Life is busy for many families.
Balancing work and family life and everything else can be really hard.
In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s impossible. But the myth of work/life balance is so deeply embedded in our cultural narrative that we strive for it nevertheless.
So in order to juggle it all, we turn to modern conveniences.
Some of these conveniences are marvels of modern invention. Online shopping, for instance, can be a super-smart way to save time and money.
Other conveniences are just convenient. They don’t offer much value other than filling a pressing need in the moment.
The freezer section at the supermarket can be a convenience godsend on busy nights.
Having something frozen that you just bung in the oven when there’s no time makes life so much easier.
The problem is, the frozen convenience foods aren’t often a healthy option. They are convenient but are usually filled with salt and other ingredients that are better kept to a minimum.
That doesn’t stop the fact you need a convenient solution for these nights. So how do you get the convenience but eat healthy at the same time?
An alternative is to fill your freezer with homemade foods.
Ok, it’s not quite as convenient. You still have to find time to make the homemade food to start with.
But by filling your freezer you save money on the groceries. And on nights when you need something easy and convenient, you’ll be able to reach for a much healthier selection from your freezer.
Being prepared with homemade frozen foods gives you the best of both worlds: healthy, frugal meals and convenience.
There are a whole variety of meals you can freeze to make life easier. This article focuses on freezer-to-oven foods that don’t need to be defrosted.
Finding the time to fill your freezer
This is the catch: finding time to make stuff to fill your freezer.
You have two options. You can:
- Have a big cook up day once a month; or
- Make double batches of meals during your normal cooking times.
I prefer option number two.
Making a double batch of something doesn’t take much more time than making a single batch, so it’s easier than finding a whole day to spend in the kitchen.
If you can find time to make two or three double batches a week, you can fill your freezer in no time.
What should you freeze?
There are several types of freezer meals:
- Oven-ready meals like the stuff you can find in the supermarket freezer section (like fish fingers) that go straight from freezer to oven to plate. That’s the focus of this article.
- Defrost and reheat meals. I make a lot of these as well.
- Pre-prepared but uncooked meals. These include stir-fry kits that you can just defrost and dump in the wok or slow cooker kits that you defrost and dump in the slow cooker. My favourite is chicken drumsticks, which I marinate before freezing so they are ready to go straight in the oven after being defrosted.
A selection of all these types of freezer meals can make dinners a lot easier while still having a variety of meals.
To get started, write a list of things your family likes to eat. You can browse the supermarket’s online freezer category for ideas.
Then look for a recipe (check below) and write down the ingredients you need.
Look for ways to increase the vegetable content of your recipe. Adding grated vegetables is a good way to make a little meat stretch further and make your oven-ready items healthier.
Things to know about freezing foods
There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing food for the freezer:
- Before filling your freezer, consider how much freezer space you have. We have a little freezer on top of our fridge, so I have to be careful not to get over-excited and try to fit too much.
- Consider what you’re going to store your frozen foods in and make sure you’ve got plenty of containers or freezer bags handy.
- Tray freeze foods by placing items on a lined tray and placing them in the freezer until frozen. Then transfer to a container or zip lock bag for storage.
- Label, label, label. Once frozen, everything looks the same. Label what you freeze with what it is, the date and any reheating or cooking instructions.
Recipe Ideas for Homemade Oven-Ready Freezer Foods
The following are some of the recipes that have worked for us and that I use to fill our freezer with oven-ready meals.
Hidden Veggie Meatballs. Meatballs are a versatile food to have in the freezer. Simply bake from frozen and serve as is with a vegetable or salad side or mix with pasta and a homemade marinara sauce. This meatball recipe includes hidden veggies, upping the nutritional content and stretching the mince further, making them cheaper.
Vegetarian ‘meat’balls. While we’re on meatballs, this vegetarian version from Pinch of Yum is a delicious vegetarian alternative. Serve with the Marsala sauce as per their recipe or any sauce of your choice. Make these when cauliflower is in season and cheap and freeze for later.
Veggie Burgers. These veggie burgers from Casey Jade have become a staple in our household. I only use 1 teaspoon of curry powder rather than a whole tablespoon because…kids. But they love these veggie burgers served on Turkish bread with cheese, tomato and lettuce. It’s a great way to get a serve of veggies.
Tuna Patties. This is one of those recipes I double and freeze on the go. Make with leftover rice or mashed potato/sweet potato and they come together quickly.
Chicken Nuggets. Like most things I make, these chicken nuggets also have hidden vegetables in them to make the healthier and cheaper.
Homemade Fish Sticks. Our Friday night meal is fish wraps. Oven baked fish on a tortilla with mayo and salad. Save money and reduce your sodium intake by making your own oven-bake fish.
Mini Pies. My husband likes pies for lunch on the weekends. However, the supermarket ones aren’t so great and the bakery ones cost a fortune if we all have one! The solution is to make a bunch of pies and have them ready to throw in the oven for a weekend lunch.
I found some cheap pie dishes from Aldi the other day and I’m thinking of doing a meat casserole in the slow cooker (like this one) and then filling and freezing pies. Butter Your Biscuit has a great recipe for Chicken pies.
Beef Empanadas. These are like easy little pies. Add lots of extra hidden veggies to make them super healthy.
Pizza Hot Pockets. I ate pizza pockets as a kid and loved them. Here’s a homemade version that’s great for school holiday lunches or lunchboxes. Let the kids make them for themselves to save work (lol, if only it really worked like that).
Pizza Scrolls. These are super quick and easy because they use frozen puff pastry, although you can definitely make your own pastry. Cook then tray freeze before transferring to a bag. Reheat from frozen in the oven to stop the pastry from going soggy.
Having a bunch of oven-bake foods in the freezer can make busy nights so much easier. Throw some things in the oven that you know are healthy and relax while the oven does all the work for you.