6 Freezer-Friendly Meals to Prepare for the Summer Heat
When the weather warms up, the desire to slave away in a steaming hot kitchen cools down. There are walks to take, sports to play, and longer nights to enjoy — even the most dedicated home cooks find themselves avoiding the kitchen at all costs. But that’s OK, because you don’t need to be hunched over the stove every night to put a meal on the table come spring and summer. If you prepare ahead, you can actually have a lot of your meals already taken care of, and then you can stay outside extra late around dinner time, knowing that all you have to do once your hunger strikes is warm up your pre-made meals in the oven or microwave.
The beauty of healthy, homemade freezer meals is that that they are cost-effective, cut down on cooking time, and help ensure that laziness does not eventually translate into a drive to the pick-up window. Preparing meals ahead of time and then freezing them guarantees that you won’t ever have an excuse for fast food, and it’ll also likely save your money and sanity when all’s said and done.
Freezer meals aren’t only reserved for women getting ready to have a baby. Though those are the people they’re especially known for appeasing, they really are useful for anyone, and that’s why we’re highlighting six meals that you should put in your freezer food arsenal for summer. Before it gets too nice out, cook up these dishes and store them in your freezer. It’s basically a modern-day form of hibernation, and when you’re chowing down on your delicious, pre-made meals after only arriving home five minutes earlier, you surely won’t regret this decision.
1. Baked Ziti
One example of an immensely popular freezer-friendly meal is The Pioneer Woman’s Baked Ziti. This is the quintessential freezer meal because it is a dish that can (and will) be enjoyed year-round, and when you’re ready for it, all you have to do is pop it in the oven for 20 minutes and it’s good to go. Baked Ziti may be considered comfort food for some, but Italian is one cuisine that never goes out of season, so prepare this meal now, store it in the freezer, and be prepared to squeal with delight when you open your door come summer and remember what you’ve saved for yourself.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- two 14.5-ounce cans tomato sauce or marinara sauce
- one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ziti
- 1 1/2 pounds mozzarella, grated
- one 15-ounce tub whole-milk ricotta
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 eggs
Directions: Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until starting to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ground beef and sausage and cook until browned. Drain off almost all of the fat, leaving a bit behind for flavor and moisture. Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and some salt and pepper. Stir and bring to a simmer; simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove 3 to 4 cups of the cooked sauce to a bowl to cool down.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add some salt. Cook the ziti until not quite al dente. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, mix 2 cups of the grated mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, eggs, and some salt and pepper. Stir together just a couple of times (do not mix completely).
Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking and cool it down. Pour it into the bowl with the cheese mixture and toss to slightly combine (there should still be large lumps). Add the cooled reserved meat sauce and toss to combine.
Add half the coated pasta to a large casserole or lasagna dish. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the top, then top with half of the remaining mozzarella. Repeat with another layer of the coated pasta and the remaining sauce and mozzarella. Bake until bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before sprinkling with chopped parsley to serve.
2. Slow Cooker Bean Burritos
Now that we’ve covered some Italian food, let’s pivot into the Mexican side of things and convince you to prepare these Slow Cooker Bean Burritos from Six Sisters’ Stuff before your slow cooker takes a hiatus for the summer. During the winter months, everyone loves on the convenience of a crock pot or slow cooker, but come summer, people are much more focused on the grill. Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t be craving these Bean Burritos once May or June rolls around. Burritos are a 24/7, 365-day kind of craving for many people, and if you prepare them now, next time the craving hits, you won’t even have to break the bank at Chipotle.
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
- 3 cups canned pinto beans, rinsed and dried off (you can also use black beans)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 3/4 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- 5 cups water
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 18 to 24 tortillas
- 2 to 3 cups of shredded cheese
- slow cooker refried beans
Directions: Place the onion, rinsed beans, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin into a slow cooker. Pour in the water and chicken broth and stir to combine. Cook on high for 8 hours, adding more water as needed. Note: If more than 1 cup of water has evaporated during cooking, then the temperature is too high.
Once the beans have cooked, strain them and reserve the liquid. Mash the beans with a potato masher, adding the reserved water as needed to attain desired consistency. Spoon some beans onto the tortilla. Add as much cheese as you would like. Fold in two sides of the tortilla, then roll the rest of the tortilla. Next, place each burrito and place it on a 12-by-12-inch sheet of foil. Fold in both sides of the foil and roll the tortilla in it. Stick them in the freezer when you are done.
When you are ready to eat one, take it out of the foil and stick it on a plate. Microwave the burrito for about 2 minutes or until the burrito is heated all the way through.
3. Chicken Burgers With Herbs
Burgers are the definition of summer food, and that’s why you should get ahead of the game and prepare these Chicken Burgers with Herbs from Thriving Home Blog now. Aside from your family members thinking you’re a magician, they’ll also think you are a saint, because these burgers really are ones that everyone can enjoy — whether they eat red meat or not.
Believe it or not, burgers fit into the freezer-friendly meal category because all you have to do is prepare the patties beforehand, freeze them, and then heat up in a pan whenever you want them. Quick, easy, and delicious, you really have no reason not to freeze these burgers now.
- 2 pounds ground chicken (or turkey)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Directions: In a large bowl, use a fork to combine the ground chicken, garlic, parsley, oregano, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Form the meat into 16 small patties. Place the bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Coat each patty in the crumbs, turning to coat and pressing so the crumbs adhere; set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add some of the patties and cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes total. (If the patties brown before they’re cooked through, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and continue to cook for a few minutes more.) Repeat with the remaining oil and patties. Serve plain or on halved hot-dog buns to match the miniature size of the burgers.
To freeze: Form the chicken mixture into patties but do not coat in the bread crumbs. Place the patties on a parchment or wax paper-lined baking sheet and freeze. Transfer to a large resealable bag and store for up to 3 months. To reheat: Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or defrost in the microwave. Coat in bread crumbs. Cook according to the recipe.
4. Portbello and Summer Squash Lasagna
Next up, lasagna — always a good idea. This vegetarian meal is the perfect dish for busy weeknight dinners, and it tastes just as good reheated as it does fresh. Eat Live Run lists this meal as a favorite freezer-friendly recipe: Take one bite of it and you’ll see why. Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your family, or your next-door neighbor who just had a baby, as long as you have enough self control to put this lasagna in your freezer before eating it all, you’re about to have some very carb-happy eaters on your hands come summer.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
- 4 zucchinis, sliced lengthwise very thin (about 1/8 inch), or summer squash
- 3 portobello mushroom caps, “gills” scraped out and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
- one 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- two 28-ounce cans marinara sauce
- about 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
- 12 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
- 3 ounces Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add single layer of sliced zucchini in the skillet and sauté until well browned on both sides. Remove and place squash on paper towels while you sauté the rest of the sliced zucchini. When all the zucchini has been browned, place the portobello mushrooms in the skillet and sauté until tender. Place all vegetables in a large bowl and sprinkle generously with salt. Set aside.
Combine the ricotta cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk together until well combined. In the same skillet you cooked the veggies in, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the minced onion and garlic and saute for about 4 minutes. Add the pasta sauce and a little sea salt to taste. Stir well.
Place about a cup-and-a-half of the pasta sauce at the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch dish. Then, on top, lay three no-boil lasagna noodles flat. Follow this with a third of the veggie mixture, a half cup of the ricotta mixture, a cup of marinara sauce, and a sprinkle of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese blend. Lay another three noodles on top of that and repeat the process until all your noodles are gone. On top, drizzle remaining marinara sauce and the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Cover pan loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Let lasagna set for 15-20 minutes before serving.
5. Roasted Veggie Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Does this next freezer-friendly meal even need justification? We don’t think so. Round up the ripening veggies at the grocery store and get to work on this Roasted Veggie Mac ‘n’ Cheese from The Comfort of Cooking. You will thank yourself in a few months when you can spend an extra hour outside or at the pool. The mastermind behind this recipe promises that the dish freezes well, so make it, pop it in the freezer, and count the weeks until it’s socially acceptable to bust out your meals saved for summer.
- 1 cup broccoli florets, chopped into small chunks
- 1/2 red pepper, diced
- 1 yellow squash, quartered and diced
- 10 baby carrots, sliced thinly
- 2 cups whole wheat pasta (elbow macaroni, rotini, penne, etc.)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Set a medium pot of salted water to boil. Prepare a large baking sheet by lining with aluminum foil and coating with a little olive oil or nonstick cooking spray. Toss broccoli, red pepper, squash, and carrots onto the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until vegetables have softened. Remove from oven and set aside. Once water is boiling, lower heat slightly and add pasta, cooking according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk, stirring constantly until mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in cheddar cheese until well distributed and melted. Add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Add macaroni and vegetables.
Place mixture in a large casserole dish and sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs. Place under the broiler in your oven (500 degrees) for 3-4 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
6. Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
Lastly, we’ll highlight one more Mexican recipe, because that’s just a craving that never goes away. Add this last recipe for Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas from Thriving Home Blog to your freezer-food arsenal. It’s a dish that you’ll make time and time again, and one that every member of your family will undoubtedly enjoy. You owe it to yourself to plan ahead, make these enchiladas, and then enjoy them reheated, eaten outside in celebration of summer.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
- 1/3 cup prepared salsa, mild, medium, or hot
- homemade taco seasoning
- 1/2-1 cup red enchilada sauce
- 4-6 (8-inch) whole wheat tortillas
- 1 1/3 cups shredded Monterey Jack and or cheddar cheese
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a 9-by-9-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add chicken and sauté 5 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Add taco seasonings to the meat mixture. Stir in black beans, green chiles, and salsa, and simmer 5 minutes, until sauce thickens and reduces.
Put half of the enchilada sauce on the bottom of the 9-by-9-inch casserole dish. Arrange 4-6 tortillas on a flat surface. Top each tortilla with an equal amount of chicken/bean mixture and 1-2 tablespoons cheese. Roll up tortillas and place side by side in a shallow baking dish. Add remaining enchilada sauce to the top. Then, top tortillas with remaining shredded cheese. Bake enchiladas 15 minutes, until cheese is golden.
Note: You can easily freeze these before baking. Just be sure to thaw them out before baking.