A day’s worth of easy freezer meals

I’m at best an amateur chef, but I am also a meal planning enthusiast. If you want to make a frozen meal for a friend, or give future you a break from cooking, here are my three best recipes for the freezer. (They all work for immediate serving, too.)

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Breakfast: Morning Glory Muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups of flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon (In cold weather, I also add 1/2 tsp ground cloves and 1 tsp ground nutmeg)
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, blueberries, etc. – in summer, I recommend chopped apricots)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 apples, diced
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract 
Optional:
1/2 cup chia seeds substituted for 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup flax seeds substituted for 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Method:
1. Shred the carrots. I use a cheese grater for this, but a food processor would also work.
2. Chop the apples and walnuts. One way to include a child in the making of these muffins is to have them “chop” walnuts: put the walnuts in a ziplock bag, seal, and let your little assistant hack away with a rolling pin.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 12 muffin cups, or line with paper muffin liners.
4. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt. Stir in the carrot, dried fruit, nuts, chia and flax seeds, coconut, and apple.
5. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, oil, and vanilla. Stir egg mixture into the carrot/flour mixture, just until moistened. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.
6. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.
7. Wait until they cool completely. Then freeze (or enjoy!). Simply thaw the muffins in the fridge overnight for an easy breakfast.

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Lunch: Hot Sausage Soup

I promise, this is a soup that eats like a meal. You can make it either in a pot or in a crockpot. I prefer the latter since the flavors have more time to marry. 

Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

Ingredients: 
28 ounces beef broth (that’s one box or two cans, usually) 
Oregano and thyme to taste (for me, 6 good shakes, if that means anything to you) 
1 rounded tablespoon minced garlic (more to taste) 
2 bay leaves 
1 5-pk of hot Italian sausage
2 cans (28 ounces total) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 to 1.5 large onions, depending on your preference 
Either 1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained, or the fresh equivalent (about 3 medium-sized tomatoes) 
1 4-oz. can diced green chiles
(For a less spicy version, use mild Italian sausage and skip the chiles.)

Method:
1. Start warming the broth, spices, garlic, and bay leaves in either the pot or the crockpot. 
2. Put a pan for the sausages on medium/high heat. I don’t oil the pan because I don’t like oil in my soup, but this does mean you have to make sure the pan doesn’t get so hot that the sausages stick. 
3. Cook the sausages about 5 minutes per side; you want a nice dark stripe. This is just to bring out the taste. You don’t need to worry about them being cooked all the way through; they’ll cook later.
4. Take the sausages off the pan and let them rest for at least 10 minutes. 
5. During cook/rest time for the sausages, large-dice the onion(s) and dump them into the soup pot. If you’re using a crockpot and like to have some texture in your soup, keep this step until about 45 minutes (crockpot) or 10 minutes (stovetop) before serving the soup. If you want to be fancy, fry up those tasty bits in the sausage pan with the onions for 3 minutes before adding it all to the soup.
6. Add the rinsed black beans, the tomatoes, and the chiles. If you use fresh tomatoes, try to catch the juices and use them for the soup too, since they have lots of nutrients.
7. Cut the sausages into thin circular slices. Don’t cut them across the circle; the skin around the edge of the slice gives it some structural stability in the soup. 
8. Dump the sausage slices and the juices on the cutting board into the soup. 
9. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes (stovetop) and up to all day (crockpot). Don’t serve the bay leaves.  
10. (Serve or) Let cool to room temperature, then leave to cool in the fridge. After a few hours or an overnight in the fridge, move it to the freezer. To reheat, simply thaw and warm or even just warm.

This soup well with light beer, cornbread, apples/apple cider, or mozzarella cheese. Serve with a light dessert, such as pudding or a fancy drink. 
Variations: I based this recipe off a ham and black bean soup that didn’t have enough flavor, but if you’re ever in the mood for ham, this recipe will adapt well to that. If using ham, add pepper and more oregano and thyme. 

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Dinner: (Deconstructed Freezer) Chili

There’s a reason everyone thinks “soup” when they think “freezer meal.” But here’s a way to prepare a giant crockpot full of chili without taking up all that room in the fridge: only freeze part of it! Then, if the chili is for you, keep the other ingredients on hand; if the chili is for someone else, deliver them in a nice bag. Whenever you or the recipient want to make chili, just dump all the ingredients together and simmer!

Whenever I make this recipe, I double or triple it. Then one batch gets served that day and another one or two go into the freezer for later.

Ingredients for Phase 1:
2 lbs hamburger
1-2 onions
Cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper to taste. I recommend equal parts of each of these.  
Healthy tablespoon (or 5) of minced garlic 
2 bay leaves

Ingredients for Phase 2:
1 14-oz can drained dark red kidney beans
1 14-oz can drained light red kidney beans
1 14-oz can NOT drained chili beans
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes 
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (don’t drain) 
1 14-oz can beef broth 
1 tiny can tomato paste

Method for Phase 1:
1. Start to brown the hamburger with the spices. While that is browning, chop the onions.
2. When the hamburger is getting close to done, add the onions and let them fry too (5-10 min).
3. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
4. Take the mixture off the heat and let it cool (either to room temperature or in the fridge).
5. Add the bay leaves. Put everything into a freezer-safe container and put it in the freezer. TIP: If you put everything into a plastic bag, put the plastic bag inside a square or rectangular container so that it shapes evenly while freezing.

Method for Phase 2:
1. Put the frozen mixture from Phase 1 into a crockpot or pot.
2. Add all the ingredients from Phase 2 into the crockpot or pot.
3. Cook on high until boiling. 
4. Simmer for as long as you’d like. I suggest adding more cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper at this stage, along with equal part dried oregano.
5. Serve! (But don’t serve the bay leaves.)

Pairs well with cheddar cheese, sour cream, baked potatoes, light beer, and chocolate.

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What other easy freezer meals do you recommend? Comment below with your best recipe!

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