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Easy Make-Ahead Meals for Busy Weeknights

Delicious family meals you'll be glad to have in the freezer

Naomi Tomky
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Published on: October 20, 2021

Indian-red-lentil-dal

We all know fall is a busy season, but instead of getting mad about it, get a head start instead. For a busy family, cooking a few dinners in batch format and freezing them can be an easy solution for a quick, last-minute dinner.

Dal

The fragrant spices in this traditional and healthy lentil stew from Philosokitchen will stay aromatic throughout the storage, keeping their brightness and beauty even after a month or two, something refreshingly rare in the world of frozen meals.

Tip: When you cook this, make a batch of quinoa and freeze both parts in dinner-sized portions so you have a full meal ready when you need it.

Bolognese sauce

Rich, meaty and like a warm hug on a rainy night, this classic Bolognese sauce from Laughing Spatula is perhaps the best dinner Swiss Army knife you can keep in your freezer. Pour it over pasta, put it in a bun as sloppy Joes or spoon it over polenta, it takes to almost any carb you can find. Make a big batch on a weekend (your house will smell amazing!), then freeze it in dinner-sized portions for later.

Tip: Freeze the individiual portions in zip-close freezer bags laying flat so that you can stack them in an organized fashion, or use an accordion file to store them.

Chicken-Pozole-Verde
Chicken pozole verde by Isabel Eats

Chicken pozole verde 

One of Mexico’s favorite soups is easy to make at home and will add a little fiesta to dinnertime — especially if you just need to pull it from the freezer when it’s go time. This version from Isabel Eats is a keeper. 

Tip: Fresh garnishes make all the difference, so freeze the base and make it when you have limes, radishes, jalapeños and cilantro to use up.

Beef bourguignon 

This classic French dish from The Gourmand Mom keeps its elegance, even after a stint in the freezer, allowing even a last-minute meal to retain a bit of fanciness. This makes a great dish for surprise dinner guests.

Tip: Zip up the bag almost all the way after freezing a dish, then stick a straw in and suck out any remaining air before closing — the less air, the fresher the dish will stay.

Mac and cheese 

There’s no bigger crowd-pleaser than a classic macaroni and cheese — the kind that takes a while to make. So, why not make a few more servings and freeze them for a quick heat-and-eat meal later? Try this delicious version from Kitchen Treaty.

Tip: Use aluminum baking pans to store the dish and then it can go straight into the oven.

Dumplings 

This dumpling recipe from Viet World Kitchen is a winner. Dumplings take a little practice to make properly, but once you master them, folding can be a fun family activity, and you can play with various types of meat or vegetarian fillings. Then, when the time comes to eat them, you can steam, boil or fry them.

Tip: When you’re done folding the dumplings, sort any that have a less than perfect fold and mark them as “steam only” so you don’t lose your filling in the boiling water.

Chilli
Chili  by The Cookie Rookie 

Chili 

Perhaps the most classic dish for batch freezing, but a classic for a reason, chili freezes near perfectly and then makes an easy dish for everyone to customize with cheese, sour cream and other garnishes. This recipe from The Cookie Rookie is simple but delicious. 

Tip: No matter how clear you think it is what you’re freezing, always label the dish with name, date and any allergy information your family might need. For dishes like this, it’s also a great idea to label what garnishes you’ll want to serve it with, in case someone else (babysitter, co-parent or teenage kid) is preparing the meal. 

Chocolate chip cookies 

Wait, what? This isn’t a meal! Nope, but sometimes you need a little post-dinner pick-me-up, and having frozen cookie dough on hand makes it easy to put together a last-minute dessert. This cookie recipe from Cloudy Kitchen is a must. 

Tip: Scoop the dough into individual portions and freeze them on a sheet pan. Gather up the frozen balls and put them into a bag — then you can cook up the exact number of cookies you need, straight from freezer to oven.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2018, and updated in October 2021.

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