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.
Freezer meals are not the TV dinners in your supermarket’s freezer section. They’re partially or fully assembled meals or entrées you make from scratch ingredients 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 12 of our favorite make-ahead freezer meals that you should consider adding to your weeknight meal plan.
I’ve been making some version of this coconut curry red lentil soup for awhile, and am constantly tweaking the spices and which veggies I throw into the mix. Sometimes I use sweet potatoes instead of carrot, or spinach instead of kale. Occasionally I’ll throw in some cauliflower or trimmed green beans. But 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.
I thought it’d be fun to do an enchilada-style chicken meatball for a lean take on enchiladas that also just so happen to be Whole30. These are *so yummy* and you can really serve them up any way that you prefer: they’d be great as a game day appetizer, or for dinner served over prepared cauliflower rice!
This is a lightened-up, skinny version of lasagna with ground turkey and plenty of vegetables—carrots, onion, zucchini and spinach!
Chicken and dumplings is comfort food at it’s best and all in one giant pot. Too good to be true, but then nope, it is true! This recipe is so quick and easy that it really does not need any prep. I would just make sure to get a rotisserie chicken at the store, and that you have all the ingredients to make this during the week (plus maybe a crusty loaf of bread for dipping) and then you’re all set.
Chili is one of my favorite things to serve to a crowd, since it’s easy to double and triple the recipe then setup 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.
This is so simple, so quick, so easy, and so good! The sauce is slightly salty, yet tangy, and just a little sweet. It’s the perfect balance. The veggies are caramelized, and the noodles soak up everything. I used bok choy, bell peppers, fresh chile peppers, and plenty of ginger and garlic to flavor my stir fry. While I think the ginger and garlic are musts, you can really used any mix of veggies that you’d like. That’s what so great about stir fries, you can adapt them to what you love or have on hand. Broccoli, zucchini, and eggplant would also be great veggies to use.
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, so the harder veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, and bell peppers are going to need more time to soften up than tomatoes and peas, which I prefer to throw in just a couple minutes before everything’s ready so they barely soften, without losing their shape.
If you’re a spicy food lover like me, try this simple and delicious chicken stir fry! It goes well with cauliflower rice and some sautéed green beans, snap peas, or steamed broccoli! No need to call in take-out, you can make it right at home!
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?
I can’t decide my favorite part of this soup. Is it the soup? The toppings? I mean the avocado, cilantro, cheese? All of the above? I load mine up with TONS of crispy tortilla strips because it IS tortilla soup after all!
This inspired version of 1-pot tikka masala is simpler than most as it doesn’t require any marinating, obscure ingredients, or fancy methods. Just throw everything in one pot and watch dinner appear before your eyes. Note: this recipe includes chicken as well as chickpeas for plenty of protein and fiber. But if you’re sensitive to beans, you can easily double the chicken. And if you’re vegan/vegetarian, simply omit the chicken and double up on chickpeas.
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 makes for 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.
This post was originally published on February 3, 2020, and has since been updated.