How to Get Started With Freezer Meals, Plus Mouthwatering Recipes

Chicken Curry

One of the easiest ways to free up time during the holiday season is to have an arsenal of frozen meals already prepared and tucked away in the freezer. The holidays aren’t just about the big meal. They’re about all the meals in between, too!

Meals needed on school concert nights, when you have extra guests or on nights you would just like to relax with the family and play a board game. Spend a day or two cooking and freezing this week or make double batches of dinner this week (one for eating and one for freezing) and you’ll save yourself wondering “what’s for dinner” during the busy weeks of the holiday season.

How to freeze

So many meals freeze really well. Everything from from marinated raw and cooked meats to cooked beans and whole grains. You can freeze baked bread, cookies and cakes, as well as uncooked pastry and cookie doughs. Broth, soup, chili, stews, and casseroles also freeze well.

To freeze meals, pour hot foods with a liquid base, such soup or broth, into a metal pot or bowl and set in an ice bath. An ice bath is a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water that you nestle a smaller bowl with hot items into. and ice bath will quickly chill the food, keeping it safe for consumption. After the food is chilled, transfer to a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. Remove as much air as possible and seal well.

I like to freeze food with a liquid base in zip-top bags frozen flat so they can be stacked in the freezer. When making large batches of soup that I may add gluten free noodles or dumplings to, I skip adding the noodles before freezing. Later, after thawing and heating the soup through, add the gluten free noodles and cook until they are tender. This keeps noodles from being over cooked in soup during the freezing process. Nobody likes a mushy noodle!

Arrange smaller portions of solid cooked foods, such as meatballs, in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer until frozen. The frozen items can them be sealed in a freezer-safe zip-top bag, pressing out air before closing. Freezing these items loose means you can take out as many or as few as you may need on a giving night.

Chill casseroles in the refrigerator and, if keeping whole, seal with a double layer of heavy-duty foil before freezing. If saving as individual portions, cut the casserole into portions and freeze following the cookie sheet technique above.

Labelling frozen food

Frozen foods can be very hard to identify. Everything looks the same after awhile, and you won’t remember what you saved, so don’t forget to use a permanent marker to label and date everything you freeze.

Most foods can keep for quite some time in the freezer, but their quality begins to deteriorate after about three months. I also like to add heating or cooking instructions right to the package. This saves me from having to look up my recipe to finish a meal when I am in a hurry.

Reheating your meals

The safest and easiest ways to thaw frozen foods are overnight in the refrigerator. Allow roughly five hours per pound, or by defrosting right before cooking in the microwave. In general, thaw raw frozen food before cooking. Most cooked dishes can be reheated from their frozen state, making sure they’re heated completely through before serving.

Another way I like to freeze meals are in individual portions with a side of frozen vegetables for those nights when everyone’s schedules may be a bit different and people need to eat at different times. For these meals, I portion the main dish into individual containers and tuck in a serving of frozen vegetables if needed to round out the meal. Seal and label before freezing.

Food to avoid freezing

Some items that do not freeze well are raw potatoes, lettuce salads, raw vegetables (cook or blanch before freezing) and meringue based frostings.

Recipes to Try

Get started with freezer meals with these tried and true options that are family-friendly and tasty.

Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Topping

This meal combines rich gravy with ground beef and vegetables updated with a topping of cauliflower puree. The ultimate comfort food for the cold winter! Get the recipe.

Shepherd's Pie with Cauliflower Topping

One Pot Butternut Squash Chicken Curry

Butternut Squash Chicken Curry with coconut milk and chickpeas is a protein-packed, warming meal and can easily be made vegetarian with a few tweaks. Get the recipe. 

Chicken Curry

Budget-Friendly Beef and Broccoli

This meal provides a quick, budget-friendly take on a take out favorite. I like to serve it with riced cauliflower for an extra serving of veggies. Get the recipe.

Beef and Broccoli

Need more inspiration?

The meals below you will find in constant rotation in my freezer. My family loves them and they freeze beautifully.

A headshot of Angela Litzinger, the authorFollow Angela’s cooking adventures at Angela has had vast experience cooking dairy free (since 1994) and gluten free (since 2001) for her family and herself. An expert in gluten and dairy free recipe development and living, Angela teaches gluten and dairy-free cooking classes, written cookbooks, contributes articles and recipes to numerous publications and speaks for local and national organizations about gluten and dairy-free options along with implementing staff training and education on celiac and the gluten free diet. 

Make-Ahead Freezer Meals Save Time and Money

Cooking your own make-ahead freezer meals is a healthy, convenient way to save money and time. You can plan freezer cooking around items on sale, and you’ll be able to avoid eating out a lot since you’ll have affordable dinners that can be prepared quickly and easily at home. Many freezer cooking plans can be daunting, with instructions to set aside an entire day or weekend to cook a month’s worth of meals. But it’s easier if you try a mini-freezer session. A mini-freezer session yields four to six different freezer meals with minimal effort and time. Use these tips!

1. Plan your recipes based on a common ingredient.

When ground beef is on sale, make precooked meatballs, taco filling, seasoned and formed (but not cooked) hamburgers, chili and/or homemade pizza pockets. Then your frozen item is ready to be warmed up and added to other ingredients to make burritos, tacos, BBQ meatball sandwiches, and spaghetti and meatballs. Chicken can be packaged in a variety of marinades for grilling, stir fries or baking.

2. Use simple recipes you already love.

Save gourmet and untried recipes for another occasion.

3. Write a grocery list.

First check for ingredients and freezer packaging items you already have. I like to shop on one day and cook the next if I am assembling more than four meals at one time.

4. Clean your countertops and dishes.

Then fill your empty sink with soapy water and wash dishes as you cook your freezer meals. It only takes a minute to wash something right away, and you won’t face a dish mountain later.

5. Prep vegetables or other items first.

This includes slicing or dicing and preparing items that need to be precooked before being added to the recipe. Many recipes call for cooked ground beef, quinoa, pasta, rice or beans. (See note below on gluten-free pasta and rice.)

6. Prepare each recipe in an assembly line.

Work on one recipe at a time, laying out containers for each batch next to each other. These can be baking dishes or freezer bags. Add each ingredient to each container as you work through the recipe.

7. Use freezer-strength wraps and containers.

Freezer wraps are thicker and allow less air/moisture exchange than storage wrap or containers. Remove as much air as possible from each container, label and freeze as you go, making sure food is cooled first, following safety steps at

8. Label everything.

Freezer meals all seem to look alike when frozen. Write what’s in the container, when it was made and simple cooking instructions, if needed.

9. Post a list of available freezer meals.

Update it regularly. It is easy to forget what’s in the freezer, and you’ll end up throwing away meals that have overstayed their freezer welcome. Always thaw freezer meals in the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave, not on the counter.

10. You don’t need a big freezer.

I fit 20 dinners, 10 breakfasts, some frozen veggies and gluten-free bread in a standard top-loading freezer. Bags don’t take up a lot of space, and neatly stacked containers will make the most efficient use of your freezer.

Special tips for gluten-free freezer meals

  • Gluten-free pasta should be under-cooked by 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water to further stop the cooking process. When making lasagna in which the pasta is completely covered with sauce, skip precooking gluten-free pasta completely. Fill a 9×13-inch pan with the hottest water from your tap and soak the noodles in the pan for about 20 minutes. Drain and prepare the recipe. For soups and other freezer meals with a lot of liquid, package dry pasta separately.
  • Rice tends to get crumbly when frozen and reheated on its own, but it freezes well when incorporated with other ingredients in a recipe. Like pasta, leave the rice slightly under-cooked before adding to a freezer meal.
  • Raw potatoes do not freeze well—the color and texture degrade significantly. Freeze potatoes only after they have been partially or completely cooked or leave them out entirely.
  • Most sauces can be frozen. However, sauces made with cornstarch can turn spongy. Instead, use tapioca starch, sweet rice flour or arrowroot. Arrowroot will develop a slimy texture when mixed with dairy milk, so choose a different starch when milk is called for.

Looking for more ways to save money on the gluten-free diet? Check out our Tips for Saving On Gluten Free section! 

Angela Litzinger is the author of, which features gluten- and dairy-free menu plans and recipes. She has been cooking gluten free since 2001 and teaches gluten- and dairy-free cooking classes.