My friends recently found out that they are pregnant with their first child! Yay! They hate to cook whereas I LOVE it, so ideally I’d like to bring them some post-homecoming meals.
I don’t freeze meals myself and I primarily eat vegetarian food so this will be a bit of a challenge as they are die hard carnivores! So far I can think of lasagne and bolognese, however I don’t know how much minced meat they can handle.
Does anyone have suggestions for dishes that are freezer-friendly, can be made all at once, and won’t break the bank? — Aisling
Comments on What are the best homemade freezer-friendly meals for new families?
Casseroles freeze well, you can do many different kinds, beef stroganoff is a favourite with my family. Also mild curries, if you have a vegetarian recipe for casseroles just add stewing steak or ask the butcher for meats that are good for longer cooking times.
I make lots of hearty soups for the freezer, chicken a vegetable soup is always popular.
chicken and veg soup:
I start by putting a whole chicken, couple of carrots, half and onion, couple of cloves of garlic and the some leek off cuts in a large stock pot with enough water to have all well covered. I simmer this for 2 hours to make a stock, adding water to keep the ingredients covered, but not too much. You want the stock to reduce a fair bit. add either salt and herbs to taste or cheat with a few teaspoons of vegeta gourmet stock powder (or similar).
Strain all the liquid into another pot and pull out the chicken, let cool for a bit then remove skin and discard. Also discard the remaining veg that you used to make the stock. They will be too sloppy for the soup.
Add chopped root vegetables including carrot to the stock and return to simmer while preparing chicken.
Remove as much meat as you can and discard all bones being careful not to miss any.
add chicken along with 1 zuchinni, and 1-2 leeks.
once root vegies are just about done add about two cobs of fresh corn kernals and a handful or so of macaroni, and one tblsp of sugar.
once the macaroni is soft you are done.
The above recipe can be made easier by using a bbq chicken store bought and bought liquid stock, but I think its much nicer cooked from scratch.
The best thing about soups and other more liquid or squishy food items is that you can put them in a ziplock bag (I double bag and reuse the outer for future freezing) and lay it flat to freeze. Once frozen you can stack them horizontally or vertically, so it takes up less space. I’ve also used smaller baggies to make individual portions for lunches or just when you want soup but you don’t want soup for three days.
A seal-a-meal works too, but I can’t do that with soup without it ending in disaster.
Freezer meals are the best gift!
We loved the individually wrapped burritos my boss made. They were vegan but you could easily make them with shredded chicken, pork or beef. By individually wrapping them we could just pop one in the microwave at 3am when feeding the baby. It also insured less waste. I can’t tell you how sad I was when I had to through out the giant pan of egg plant parm my great grandmother in-law made because we couldn’t finish the giant pan before it became questionable.
My husband the carnivore really like the mini meatloafs his mother made us. She made them in muffin tins and then froze them all in a big bag. He could just reach in the bag pull out two heat them up and go.
While we received food from others due to my brother’s cancer, and not a new baby, the small portions thing was huge! A huge lasagna seems like such a burden to eat it all.
Instead, freeze them in small containers/individual portions. Those semi-disposable ziplock tupperware, for instance. If it’s only one person at home (as was often the case with me when my parents were at the hospital with my brother) it’s so nice to be able to just take out what you need, and if there are many people at home, just just take out more.
For easy smaller portions of lasagna, make lasagna roll-ups. The recipe I use is here:
I’ve also made them with spinach instead of beef/sausage and it works just as well for a vegetarian option.
Lasagna roll ups are great. Another mini option is lasagnas made in bread pans. I have a friend who’s standard new baby present is 3 mini lasagnas- each a different flavor.
OMG, the mini meatloafs in muffin tins is brilliant! I’ve been wracking my brain for good make-in-advance freezer meals. I’m totally stealing that and the individual burritos.
we’ve made mini meatloafs in a mini bread loaf pan, which makes the loaf a perfect size to slice length-wise (instead of width-wise) for a meatloaf sandwich! Whenever I make meatloaf I never measure, though, and often will have extra meat to loaf… and I usually use a muffin/cupcake pan to make meat-cakes (my husband calls them meat pucks) works VERY well. If you have foil cupcake wrappers, that helps to get the meat-cakes out of the pan quickly to cool & then freeze them.
Lasagna made in a muffin tin are also an option! Search “lasagna cupcakes” (no idea why there called this, there is no cake involved! I promise!)
I’m thinking crockpot stews, chilis, and curries, all of which can easily be frozen and go a long way, especially if served with bread or over rice. Beans are cheap and freeze like a dream, so I’d let that be your main protein source. Let your stuff cook overnight or all day, let it cool, dish it into freezer-safe containers (glass jars as great as long as you leave a half-inch or more of space at the top, and freezer bags are good if you’re crunched for space), then pop in the freezer. The lasagna/casserole idea is good, too. If you don’t want to add meat (as a vegan, I wouldn’t), maybe you could pick up some pre-cooked meat when you drop off the rest of the meal. That way, your friends can add it to their food as they wish. Then again, they’ll probably be exhausted and so happy to have a lovingly prepared meal, they may not even miss the meat.
A word about curries with coconut milk: As it thaws, it will probably separate and look weird. Give it a stir and it’ll be good as new.
Happy cooking! You sound like an awesome friend.
If they have a crock pot, http://bakedinthesouth.com/2012/08/crockpot-freezer-meals-part-2/ these are great, freeze flat and take up less space than a fully prepared casserole. Muffins (individually wrapped, frozen, and put in a gallon sized bag), and homemade granola are great for quick snacks, soups are easy to store too. Freeze in silicone cupcake pans and then pop the frozen blobs into a gallon bag – that way they can thaw/reheat what they like.
I should do a blog post… this is my regular gift at baby showers! I come up with a list of options for the mom-to-be (based on her dietary restrictions and preference s- finding a bunch of gluten free stuff was a personal challenge!) and then have her let me know which ones she’d want.
If you want, you can contact me (the easiest way is probably through my website) and I’ll be happy to email you the lists of things I normally offer up as options.
Sausage and peppers You can make it without the sauce with just peppers onions and sausage or add a tomato sauce. we eat it on sandwiches so I cut the sausage into bite sized pieces. Also pesto freezes well and is great for quick meals, I freeze mine in ice cube trays and then pop them out and put them in a freezer bag. You can just take however many cubes you need out, boil some pasta and you have a meal.Works for pasta sauce as well.
I make little hand pies for my family for easy lunches. I’m a vegetarian so it’s an easy meaty thing for me to make. Not exactly the healthiest but I ate a lot of them during my maternity leave because they were one handed and easy! I just take the grands biscuits and roll them out into a circle, fill them with whatever, fold in half & close with a fork. Basically a totally non authentic version of a pasty. I’ve done:
– refried beans, potato & cheese
– mozzarella & pizza sauce
-taco chicken & cheese (chicken breast or tenderloin in the crockpot, small can tomato sauce, taco seasoning, cook & shred!).
-breakfast (egg & cheese, optional bacon or sausage)
I do these pies with a lot of leftovers. I just wrap them in foil & divide them into freezer bags with the type & date. Saves stuff from going to waste and saves the rest of the family from getting bored!
Lasagna is always good too. My family is quite happy with cheese lasagna too so it doesn’t necessarily need to have the mince in it if you’re a bit overloaded!
In addition to whole meals, it could be a great idea to make soups, baked goods and deserts. My mom made us different kinds of vegetable soups frozen in ziploc bags.
Homemade muffins, cookies and baked apples were really appreciated as well. You can also make savory muffins (spinach and cheese are our favorite, you could add ham or bacon too). They go well with a nice homemade soup for a light meal, or by themselves for a snack.
If I may add one piece of advice – ask before you do anything! My husband and I found ourselves in this situation. We had friends make us stuff without asking us about restrictions or anything like that. While we really appreciated the gesture, we wound up having to give it to our families. I’m a vegetarian, but I have a reaction to “deadly nightshade” foods – potatos, eggplant, some peppers, tomatos, etc. Unfortunately, these things often form a big chunk of vegetarian cooking, and that’s what we received. A friend also made my husband a lot of dishes with meat for him – but the problem there is that my husband is an observant Muslim and can only eat meat that is certified halal – and since he didn’t know where the meat came from, he’s religiously prohibited from eating it. We felt so bad giving away the food that somebody obviously worked really hard on. So I’d say that before you make anything at all, ask about what your friends actually would want or what they can even consume in the first place, just to be on the safe side!
YES to asking ahead of time! I’m not really big on soups, but got SO MANY that just went to waste because we didn’t end up eating them. Bummer. I’d much rather had someone pick up a u-bake pizza for us than send soup.
Also, watch the lasagnas. My grandpa died and my grandma ended up with 13 frozen lasagnas she had to try and store…yummy…but overkill…
Not to be a negative nelly, but in my experience, casseroles do NOT freeze well. When I was pregnant I made a bunch of casseroles, chilis, lasagnas etc. to put in the freezer. I used recipes from 3 different freezer cookbooks. They all ended up getting thrown away, cuz they were all GROSS.
The only success I’ve had with freezing food is with soups, pancakes and waffles. I made a bunch of blueberry pancakes and froze them. They were great – heat them up in the toaster and eat with one hand while holding the baby. No need for syrup!
Edited to add: This was my first try at freezing foods. So I think the takeaway is, if you aren’t already in the habit of cooking and freezing foods (especially meats), then I would keep it simple. Because apparently there’s an art to it.
You have to be selective with casseroles, yes, but a lot of them actually DO freeze well. Lasagna is a really good example. I like to make Broccoli Mac, which is just baked mac and cheese with a layer of broccoli in the middle. Add some shredded chicken and it’s “Cheddar broccoli chicken” casserole.
Mostly I’ve found that casseroles do well if you cook them from frozen to begin with. Stick a frozen casserole in a cold over, turn on the oven to 350, and pull it out when the whole thing is hot. Usually somewhere between one and two hours, depending on the size of the casserole.
If you’re curious, what typically helps is to make certain to cool the food first before putting it into the freezer. So let it get to room temperature on the counter, then put in the fridge for a night and then transfer to the freezer. This allows smaller ice crystals to form and the food isn’t as damaged.
Also, liquidy things (in general) tend to reheat the best – soups and the like.
Also, consider breakfast foods. I’m not sure, but I think quiches, waffles, breakfast bars, and things like that also freeze well. (You could also make a bunch of home-made, tasty granola and package it in mason jars so it will keep a long time and they can eat it one-handed as a snack or mix it into yogurt for luxurious two-handed breakfasts). Lots of our friends gave us lasagna etc, but we were often stumped for breakfasts and snacks. I’m not sure about the freezing power of quiches, though, but I know those were good for us to have around when we got them from friends.
Other non-breakfast things we ate a lot from the freezer: matzah balls and soup, meatballs (beef or turkey), meatloaf (turkey loaf), frozen pre-marinaded chicken breasts that only needed to be dumped onto a sheet and baked, veggie chili, and of course lasagna etc.
I haven’t tried to freeze an un-baked quiche yet, that is probably awesome. I do know that quiche leftovers cut into serving sizes reheat nicely in the toaster oven! Not so much the microwave.
Crepes are another one that’s fun. You can give cans of fruit, etc. as well as the crepes so they have something to put in them as well. And crepes are surprisingly easy to make. My first time (a few months ago) I made one sacrificial crepe and the rest turned out quite well, if not perfectly circular.
My family has a word for the sacrificial crepe: pfannewische, which is German and literally translates to “pan wiper”! Usually we get one or two pfannewischen per pan, and the rest turn out great! 🙂
Slices of plain French Toast freeze quite well and are good for quick snacks (a single portion can be nuked quickly and easily, even by the kitchen-challenged). My late MIL used to send a few ziploc bags of them home with us when she had to use up some eggs.
If you have (or can get access to) a food vacuum sealer, they are AMAZING, and keep frozen food very, very fresh — we are still eating meals that my husband made before our baby was born in February!
This recipe is a bit involved (although it’s not as complicated as it looks!), but if you love cooking, you’ll be fine. And the results are excellent! Totally my favourite post-baby meal! So, here goes a loooong recipe/comment:
ALICE WATERS’ BEEF STEW
– 3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
– freshly ground black pepper
– 2 tablespoons oil
– 3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
– 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
– 2 sprigs thyme
– 2 sprigs savory (optional)
– 2 sprigs parsely
– 1 bay leaf
– a few peppercorns
– 3 tablespoons brandy (optional)
– 1 3/4 cups red wine
– 3 fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
– 8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
– 1 thick strip orange zest
– 2 cups beef broth (or chicken broth)
1. Season the beef with generous amounts of salt and pepper at least one hour, or up to a day, before preparing.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium-high heat, heat 2 tbsp oil. Add the bacon and cook until it is lightly brown. Remove bacon and save. Add the meat to the pan, browning well on all sides, in as many batches as necessary. As the meat is browned, transfer it with a slotted spoon to a heavy pot or braising dish.
3. When all the meat is browned, pour off most of the fat and lower the heat to medium. Stick the cloves in one of the onion quarters and add the onions to the heated saute pan along with the carrots. Add in the thyme, savory, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns in a small cheesecloth bundle (a tea ball works well, too), and add it to the veggies. Cook until the vegetables are lightly browned, then remove the pan from heat and add the veggies to the beef in the stew pot. If using the oven, heat it to 325.
4. To the saute pan in which the veggies were cooked, add the brandy and red wine. Place over high heat and cook until the wine is reduced by about 2/3, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the reduced wine over the beef and veggies.
5. Gently stir in tomatoes, garlic, orange zest, broth, 1 teaspoon salt. Check the level of the liquid; it should be at least 3/4 of the way up the cubes of beef. Add more broth if needed.
6. Cover the pot tightly and cook at a bare simmer on the stovetop or in the oven for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat is almost tender. Check the stew occasionally to make sure it is not boiling and that there is enough liquid.
7. When the meat is tender, turn off the heat and let the stew settle and skim off as much fat as possible. Discard the bouquet garni (aka tea ball or cheesecloth bundle). Taste for salt.
Ta da! Serve with crusty bread, or with rice.
I totally agree on breakfast items and anything that is single serving or easy to eat one handed- think burritos, muffins, etc…
also, after my first baby I learned that a great gift to pass along is pre-packed baggies or tupperware of healthy filling snacks for the mama (and dada) who will spend so many cumulative hours locked in one place while feeding the babes. peanut butter filled pretzels, trail mixes, sesame sticks, granola, dried fruit, etc that can be stashed in different locations around the house where a parent may be feeding is a godsend at all hours of the day. along with a nice one hand use water bottle like a camelbak and your friend will be in heaven 🙂
oh my YES!!! I stocked up on those flavored almonds you can get in mini tins. I was so grateful when someone would come over and bring high-protein snacks, or yummy healthy snacks, because otherwise I may have just carried a bag of tortilla chips around with me. The almonds were so great because I could grab a flavor (sweet or salty) that was appealing & they had a good amount of protein to keep me going for awhile. Dried fruit was also a favorite & had the bonus of being good fiber.
Before I had my son I went to walmart and they had a huge set of containers for around $15. I filled all the containers with soups, curries and stews.
My favourite being one where I use a home made tomato soup base, then add in ANY vegis I have in the fridge, some beans, grains and maybe some tortellinis. Uses up what ever I have and it is delicious! Guess it’s somewhat I preference of mine, but I love when a dish has a bajillion different textures to it.
Oh, and I also made healthy gluten free goodies like cookies and muffins. (Again, I throw in everything but the kitchen sink – nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cereal…)
While I was pregnant last year and then when friends have had babies this year my two favourite things to make and freeze were muffins and shepherds pies.
I used turkey because I’m 80% vegetarian and only eat poultry. Just fry up the meat and add some veggies, boil some potatoes and maybe mash some carrots in, layer, maybe sprinkle cheese on top. Even though I live in a communal house and have no issue getting through huge casseroles, I still preferred to use half-size recyclable baking tins or small round pie pans that could be a single or double serving.
Muffins freeze well and solve that breakfast dilemma other posters mentioned.
If the mother is planning on breastfeeding, snacks are a great idea, because breastfeeding makes you RAVENOUS, and you don’t want to be heating things up in the middle of the night. You can get recipes for lactaction cookies etc that will help boost milk supply, granola bars, etc are great too.
When I had my baby, my BF made more than 20 meals for us! Some didn’t end up great, after freezing and reheating like pasta dishes, but we didn’t mind because they made life so much easier still.
If you are vegetarian, than I say make vege food. When you make somethign for yourself, make extra and freeze it, that way it’s less work and less cost.
Dhal, or other curries, bakes and soups are great to freeze.
Thanks everyone for al the great advice.
You homies have some great tips, I’m taking notes!
In my experience, stuffed shells freeze well and are easily adaptable. My mom has always used small casserole dishes and the recipe on the back of the pasta box as a starting point. So she makes some with hamburger/cheese filling, some just cheese, some with mushrooms and cheese, and some with spinach and cheese. She bakes them a little, but not the whole way then cools them. She used Glad Press n Seal to cover the shells tightly, then the lid or a layer of plastic wrap over that to avoid freezer burn. The night before you want them, transfer from the freezer to the fridge, and then bake at 375 until heated through and starting to brown on top.
I love the convenience of cooking for the freezer and do it often. My suggestions are quickbreads or muffins (using pumpkin or zucchini packs in nutritious veggies – slice a loaf before freezing), meatloaf (raw loaf wrapped in plastic and foil to put into their own loaf pan for cooking, or single-serving “muffins” already cooked and popped in a plastic bag for freezing), pasta sauce (I cheat and start with jarred sauce, then add ground meat and lots of sauteed veggies, some extra seasonings, and maybe some tomato paste to thin it out), and stuffed shells.
Set water to boiling and cook as many jumbo pasta shells as you have room for in your dish(es) (according to package directions — you want them slightly undercooked when you stuff them). While they’re boiling, mix together ricotta cheese and thawed frozen spinach, plus a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder. (Some people use an egg for binder; I leave it out without any harm.) When the shells are drained and cool enough to touch, stuff each one with a spoonful or two of the spinach mixture. Fit the shells into a closely-packed single layer in the bottom of a casserole dish. You’ll need to give the dish with this meal, so you might make it easy on everyone by using a disposable foil container from the grocery store. Once you’ve packed in as many shells as you can fit, cover them with pasta sauce, sprinkle generous amounts of shredded mozzarella cheese over it, and freeze the whole thing. This is all fully-cooked, so when baking it just needs to be heated through. I usually thaw overnight and then put into a cold oven and set it to 350-375. Time depends on the size of the casserole, so check after 30min.
I don’t have the energy to stuff shells, so I use those stuffings with elbow mac or penne noodles and it works great. You don’t even need to cook the noodles first, just add a little water when you bake it. (Lasagna noodles are ALL oven-ready, BTW, and the liquid from the cheese and sauce is enough for them–other noodles sometimes need extra liquid added, depending on the contents.)
Your comment blew my mind. Thank you for exposing this noodle conspiracy. I had too-runny homemade tomato sauce, so I tried this this tonight with normal noodles. There was a lot more liquid in there to begin with, so I cooked it a little longer than normal. I think it worked! (It’s for tomorrow’s dinner.)
I was going to do a slow cooker lasagna recipe with normal noodles, but the awkward time of 3.5 hours doesn’t really help me out during the work day. So your tip saved me a lot of time- thanks!
I love cooking for newly popped friends and in the past used Google Docs to control the roster. However, a friend who is about to pop sent me a link to a site that easily states who is going to cook what and who will deliver when, seems friendly so far and the recipients can write down their likes and dislikes: http://www.mealtrain.com If punting a site is not allowed please do take this down, however, I wish I had known about this site before as it would have helped tremendously. I especially like the etiquette section, DROP and GO people, I refused visitors for 6 weeks after giving birth, not even my mother was allowed anywhere near me for the first 4 weeks. People still forced themselves on me though, which I sometimes allowed in exchange for food!
These are my two absolutely favorite soups to freeze. My meat-lovin husband really digs this smoky Black Bean soup…it’s hard to believe there is no meat in there. But, you can always throw some in…
Our Midwives gave us the Chicken Barley Soup recipe (great for Breastfeeding Mamas) and it’s become one of our go-to-meals. We use a roasted chicken from our local Peruvian joint and it adds a TON of flavor.
Love all these ideas. Writing them down…
Also, if you want to do something different, you can make them a bunch of “soup in a jars” (I’m sure pinterest is teeming with recipes) or homemade “hamburger helper” type meals. I know personally I can only eat so many casseroles or frozen food before my body is crying for something “fresh.” Like you could bring a basket with homemade taco seasoning, a can of seasoned refried beans, that vacuum packed already cooked rice, and taco shells. All they have to do is add meat of any type and heat everything else in the microwave. I think it’s really nice of you to be thinking ahead like this!
This is one of my favorite recipes to freeze:
It’s hearty and tasty and pretty easy.
This froze beautifully for me:
Let me add in here – if you aren’t adept at freezing (or just don’t want to), you can always give dried “bagged” foods. My husband and I loved these because we’re already avid outdoors people and we eat this way pretty often anyway. The meals are also generally calibrated to provide the best possible nutritional payoff, since they’re designed for people outside and exerting themselves. This website is fantastic, we use it often (most of the recipes from require boiling water – a nice alternative to the microwave, if you’re not a fan of nuking): http://www.onepanwonders.com/index.html
When I was pregnant with my son, I froze pulled pork, chili, home made pierogies (labor intensive but super super cheap and way better than store bought!), and turkey noodle soup. Other good ideas are home made pasta sauce, raviolis, seasoned beans for burritos, and any kind of non-cream soup. With the time of year, it would also be nice if you had a surplus from your garden to cook and freeze homegrown veggies for them.
Seconding the ravioli! Easy to make a huge variety for meat-eaters or vegetarians, and freezes perfectly – just pop them in boiling water, cook until they float, drain and add sauce. Ravioli with pesto or herb butter is a perfect quick freezer food.