If you want ways to save time yet still want to serve your family a full dinner each night, frozen meals can come to the rescue. Also called investment cooking or once-a-month cooking, freezer cooking allows you to simply prepare multiple portions of favorite dishes and freeze the extras. It's much like you probably already do with extra turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, applied year-round.
Most everything your family enjoys, including breakfast casseroles, enchiladas, baked goods, meatloaf, roasts, uncooked hamburger patties, main dishes, pancakes, pies and more can become a frozen family meal. The exceptions are meals that contain sauces based on eggs, milk or cream, instant rice, raw salad ingredients, stuffed poultry and hard-cooked eggs, as well as fried foods.
Make a typical meal plus extra portions, slightly undercooking the meals designated for freezing, writes Annabel Karmel, an author on cooking for children, in "Favorite Family Meals." Cool the meal as quickly as possible, placing the unlidded container in a large pan of ice water, and freeze it as soon as it cools to room temperature. Freeze and store foods at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or less, checking the freezer temperature with a dial thermometer kept on a shelf permanently. Place the meals in proper freezer bags, not bread wrappers, and label and date your packages. Track available frozen meals on a dry-erase board on the side of the freezer.
Bake potatoes and scoop out the pulp, mixing it with bacon, cheddar cheese and chopped green onions, and returning the mixture to the potato skin, suggests Elizabeth Taliaferro in "Busy Moms Weeknight Favorites." Wrap each potato in foil, freeze in a freezer bag and remove the desired number for dinner; bake at 350 F for one hour. Or fix a taco casserole, sauteing ground chuck, a chopped onion, minced garlic and pepper in a skillet. Layer tortillas in a baking pan and top with half the meat mixture and cheese crumbles or grated cheddar. Add another layer of tortillas, meat and cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and freeze without cooking. Heat at 350 F for an hour covered with the foil, then remove the foil and cook for another 30 minutes until thoroughly heated.
Freeze meals in proportions to suit the size of your family. Whenever you bake a meal such as lasagna, build two extra containers of the pasta dish while the first one is cooking and freeze them in single-meal-sized containers. If you need to conserve space, prepare meals that can be frozen flat in a plastic freezer bag and then placed upright, like books on a shelf. Have your kids rate the recipes from one to five stars on a card to know how often to prepare and freeze each meal.
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- "Houseworks"; Cynthia Townley Ewer; 2009
- "Frozen Assets Lite and Easy: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month"; Deborah Taylor-Hough; 2009
- "Favorite Family Meals"; Annabel Karmel; 2006
- "Busy Moms Weeknight Favorites"; Elizabeth Taliaferro; 2006
- "Fix, Freeze, Feast"; Kati Neville, et al.; 2007
- "The Fast-Food Kitchen"; Sheri Torelli; 2011
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images