On a busy night, it’s such a relief to find a home-cooked meal waiting in the freezer. And with these five tips, your make-ahead big-batch meals will be homemade and delicious.
1. Scale up the right recipes. You can easily double, or even quadruple, many of your favourite recipes. Soups, stews, meatballs, pasta sauces, lasagnas, pot pies, casseroles and pizzas can be sized up with delicious results. Cooked pulses (including beans, lentils and peas), chicken and ground beef also freeze, thaw and reheat well, so make a bunch to add to recipes later. Boiled potatoes and rice, however, fall apart when frozen, while pasta turns mushy as it soaks up the liquid around it. Freeze soups or stews without them, then cook and add them just before serving.
Many baking recipes don’t scale up well because there’s a magical chemistry that occurs between specific proportions of ingredients. It’s better to make several single batches of your favourite baked treats instead.
2. Hold the garnishes on freeze-ahead meals. Delicate fresh herbs, such as parsley and basil, lose their flavour and colour when exposed to frigid temperatures, so don’t sprinkle them over dishes before freezing. Instead, add them after your meal has been reheated and is ready for the table. And while you can freeze casseroles and baked dishes with breadcrumb and nut garnishes, these toppings are at their golden, crispy best when added to the thawed dish just before baking.
3. Cool foods quickly. Large batches take longer to cool down. The solution: Divide the food among small, shallow containers to increase the surface area and speed up the rate of heat loss. To prevent bacterial growth, seal and pop the containers into the fridge or freezer as soon as steam stops rising from the top.
4. FIFO your food. This inventory-tracking principle means “first in, first out.” Applying it to your big-batch dishes keeps all your hard work from getting buried and forgotten at the back of the fridge or freezer. Label each container with its contents and the date it was made, and keep a running list of frozen foods taped to the outside of the freezer. Eat the oldest things first and rotate your stash.
5. Invest in good containers. Durable plastic and glass containers, and canning jars with tight seals, protect food from freezer burn and strong smells. Freezer bags (doubled for best protection), high-quality plastic wrap and heavy-duty foil are fine, too—just remember, the more layers between the food and the cold, the safer it will be from freezer burn. You can reuse bread, bagel and rinsed produce bags to add an additional layer between your dishes and the freezer air. They’ll also catch any leaks, saving you from having to scrub the freezer clean on an already busy weeknight.