Save time and money with homemade freezer meals

Preparing your own freezer meals saves you time and money, easing stress while guaranteeing a safe, satisfying meal for you and your family.

A photo of a casserole in a baking dish.
Photo: Pixabay.

Busy schedules that juggle work and family commitments do not always leave time to prepare homemade meals. Yet buying frozen meals or takeout from a restaurant is expensive and is often not as nutritious as homemade meals. So, what is the solution? One great suggestion could be to prepare or cook in larger quantities and freeze those meals.

To prepare homemade freezer meals, you can purchase extra items in season or on sale, and then prepare in larger quantities. Then portion each meal out according to family size and freeze in airtight containers. If this seems overwhelming, you can start small by using leftovers. Additionally, it might even be fun to set up a meal swap with a friend or family member to add more variety to your frozen meal selection.

Remember, starting small is okay. If you have a lunch or dinner size portion of a meal left over, don’t let it go to waste. Save money, cut down on food waste, and freeze it! If you double a recipe you are already making, like a pot of chili or batch of lasagna, it can be frozen into an additional meal. This can ease the stress of dinnertime on a busy night.  

If you are ready to jump in and prepare several meals at once to freeze for later, here are a few tips:

  • Gather your favorite recipes.
  • Prepare an ingredient shopping list.
  • Look for ingredient overlap. For example, do several of your recipes call for diced onion? On your meal prep day, cut up all the onions you will need for all your recipes for the week and simply store them in the refrigerator until they are needed for the recipe you are preparing.
  • Make sure you have proper containers for the meals.

Planning makes a big difference. You can do this on as big, or as small a scale as you wish. If you don’t know what to make, check online for ideas, such as this casserole recipe from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This cook-and-freeze technique is also good for people who have only one or two people in the household. Instead of cooking smaller dinners, keep cooking for a family and freeze the leftovers. These are great to take to work for lunches and/or for after work dinners, and you don’t have to fuss with halving recipes.

In order to stay safe and avoid foodborne illness when freezing meals, here are a few food safety tips to remember when cooking large quantities of food and storing for later: 

  • Divide large quantities of soup or casseroles for freezing into shallow containers for quick cooling. 
  • Be sure to place food in the refrigerator or freezer for storage within two hours. The refrigerator should be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and the freezer at 0 degrees or below.
  • Use a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer for accuracy.
  • Add a label with a discard by date so you can rotate through your stock of dinners before the food loses quality.
  • Homemade frozen meals should be used within three months of freezing.

For more information about food safety, check out MSU Extension's safe food and water programming.

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