Homemade Frozen Food Ideas That Are Oven-Ready For Busy Nights

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fish sticks on a bread roll with lettuce and mayo homemade freezer to oven food
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Life is busy for many of us.

Balancing work and family life and everything else can be challenging.

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 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. The freezer section at the supermarket can be a convenience godsend on busy nights.

Having something frozen that you can bung in the oven and get on with other things while dinner cooks make life much easier.

The problem is that 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 homemade food to start with.

But by filling your freezer, you save money on 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.

You can freeze a whole variety of meals 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:

  1. Have a big cook-up day once a month; or
  2. Make double batches of meals during your regular 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 make two or three double batches a week, you can fill your freezer in no time.

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What should you freeze?

There are several types of freezer meals:

  1. 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.
  2. Defrost and reheat meals. I make a lot of these as well.
  3. Pre-prepared but uncooked meals. These include stir-fry kits that you can 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.

The great thing about oven-ready foods is they don’t need defrosting – perfect for days you forget or busy nights.

The other thing about oven food is you don’t need to watch it cook. You can shower, help the kids with homework, fold washing, or relax in front of Netflix while dinner cooks. And kids love this kind of food.

To get started, list what 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 stretch a little meat 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Consider what you’re going to store your frozen foods in, and ensure you’ve got plenty of containers or freezer bags.
  3. 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.

Freezing Oven-Ready Foods

The best way to freeze oven-ready foods like chicken tenders or pies is to tray-freeze.

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.

For foods like lasagne and casseroles, freeze in meal-size or individual-size portions in foil containers (see below) that are oven safe.

If you freeze a casserole in a glass, pyrex, or ceramic dish, it can crack or shatter if it goes straight from freezer to oven, so it’s important to use a foil tray or let it come to room temperature before placing it in the hot oven.

How to Cook Frozen Food in the Oven

For store-bought frozen foods, simply follow the instructions on the packet.

If you’re cooking a frozen meal in microwave-only packaging (plastic), you can still cook food in the oven, but you’ll need to put it in an oven-safe dish or tray. Cover with foil to prevent uneven cooking.

Homemade frozen foods can be cooked similarly to store-bought. For example, lay frozen homemade crumbed chicken tenders on a tray and bake for approximately 20-30 minutes, as with store-bought.

Frozen foods like casseroles and meat are usually better off defrosted before cooking, although it is possible to cook both in the oven (not slow cooker) from frozen.

It will take longer to cook, and you will need to cover it most of the time to ensure even baking. Preheat the oven as usual, place the casserole, and heat through.

Cooking Times and Temperatures

As a general rule, add 50% of the cooking time for foods cooked from frozen (compared to defrosted food times). In other words, if the cooking time is 30 minutes for thawed food, it will take around 45 minutes to cook through.

Food should be cooked to at least 65°C (150°F) and 75°C (170°F) for high-risk foods like mince and leftovers (see the food safety website for detailed temps for individual foods).

I LOVE my digital thermometer (Amazon link) and use it all the time. I love it so much that I gift it to people, including our tuckshop (where we call it the stabby stick), to replace the old analogue ones.

Between home and the tuckshop, I use this thermometer every day. Not only does it ensure I cook things to the correct temperature to avoid food poisoning, but it also helps me avoid overcooking food for juicy, succulent results.

Cooking Frozen Food in the Air Fryer

An air fryer is great for cooking smaller quantities of frozen food.

As with a regular oven, you can put your meal straight from freezer to air fryer. It works the same but in less time. It’s an excellent option for one or two people or for lunches.

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 ‘meatballs. 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 you choose. Make these when cauliflower is in season and cheap, and freeze them for later.

Veggie Burgers. These veggie burgers from Casey Jade have become a staple in our household. I only use one 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 serving of veggies.

Tuna Patties. This is one of those recipes I double and freeze on the go. Make them 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 them healthier and cheaper. Alternatively, you can crumb and freeze chicken tenders for a tender and salad wrap.

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 oven-baked 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 (great if you have a pie maker) 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 (if only it worked like that).

Pizza Scrolls. These are super quick and easy because they use frozen puff pastry, although you can 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.

Lasagne. A simple lasagne, layers of mince, pasta, sauce, and cheese can go straight from the freezer to the oven. (And it will taste a whole lot better than a store-bought frozen lasagne). Ideally, freeze in a foil container to avoid ceramic ones shattering with the quick temperature change.

Cookies. For a sweet treat after dinner or for lunchboxes, cookie dough can be frozen in logs, sliced and baked for quick homemade cookies.

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.

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  1. Faye Farnden says:

    Great article Melissa!
    Thank you 😊