We constantly hear about the importance of the family dinner, but today's busy families often struggle to make this ritual a reality. Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, time to prepare meals is often at a premium.

Even if you don't have hours to work in your kitchen every day, you can still serve your family a home-cooked meal every evening. All you have to do is get friendly with your freezer.

The Basics of Freezer Cooking

Meals that freeze well are a busy parent's best friend. But if you aren't sure what you're doing, cooking for your freezer can be a little intimidating. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Foods like meat, poultry, rice, beans, butter, cheese and baked goods all freeze well. Some foods, such as fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, and pasta can be frozen, but may change texture.
  • Do not freeze mayonnaise, custards, cream sauces, salad greens, cucumbers, citrus fruits, or raw or baked potatoes.
  • Be aware of food safety guidelines. Label your foods by date, and consume the oldest foods first. Also, be sure to always thaw your foods safely.
  • Many cooks rely on a method known as "investment cooking," where they invest time up front preparing several meals to stockpile in the freezer. To learn more, read this comprehensive article about Easy Freezer Meals.
  • Another option is to buy meat in bulk, and cook and freeze large batches. For example, several pounds of taco meat or shredded chicken can be frozen in smaller portions, and then added to burritos, salads, or soups for a quick weeknight meal.
  • You can also follow the "cook once, eat twice" rule by always doubling your recipes and freezing half for another meal.

Freezer-Friendly Meal Ideas

If you are still intimidated by the idea of cooking for your freezer, begin by preparing meals that you already know will freeze well. Lasagna, chili, and meatballs are classic examples of freezer-friendly meals, but there are many, many more options from which you can choose.

Examples of other freezer-friendly meals include:

  • Chicken Potato Casserole: Prepare and freeze this casserole dish ahead of time, then defrost overnight in the fridge, top with crushed potato chips, and bake to bubbly perfection.
  • Steak Fajitas: By marinating and freezing your meat in advance, you can make fajitas in practically no time at all!
  • Baked Penne with Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomatoes: This pasta dish requires some initial prep time, but you can also bake it straight from the freezer, no defrosting required.
  • Breakfast Sandwiches: Freezer-friendly foods aren't just for dinner. Start your morning right by heating up some homemade breakfast sandwiches straight from your freezer.
  • Crockpot Shredded Mexican Chicken: This versatile shredded chicken can be frozen for use in anything from quesadillas to soups to enchiladas.

And don't forget dessert! Cookie dough freezes well too, which means that you can round out your family meal with a plate of warm homemade cookies, even on nights when you're too tired to cook.