Freezer meals are great. They’re just great. You can pull them out, pop them in the oven, and boom. Meal. The problem, as a vegetarian, is coming up with freezer meals that are not just soup. There’s only so many times I can have black bean chili, let’s be real. When we started this whole med school journey, Tyler and I decided to invest in an external freezer unit, and it has definitely paid back dividends. I’ve used it a lot over these four years and am definitely planning on using it for residency. The options are not endless, nor are they necessarily what I define as an entire meal (it’s hard to freeze a salad to be honest), but it can make it so that your dinner is ready SUPER fast, or that your dinner prep is limited.
Things I’ve done over the years: burritos, enchiladas, Quesadillas, black bean and rice in a ziplock, lasagna, stuffed shells, lasagna rolls, cubed and flavored tofu, vegetarian pot pies, freezer breakfast burritos, smoothie components in a ziplock bag, chili, butternut squash soup, indian cooked vegetables (shaak), dahl, cooked rice, pupusas, gnocchi, spaghetti/enchilada sauce, bechamel sauce, pesto, tortilla pie…those are the ones I can remember.
Basically to make a freezer meal of any kind, you just have to think about what would freeze well, by that I mean a meal where the texture is not critical, and the flavor profile does not change when you freeze it. For example, freezing cooked spaghetti would be a horrid idea because when you defrost it and heat it up, it will turn to mush. Another key of freezer cooking — cook pastas and grains super al dente, they’re going to be cooked again, and you don’t want them to be mush.
This is one of my favorites: lasagna rolls. For me they are easier to “stuff” than shells, and the ratio of carb:fat/veggies is one I like — basically low on carbs. It’s easy to make, fill, and freeze.
1) Again, cook the noodles al dente, my rule of thumb is that when they are just soft enough to roll, they are done.
2) If you are using any kind “wet” veggie, make sure you squeeze out the water as much as possible (i.e. spinach, even frozen spinach).
3) If it does not taste good fresh, it will not taste good reheated after freezing. This seems obvious, but it is a mistake I’ve made pllllenty of times.
Freezer Lasagna Rolls
-9×9 aluminum pan or freezer safe pan (i.e. pyrex if you don’t want to use aluminum)
-1 packet lasagna noodles, not the “quick cook” variety
-16 oz ricotta cheese
-1 cup mozarella/cheddar/your favorite cheese + extra for topping
-Veggies — I suggest frozen chopped spinach, kale, artichokes, roasted red peppers. Pick 1-2 of these and use them. Make sure you squeeze the water out of the “wet” veggies.
-Oregano and basil to taste
-Your favorite spaghetti/pasta sauce
1. Boil and salt a large pot of water, and toss your noodles in to cook. Stir occassionally to make sure they don’t stick. At around 3 minutes, pull one out, run it under cold water, and see if it’s maleable enough to be rolled. If not, then put it back in, checked every 30 seconds.
2. Strain the pasta when it’s done, and rinse it off with cold water, this will help to keep it from sticking.
3. In a bowl, mix together your cheeses, veggies, and spices that you want.
4. Put down a layer of spaghetti sauce in your container
5. Lay out a noodle, put a layer of cheese-veggie mix and spread evenly.
6. Roll from one end to another, and viola! A lasagna roll. Place it in your pan whichever direction you prefer.
7. Repeat until your pan is full, ladle more sauce on top, top with a layer of cheese
8. Cover with aluminum foil tightly to prevent freezer burn, label, place in a freezer bag if possible. Will last for two months.
9. To cook, pull out in the morning, and let it defrost in the morning, and pop in the oven at night at 400 uncovered for 30 min. If you don’t have the time to do that, just pop it in oven frozen (if it’s in an aluminum container — not glass), at 425 for an hour, check at 30 minutes and adjust heat as needed.