The best make-ahead freezer meals on any budget
Ever feel like there is not enough time in the evenings to make dinner at home? It can be so stressful having to come up with dinner ideas at 4pm! Luckily a little planning can go a long way in solving this never-ending problem.
For me, doing a little prep work on the weekend can save me so much stress during the week when it comes time to serve the family a decent dinner. Save yourself money, time, and stress by planning, shopping and prepping dinners ahead of time and then freezing everything!
Crock pot (dump and go)
My favorite dinners are what I lovingly call “dump and go” dinner. This is when your ingredients do not require very much prep work, just open the can and dump! Stands to reason then, that my favorite way to prep dinners when freezing meals is to combine everything that I would normally dump into a Crock-pot into a large gallon-sized Ziploc bag instead.
By doing all the prep work in one afternoon you essentially steal a productivity tip from all the biz gurus and “batch” your work. This saves time as you are cleaning, peeling, chopping all the ingredients all at once – speeding up the process. Then on the day that you are going to make the dinner you literally just dump from the gallon bag into the slow cooker and turn it on. Making this a super easy meal, and needing zero work from you on those busy days.
When I find a sale or coupon on a particular ingredient, I will stock up and freeze it. Meat is especially great for this as stores will deeply discount something that needs to be made or frozen immediately. Ground beef is my favorite for this tip as it can get really expensive if you are just buying it one pound at a time, without paying attention to the sales cycles. Fresh ingredients, and especially meat, rarely have coupons; so you really have to watch the sales and stock up. Luckily, meat freezes really well and makes meal planning a breeze later on.
If I see ground beef drop below $3 a pound, I will find a package anywhere from 3-5 pounds and then grab an onion or two. Once home, I will separate the ground beef into approximately 1-1.5 pounds and brown it with about a half an onion each batch. Then, drain and cool. Store each pound of cooked ground beef and onion in a large Ziploc bag and freeze it.
As you are meal planning you can grab a bag out of the freezer on Sunday afternoon and pick up the ingredients for a super easy spaghetti night, or chili in the Crock-pot, or my favorite magic pasta recipe!
Combine tips 1 and 2! Sometimes, if I see a great deal on a particular cut of meat and I know a recipe using it, that the family likes. I will stock up not only on the meat, but the rest of the ingredients also. This requires a little bit of flexibility in the budget, which isn’t always possible. But if you can do it, you can save a ton of money in the long run. A great example, is a recipe I love – beef and broccoli in the slow cooker. But beef can get so expensive. If I see a great deal, I will stock up – and then swing back around to the vegetable aisle and pick up broccoli.
Once home, (or when the little one is napping) then do your prep work. Brown the meat and drain; separate into 3-4 gallon sized Ziploc bags with your favorite seasonings, oils and sauces to marinate; add in the freshly washed and chopped broccoli. Voila! 3-4 dinners for your freezer. Fast forward a month and you are doing your weekly meal planning – check the freezer and what do you see? A ready-to-go dinner! Whaaaaa?!?!?! It’s like Christmas in July!
Casseroles (straight from frozen to oven)
Casseroles are so easy to prep on a weekend and then pop into the freezer for later in the week. Quite a few can even be cooked straight from the freezer, making them crazy easy and convenient. Simply come home from the soccer game, dance practice, or swim lessons and heat up the oven. Voila! Dinner is on it’s way without having to do any prep work at the worst possible time.
You know what I am talking about momma – it’s 6pm and everyone is hungry and tired. Homework needs to be done, baths need to be had – especially if it was raining during that soccer game! And if you have to stand in the kitchen and prep the ingredients….well it just isn’t going to happen. You will stop at the drive-thru on the way home, or simply order in a pizza. Some of my favorites casseroles are tuna casserole and cheeseburger casserole.
I hope these ideas have gotten your own wheels turning thinking about how you can make your freezer work for you and your family. What are your favorite go-to meals? Can you prep them and freeze all the ingredients together? Can you make the recipe all the way up to the step of actually baking it – and then freeze it, ready to roll come dinner time?
Remember to browse the meat aisle next time you are at the store to see if there are any special deals you can grab. Don’t just put them in the freezer still in the package! Separate them out, prep them if you can, and then freeze in the perfect sizes for your family dinners.