15 Easy Dinners from the Freezer
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Oh, if I could count the times my best-laid meal plans have gone astray and I've tapped into the gold mine waiting in my freezer. It's not that big — two bins, plus a shallower drawer. We're talking the refrigerator freezer in your average-sized New York City rental apartment. But with a little careful organization and stocking, my freezer holds what I need for an endless, delicious assortment of quick and easy weeknight dinners.
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What to keep in your freezer
In addition to some heat-and-eat meals (think leftover chili, stew, and soup), I stock my freezer drawers with building blocks. Some, like frozen vegetables, are so basic they need a little work to become an actual meal. Others, like pierogi, could make an okay supper just as they are — but a few clever tricks elevate them into dishes my family asks for again and again.
Another clever trick: Organization. Things are frosty in there! With some careful and consistent organization I can find stuff — and cram a lot into a small space.
I treat the three main areas of my freezer as zones, with each containing its own kind of food. Some of these items I make myself to freeze in meal-sized portions, while others are store-bought:
The carb zone is my favorite freezer section. That’s where I stow tortellini and Tater Tots, pizza dough and piecrust, gnocchi and ravioli. Some must be defrosted before use, but others can go right into the recipe.
The protein zone has things like fish sticks, meatballs, and shredded chicken, as well as tofu (yup, more on that below), chicken potstickers, and sausage. I’ve got raw chicken and beef items mixed in, too, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss.
The produce zone is the real heart of my freezer, because these items combine with things from the other two zones to make a rounded, nutritious meal. Here I keep vegetables like artichoke hearts, chopped spinach, peas, corn, and edamame, plus several kinds of mixed veggies. As for fruit, you’ll always find toppings for breakfast-for-dinner waffles and pancakes.
In addition to those staples, I also find room for foods I consider must-haves:
The unzoned space basically means anywhere I can tuck smaller items that add flavor or texture. We’re talking things like pesto and marinara sauces, wine or broth frozen into ice cubes, ginger root (when it’s wrapped tightly in foil, you can grate it right into recipes), bacon, herbs, fresh breadcrumbs, Parmesan rinds, pine nuts, and tomato paste.
The extras include what my son considers the most important freezer items: cookie dough and ice cream. But again, that’s not what we’re here to discuss.
30-minute recipes from the freezer
You’re about to see just how easy it is to make a satisfying, tasty dinner using what you’d find in a well-stocked freezer. None of these takes more than half an hour to cook.
Recipes that start with frozen pasta, potatoes, and dough
I live with a carbs-loving family. You’d better believe my freezer holds multiple kinds of starchy foods, just begging to be used.
This recipe is the reason I always have a package of tortellini in my freezer. It’s ridiculously easy, nothing more than those little pasta dumplings, jarred sauce, and two cheeses, but it’s like eating the best baked ziti you’ve ever had. A forkful of saucy, cheesy tortellini feels so much more substantial than regular ol’ macaroni.
You only need one pan, some frozen Polish potato dumplings, sliced kielbasa (keep some of this in the freezer, too), and a couple of go-withs (namely, sour cream and sauerkraut) to get this dinner under way. Make sure to get the kielbasa nicely browned — that bit of crustiness adds tons of flavor.
The secret ingredient in this recipe delights my inner child: Tater Tots! It turns out, if you simmer those cuties in milk and broth, they break down into the creamy, spud-centric base for an easy soup. Stir in some diced ham steak and corn kernels (yes, another ingredient from the freezer), garnish with chopped scallions, and you’re good to go.
With this recipe, two frozen ingredients combine into something divine. To make it, cook a package of frozen cheese ravioli according to package directions. While that’s going, make a quick, creamy sauce with frozen chopped spinach that you’ve thawed and squeezed dry, plus garlic, shallots, and a few other add-ins. By the time the ravioli’s cooked, so is the sauce.
A sheet of frozen puff pastry bakes up into a gloriously flaky, cheesy tart topped with pesto-flecked ricotta and thinly sliced zucchini. This recipe proves one of my maxims: With puff pastry and pesto in the freezer, you’ve always got the makings of something good.
Recipes that start with frozen meat and seafood
I don’t build every meal around protein — most Americans get far more protein than they need — but when I’m trying to prepare a quick dinner, ready-to-eat protein is a great foundation.
Frozen meatballs and wide egg noodles go straight from the package into the pot for this quick weeknight recipe. Thanks to tender mushrooms and a beefy, garlicky, creamy sauce, I predict there will be no leftovers.
An electric pressure cooker figures into many of my easy dinners. Here, you’ll make a simple garlic-butter wine sauce in the Instant Pot on the saute setting, then add uncooked linguine and top it with frozen shrimp. Three minutes on high pressure is all you need to produce perfectly-cooked pasta and seafood.
This easy sheet pan supper uses several items I keep in my freezer — chicken sausage, gnocchi (cauliflower or potato), and pesto. Pro tip: No fresh veggies on hand? You can easily swap in frozen broccoli florets for the asparagus.
We make chicken Parm from scratch a few times a year, but it’s definitely not a weeknight dish. Sometimes we get a hankering, though, and that’s when I turn to this four-ingredient, freezer-based cheater’s version. It’s nothing but frozen, breaded chicken tenders, pasta sauce, mozzarella, and spaghetti. While it may not taste exactly like homemade, it’s an amazing likeness for less than half an hour’s work.
If you think of fish sticks as kid food, this recipe will change your mind. It turns out, when you wrap them in a tortilla topped with a five-minute slaw, avocado, and a creamy, spicy sauce, you get some mighty tasty fish tacos.
Recipes that start with frozen vegetables
My freezer has more varieties of frozen veggies than anything else. Even when my crisper is down to a few wizened carrots, I have access to all those colors, flavors, and nutrients.
The name “Wonderpot” makes me giggle, but this recipe has some seriously great things going for it. Aside from the mushrooms and optional feta cheese, every ingredient is probably in your pantry and freezer right now: frozen spinach and artichoke hearts, garlic and onion, broth, fettuccine, dried herbs, and olive oil. Plus it’s one of those one-pot pasta dishes where you put almost everything into the pot at once and let it simmer.
Frozen cauliflower rice has to be among the top inventions of the 21st century so far. Here, you use it in place of regular rice, along with frozen shrimp, peas, and carrots, and the usual fried-rice seasoning. In no time, you’ve got a super-healthy (and delicious) version of the takeout classic.
I ate a lot of instant ramen when I was just starting my adult life — I’ll bet you did, too. To make it a smidge healthier, I’d stir in some frozen vegetables along with the noodles. This recipe takes that idea a few steps further. Adding coconut milk and curry powder is absolutely genius, and it’s still ready in just ten minutes.
Ready to have your mind blown? Not only is tofu freezable, the process of freezing and defrosting bean curd changes the texture. Once thawed, it crumbles up into something like ground beef. Simmered with tomato, soy, and hot sauces plus classic Tex-Mex spices, frozen tofu is just right to make a filling for quick, vegan tacos.
Who doesn’t love a hearty dinner that only needs three ingredients? With nothing but a quart of V-8 tomato juice, frozen mixed vegetables, lean ground beef, and an Instant Pot, dinner couldn’t be easier. (Do you only have frozen meat on hand? The recipe doesn’t mention it, but you can cook frozen ground beef in the IP.)
Freezer meals, ready when you need them
Keep reading for more ways to put your freezer to work.