I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve often skipped breakfast for cereal bars on the go and scratch-made dinners for expensive, not-so-healthy takeout meals. Between a full-time job, two kids at home, and a husband who works late hours, the reality of prepping a full sit-down dinner at the end of the day is not usually on the cards for me. Enter: make-ahead freezer meals.
When it comes to balancing the busyness of life with healthy, affordable eating, the freezer meal is an easy alternative that minimizes dinnertime prep without compromising on any of it. This is the ultimate budget and strapped-for-time-friendly choice for those of us who have trouble getting a meal together at the end of a workday.
Featured Image by Suruchi Avasthi.
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15 Make-Ahead Freezer Meals for Streamlined Weeknight Meals
Freezer meals are not the TV dinners in your supermarket’s freezer section. They’re partially or fully assembled meals you make from scratch in advance and reheat or cook before eating.
Make a double batch of any of these on the weekend, then freeze the rest for a weeknight option that feels like money in the bank. And at the end of a tough day at work, every ounce of saved energy matters. Scroll on for 15 of our favorite make-ahead freezer meals that you should consider adding to your weeknight meal plan.
Why We Love It: I used to feel like making pasta from scratch was a daunting task, reserved strictly for Sundays. With the proper planning, patience, and practice, this meal is perfect for freezing and serving when the week gets just a bit too crazy for a homemade meal.
Hero Ingredient: Pesto is a perfect complement to the béchamel.
Why We Love It: Tikka masala is one of my favorite dishes, but I usually find myself ordering this meal takeout-style because of the required commitment to the cooking process. This slow cooker version of one of my top ten favorite recipes is the perfect way to enjoy the delicious flavors of a staple dish without spending hours in the kitchen.
Hero Ingredient: It’s hard to pick a favorite between curry powder and coconut milk as the star of this recipe.
Why We Love It: Spaghetti with meatballs is one of the most nostalgic recipes, but I often find that the dish can be really filling due to the heavy ingredient list. Shiitake mushrooms and cannellini beans are the rich and flavorful ingredients used as a base in this recipe, which I now prefer to typical ground beef meatballs. Not to mention the endless amount of grains and veggies you can serve them with. (Spaghetti noodles are just the beginning.)
Hero Ingredient: You can thank the shiitake mushrooms for this dish’s addicting umami flavor.
Why We Love It: Maybe the winter weather has you feeling under the weather, or maybe you’re just trying to avoid a grocery trip. Either way, this vegetable soup will leave you (and maybe even your wallet) feeling better than you were before. From fresh to frozen veggies, what you add in is truly up to your heart’s desire.
Hero Ingredient: Cashews give this soup warmth from its nutty and sweet flavor.
Why We Love It: If you’re looking for a dish that will last you longer than a few nights, this roasted chicken and vegetable confit has you covered. While submerging your vegetables in olive oil may sound intimidating, trust that you’ll end up with loads of flavor to complement your chicken.
Hero Ingredient: Fingerling potatoes really stand out as the best partner for confit olive oil cooking.
Why We Love It: If you’ve been on the hunt for a vegetarian chili, look no further. Freezing this chili and saving it for later is a great way to get your soup in on those unexpectedly chilly days. Using turkey as the main protein is also a great way to avoid highly inflammatory ingredients.
Hero Ingredient: The ground cinnamon in the spice mixture gives this chili the warmth and sweetness you’ve been searching for.
Why We Love It: Save this delicious soup when energy levels are low and evenings are busy. It’s simple and healthy, containing cold-fighting ingredients like turmeric, ginger, and honey, making it the perfect reset meal.
Hero Ingredient: Tumeric is a great anti-inflammatory ingredient that gives this soup its golden color.
Why We Love It: One-pot dinners are highly underrated, especially when you’re cooking with the goal of having leftovers. This healthy take on a skillet lasagna avoids heavy meats like sausage or ground beef but brings all the flavor with the eggplant slices.
Hero Ingredient: To say the least, eggplant is what elevates this one-dish delight.
Why We Love It: Another great sweet potato recipe that we can’t get enough of, these sweet potato falafel burgers are a great way to make sure a filling and nutritious dinner makes its way to the table, minus all of the hassle.
Hero Ingredient: Chickpeas are the binding ingredient for these patties.
Why We Love It: Everything about this sheet pan fajita recipe makes it ideal for large crowds, but also for cooking in large amounts with minimal ingredients. (P.S. there are only five!) Despite the minimal ingredient list, the flavors in this recipe don’t disappoint.
Hero Ingredient: Use taco seasoning or chili powder for that authentic kick of flavor to season your chicken.
Why We Love It: I’ve been making some version of this coconut curry red lentil soup for a while, and am constantly tweaking the spices and which veggies I throw into the mix. While there’s a lot that differs each time I make this soup, these are constants: lots of curry powder, creamy coconut milk, and the fact that I always feel awesome after eating this soup. It gives me that “totally satisfied without feeling weighed down” vibe that can be hard to come by.
Hero Ingredient: Curry powder can’t be skipped in this savory soup.
Why We Love It: Chili is one of my favorite things to serve to a crowd since it’s easy to double and triple the recipe and then set up a self-serve bar of toppings so guests can help themselves to a bowl made just how they like it… and go back for seconds.
Hero Ingredient: Chicken in chili is highly underrated.
Why We Love It: This is an infinitely adaptable recipe that allows you to swap in and swap out whatever veggies you have on hand. And as demonstrated by the peas in this one, frozen veggies are perfect for cooking right along with the pasta. No need to even thaw them beforehand. Just keep in mind that different veggies cook at different speeds. The harder veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and bell peppers are going to need more time to soften up. I like to throw the tomatoes and peas in just a couple minutes before everything’s ready, so they barely soften without losing their shape.
Hero Ingredient: Ricotta takes the cake as the best ingredient on this list.
Why We Love It: Finally, a vegetarian chili that everyone—carnivores included—will love. It’s so packed with hearty black beans, flavorful veggies, and loads of spices (plus all those toppings) that no one will miss the meat. And did I mention the incredible amount of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals contained in this bowl?
Hero Ingredient: Sweet potatoes AND chili, how could we resist?
Why We Love It: These patties are so easy to make ahead and freeze, then thaw and heat in the oven or on a skillet when you’re ready to eat. While this meal is a great weeknight dinner, it’s also the perfect dress-your-own main course for a casual dinner party. Freeze the fully cooked patties, then thaw and reheat in the oven or on a hot skillet.
Hero Ingredient: Sliced avocado is a fresh and tasty topping for these wraps.
This post was originally published on February 3, 2020, and has since been updated.