Healthy Dinners for Busy Nights: 12 Meals to Make Ahead and Freeze

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Try making these kale lentil balls with spaghetti noodles from Veggies Don't Bite over the busy work week.
Photo from Veggies Don't Bite

Meals in the freezer are like money in the bank.

For one thing, you can buy ingredients in bulk, and often at a discount. For another, dishes that freeze well mean less food waste. Didn’t quite finish that homemade sweet potato soup? Pop the leftovers in the freezer and enjoy a “free” dinner months down the line.

But despite their cost-cutting benefits, freezer meals can get a bad rap. Too often, we think of retro casseroles or cheesy, carb-laden dishes — boring, bland trays of food lacking vegetables and fresh, vibrant flavor.

It’s time to give them a second chance! Frozen dishes can be light, healthy and delicious. Here are some of my favorites, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and paleo options.

1. Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Soup

Do you struggle to cook during the busy work week? Try making this sweet potato peanut butter soup ahead of time.

Photo from Turnip The Oven

This soup will cost you peanuts — literally. And it’s vegan to boot.

The secret ingredient is 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, which imparts an incredibly luscious texture. A big pinch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts are the perfect finishing touch.

The recipe yields two quarts, so you can serve one tonight and stash the other for another time.

2. Cheesy Vegan Rutabaga Casserole

Try making this cheesy vegan rutabaga casserole dish for dinner next time you're strapped for time during the work week.

Photo from Simple Seasonal

The rutabaga is an underappreciated, dirt-cheap root vegetable. In this vegan recipe, you’ll layer thinly sliced rutabagas with kale and sweet potatoes, then smother them with cashew cheese.

To freeze the casserole, assemble and wrap it tightly in a layer of plastic wrap and foil. Thaw and bake before serving.

3. Salsa Verde Smothered Veggie Burritos

While they’re always cheap, most burritos aren’t exactly low-fat. This vegetarian recipe forgoes the calorie-laden meat and guacamole, replacing them with taco-spiced peppers and mushrooms and cilantro-lime rice.

To freeze, wrap burritos individually in aluminum foil.

4. Zucchini Noodles with Jalapeno Pesto

Do you struggle with cooking dinner during the busy work week? Try making this quick meal: zucchini noodles with jalapeño pesto.

Photo from Turnip the Oven

Wait, you don’t already have pesto in your freezer? You’ve gotta get on that. Pesto freezes beautifully for months on end.

This version replaces pricey pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano with more wallet-friendly walnuts and Asiago cheese. Jalapeno adds an unexpected, spicy kick.

To serve, simply defrost the pesto and toss with spiralized zucchini for a low-calorie, gluten-free dish, or freshly cooked pasta for a more substantial meal

5. Chicken & Spinach Lasagna Rollups

Traditional lasagna is often loaded with ground beef and oozing with cheese. Delicious? Yes. Healthy? Not so much.

These chicken- and spinach-stuffed rollups are easier, faster and lighter. The recipe yields two pans — one to bake and one to freeze.

6. Quinoa Zucchini Casserole

This Quinoa Zucchini Casserole dish from Food Done Light is an easy and quick meal to make during the week.

Photo from Food Done Light

There’s an infamous recipe online for a broccoli cheese casserole with canned cream of mushroom soup, loaded with fat and sodium.

This recipe is a refreshing revamp made with protein-packed quinoa and fresh mushrooms. Make it now while markets are still overflowing with cheap zucchini.

7. Carrot Soup with Orange, Cinnamon and Ginger

Do you struggle making dinner during the busy work week? Try making this carrot soup with cinnamon ginger and orange ahead of time.

Photo from Turnip the Oven

A two-pound bag of carrots can cost less than $2 at the grocery store, so carrot soup is always a huge bargain.

This is my all-time favorite version; I must’ve tested the recipe half a dozen times to get it right. The secret ingredients are freshly squeezed orange juice and full-fat coconut milk. This is a make-ahead must for winter cold season.

8. Kale Lentil Balls

Try these kale lentil balls for dinner when you're strapped for time during the work week.

Photo from Veggies Don’t Bite

These kid-approved bean balls include with mushrooms, kale, lentils, oats, flax meal and sunflower seeds. Could they be any healthier?

Smother them with your favorite tomato sauce and serve over pasta, or stuff them in a roll for a veggie meatball sub. They’re quite filling, so you can freeze half the batch for another meal.

9. Chipotle Sweet Potato Turkey Burgers

These gluten-free, paleo (if you skip the bun) burgers stretch a single pound of ground turkey into six portions by supplementing it with grated sweet potato. Freeze the uncooked patties for up to three months.

10. Hummus and Red Pepper Soup

Do you struggle cooking dinner during the busy work week? Why not try making this hummus and red pepper soup ahead of time?

Photo from Turnip the Oven

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true — a couple of containers of hummus can feed six people for dinner.

This vegan soup includes so many wholesome (and cheap!) ingredients, including rice, spinach and chickpeas, that a big bowl really is a complete meal. I stock up and make this whenever hummus is on sale.

11. Teriyaki Meatballs

Yes, these meatballs are made with slightly pricier organic beef, but it’s so much better for you! Justify the splurge by freezing half for a future meal.

The addictive homemade teriyaki sauce is spiked with plenty of garlic and freshly grated ginger — you’ll never pay for the bottled kind again.

12. Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili

This slow cooker black bean chili from Vegan in the Freezer is a great meal to try during your busy work week.

Photo from Vegan in the Freezer

This is the ultimate cheap, healthy, fuss-free meal. The slow cooker transforms dried beans, a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, an onion and pantry-staple spices into a hearty, smoky, fiber- and protein-rich vegan chili.

Lucy Baker blogs about vegetables (and occasionally desserts) at Turnip the Oven.

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