Make-Ahead Freezer Meals: Tips, Tricks & Recipes – Kroger

Simplify Dinner with Make-Ahead Freezer Meals

Publish Date December 22, 2022 5 Minute Read

Deciding on a meal, shopping for ingredients and then cooking night after night can be tiresome, but there’s an easier way! Consider simplifying your daily routine by prepping healthy frozen meals that you can heat whenever you don’t have the time (or energy) to cook. Whether its doubling tonight’s recipe so you can freeze the leftovers for later or prepping make-ahead meals for your weekly meal planning routine, having a few ready-to-heat options in your freezer will improve the way you do dinner. On this page, we’re sharing tips for creating delicious make-ahead freezer meals, including what foods freeze well, how long you can freeze them for and how to defrost them, plus, some of our favorite freezer-friendly meals to help get you started.

What Foods Freeze Well?

It’s true that not all foods freeze well, but you may be surprised at how many do! Here’s a list of common ingredients and items that can easily be stored in your freezer for future use:

  • Meat & seafood: beef, chicken, crab, ham, lobster, fish, hot dogs, lunch meat, pork, sausage, scallops, shrimp and turkey
  • Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, collard greens, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, peppers, pumpkin, squash and sweet potatoes
  • Fruits: berries, cherries, mangoes, melons, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums and grapes
  • Dairy: milk, cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream
  • Nuts, seeds & grains: almonds, cashews, flours, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts
  • Baked goods: biscuits, breads, brownies, cakes, cookies, donuts, muffins and pies
  • Uncooked dough: cake batter, cookie dough, pie shells, pizza dough and yeast dough
  • Sauces & broths: broths, pasta sauce, pesto and tomato paste

How Long Does Food Last in the Freezer?

Although frozen foods won’t spoil, the flavors and textures can degrade over long periods of time. To ensure you’re using ingredients while they’re still at their best quality, follow these guidelines for how long popular items will last in the freezer:

  • Ground meats: 3-4 months
  • Sausages, hot dogs & lunch meats: 1-2 months
  • Fresh beef: 4-12 months
  • Fresh chicken or turkey: 9 months – 1 year
  • Fish: 2-8 months
  • Shrimp: 6-18 months
  • Shellfish: 2-4 months
  • Vegetables: 8-12 months
  • Fruits: 8 months
  • Milk: 3-6 months
  • Nuts: 1 year
  • Baked goods: 3 months
  • Raw dough: 3-4 months
  • Soups & stews: 2-3 months
  • Sauces: 6 months
  • Broths: 6 months
  • Leftovers: 1-3 months

Tips for Creating Easy Frozen Meals

While it’s nice to have some of your favorite ingredients saved away in your freezer, it’s even better to have entire meals that are ready to heat and eat! Get the most out of your prep work with these simple tips for creating make-ahead freezer meals that’ll cook up fresh and delicious every time:

  • Choose a recipe that can be frozen: Different foods react differently when frozen, so make sure to choose recipes that can stand up to the job. These include hearty soups and stews, casseroles, burgers, lasagnas or one of the recipes listed on this page!
  • Be careful to not overcook during prep: When you’re cooking something to freeze for future use, it’s important to remember that you’ll be heating it again before serving it. Foods like casseroles and lasagnas can even be assembled and frozen raw, then cooked immediately before serving.
  • Let food cool completely before freezing it: Always let your food cool completely before freezing it. If you’re short on time, try letting the food cool until it’s lukewarm, then moving it to the fridge to cool completely. Once it’s chilled, you can then move it into your freezer.
  • Use the right food storage container: Not all storage is created equal! Since regular glass jars can break in the freezer, and loose lids allow freezer burn, you always want to ensure you’re using airtight, rigid containers and thick, zip-top bags that are designed for freezing. Another thing to keep in mind is how long your food will take to thaw. To keep defrosting time low, consider freezing meals in individually wrapped portions, either in separate containers or separated by plastic wrap.
  • Label your meals: Make sure to label your food with the name of the dish and the date that you put it in the freezer. If you can’t write directly on the container, you can easily create labels by using strips of tape.

How to Properly Defrost Freezer-Friendly Meals

In some cases, food can go straight from the freezer into the oven, while in others you may need to plan a few days in advance. Here are some tips for properly defrosting your food:

  • In the refrigerator: Although using your refrigerator is the easiest way to defrost your food, it’s also the slowest. For this method, simply move your frozen items into the refrigerator and let them sit until thawed. Most items will defrost overnight, but larger items, such as roasts, may take longer. You’ll want to cook chicken, ground meats and seafood within one to two days of defrosting, and red meats within five days.
  • In cold water: Taking less time than the fridge but requiring more attention, cold water is another method for defrosting food. Simply place the food in an airtight bag, submerge the bag in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes until the food is ready to cook. Smaller portions can thaw in an hour or less, while larger items may take several hours. If using this method, the food should be cooked immediately and not refrozen.
  • In the microwave: If you’re short on time, you can use your microwave to thaw small portions. Transfer the food to a microwave-safe dish and follow the instructions on your machine for defrosting. If your microwave doesn’t have a defrost button, manually change the power to 20-30% and cook for approximately one minute per every four ounces of food, checking frequently for doneness. Once thawed, the food should be cooked immediately.

Head back to The Fresh Lane for more expert cooking tips, kitchen hacks and DIY projects, or visit our full recipe collection for everyday meal planning inspiration and ideas.

Easy Freezer Meals You Can Make Ahead

Get ready to simplify your weeknights with these easy freezer-friendly meals. When your stomach starts to growl and you haven’t even begun to think about dinner, you’ll find relief in knowing a delicious meal is already primed and on standby.