiches, or frittatas, get perfect portions that will save you time and energy.

six pizza cupcakes on a wooden board

Get Saucy

Whether it is a zucchini walnut pesto or a rich pork ragu, having frozen hearty sauces mean that dinner is ready in as many minutes as it takes to cook pasta, rice, grains, or polenta, or steam up some spiralized vegetables, or bake a potato. Make your favorite sauces and portion and freeze, and you can either thaw overnight in the fridge, or microwave straight from frozen. Want to go one better? Freeze portions of cooked rices or grains or pasta, so you don't even have to make those from scratch.

Arrabbiata Sauce
Arrabbiata Sauce. Allrecipes

Think Ahead to Sheet Pan Suppers

For simple sheet pan suppers, prep your ingredients ahead in complete meal bags, like onions, peppers and Italian sausages; or butternut squash, fennel and chicken thighs. You can cook straight from frozen, just drizzle with oil, season, and pop in a hot oven. Be sure to either use already frozen vegetables, or check to see which vegetables work best, not every vegetable is good for freezing.

Sheet Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs with Brussels Sprouts
Sheet Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs with Brussels Sprouts. Jewelzee

Don't Leave a Hot Grill Empty

If you are heating up the grill for dinner tonight, use that already hot grill to also cook some other portions of meat (pork chops, chicken parts, small steaks) for later. Let the food cool, then freeze for instant portions of already-cooked meat that can be eaten as a meal or used as an ingredient in a larger dish. Having frozen cooked meats can often be better than raw, since you just have to thaw and reheat, instead of starting from scratch.

grilled chicken thighs on grill
Kevin Janzter


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