When you feel overwhelmed—after all, things are a lot right now—you might feel daunted by the prospect of cooking. A stockpile of freezer meals can make a satisfying dinner more within your reach.
When you have some spare time and energy, it can be helpful to stock your freezer with homemade meals you can heat and eat. Then, on rough days, you’ve already laid a smooth pathway toward eating easy, budget-friendly food.
“If you prepare that in the planning phase, then you’ve taken out all of the need for energy at a time when you suspect that energy might be depleted,” Chan Hellman, Ph.D., founding director of the Hope Research Center at the University of Oklahoma, tells SELF.
Plus, it helps to know that at least one thing in life is predictable these days. And the act of planning in a nurturing way can be comforting, Lisa Butler, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo, tells SELF.
“Rather than it being something one should do—which only adds to the should burden we all carry—better to think of it as one among many possible things we can choose to do to care for ourselves in the present and alleviate pressures in the future,” she says. “There can be some reassurance and comfort in knowing that at least that one small part of the future is known.”
Stockpiling a load of delicious freezer meals isn’t exactly as simple as packaging your dinner of the day in a container and shoving it amid your ice cream, though. To reap the benefits of batch cooking, you need to make foods that maintain their texture and flavor in your freezer.
“Some of my favorite meals and ingredients to make in large batches are whole grains, beans/legumes, soup, stew, chili, braised meat/poultry, sauce, and casseroles,” Abbie Gellman, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian and chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, tells SELF. “These types of foods work well when frozen and thawed properly, especially those that have liquid.”
What doesn’t hold up well? Fried or crispy foods, delicate items like cooked seafood, and anything you can’t wrap well, says Gellman.
Rachael Hartley, R.D., certified intuitive eating counselor and owner of Rachael Hartley Nutrition, tells SELF that vegetable side dishes don’t usually freeze well, with the exception of stewed leafy greens frozen with a bit of stewing liquid. Same goes for pasta—unless it’s a casserole-style pasta dish—or cooked meat (except moist dishes like pulled pork or taco meat).
The bottom line: Foods cooked in liquid hold up better.
When you’re ready to enjoy, simply thaw your frozen leftovers by placing them in the refrigerator for about a day, submerging them (wrapped in plastic or a leak-proof package) in cold water, or microwaving them, suggests the USDA. If your leftovers are still frozen solid, you can heat them in a saucepan, microwave, or the oven. Heat until the internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
For some freezer meal inspiration, check out these recipes below.