A warm, home-cooked dinner after a hectic day may be just what you need – but preparing it can create even more stress and exhaustion. Here are some ideas for using the freezer so that dinner’s always “almost ready” including some from Can I Freeze it? (Morrow Press, 2008) by food writer Susie Theodorou.

Freezer Basics

  • If using glass, choose dual-purpose containers that are designed for freezing and can withstand heat. If using plastic, look for brands with a snowflake symbol: They close securely and will not become brittle in the freezer. Vacuum-sealed bags can also be an excellent tool to help prevent freezer burn and maintain flavor.
  • To help prevent bacterial growth, thaw foods in the refrigerator. Allow approximately eight hours per pound of meat, six hours per pound of fruit or vegetables and 12 to 24 hours for stews and casseroles to defrost.
  • If you eventually plan on thawing or cooking the food in the microwave, use microwave-safe plastic wrap to prepare the food for freezing. It will save time later.

Ideas for Quick Dinners

  • Get a jump start on a healthy meal by freezing raw meat, chicken or seafood in a marinade. Once thawed, half the work is done, and the ingredients can then be stir-fried, grilled or roasted for a no-fuss, great-tasting main course.
  • Double up: Roast two chickens instead of one and freeze the second for a different meal, such as chicken salad, on another day. The same idea goes for sauces and soups. Make a double batch, but add different seasonings to the one you’re freezing to change the flavor.
  • Buy ground beef in bulk when it goes on sale, then brown it as you normally would and freeze in two-cup portions. It can be used in everything from tacos and sloppy Joes to baked ziti and chili.

Keep Your Freezer “Pantry” Stocked

  • Freeze broth or stock in ice cube trays and then transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag. One cube yields approximately two tablespoons.
  • Fresh meat, bread, butter or margarine, cheese, nuts and spices tend to freeze well. However, stick to the refrigerator for eggs, mayonnaise, cured meats and foods that contain a lot of water, such as celery, cabbage, tomatoes or salad greens.

If you want to freeze gravies and fat-based sauces, realize they may separate during freezing. After thawing, stir or process in the blender before using.