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Freezer meals: 12 hero dishes and recipes

Navigating cooking for the first time away from home isn’t always easy for university students. Freezing meals can be a great way for them to stick to a budget and minimise food waste - and make you feel better about what they’re eating too.

By Anna Cook | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

Teenagers cooking in the kitchen

If your teen is off to university or moving out of home for the first time, then learning how to cook easy, delicious and healthy meals that they can also freeze is as important a life skill as anything they’ll learn from lectures or their new job.

There will always be something tasty and quick to heat up in the freezer - ideal if they are in non-catered halls or shared houses and have a freezer in their digs. 

Here are 12 freezer recipes to help students (and parents) get the most out of their food shops - as recommended by Mumsnet users.

Healthy freezer meals

Pan of sauce cooking

Freezer meals, once synonymous with junk food, are now associated with fresh and healthy food, thanks to the freezing process that helps vegetables to preserve their nutrients. If your child only has a small freezer at university, buying individually packed frozen veg can help them manage their portion sizes and stave off the sluggishness associated with some uni diets.  

It’s also a great way to prevent food waste as fruit and veg lasts substantially longer than fresh produce in the fridge. If they’ve got plenty of room in the freezer, batch cooking the following recipes will mean they’ll always have something healthy and tasty to eat no matter what the time of day.

1. Chicken curry

By CraftyLibrarian

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Serves: 3

Ingredients

  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 bowl of chicken, cooked and shredded
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 200g red lentils
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic chopped (or save the fuss of chopping with pre-chopped frozen garlic)
  • 2 tsp ground garam masala
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger peeled and grated
  • 1 ground spice mix of your choice (note: you will not use all of this - save it for later)
  • 1 pinch chilli powder

Method

  1. Fry the onion and sweet potato in a large saucepan until they are starting to soften.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a couple more minutes.
  3. Stir in the spice mix (use about 1 tbsp of the mix in total) and cook for a minute to allow the spices to absorb a little oil and start to cook.
  4. Add the lentils, chicken and tomatoes and cover with boiling water.
  5. Put a lid on and boil for 20-30 minutes, until the sweet potato and lentils are soft and the sauce has reduced to a nice gravy. Test for seasoning.
  6. Serve with naan bread or rice.

Additional Information

  • Make-ahead
  • Can freeze
  • Nut-free
  • Egg-free

2. Tasty salmon, rice and peas

By picklelala

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp smooth peanut butter (or crunchy)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce low salt
  • 2 large boneless salmon fillets
  • 1 tbsp mild sweet chilli sauce
  • 175g rice (easy cook is best)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 450g frozen peas
  • 1 small onion (avoid the tears with frozen diced onions)

Method

  1. Add the rice and frozen peas to a pan of boiling water.
  2. Mix together the soy sauce, chilli sauce and peanut butter for the 'yummy sauce' in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Slice and fry the garlic and onions together in a frying pan.
  4. Add the salmon fillets and a little sesame oil to the pan. Roughly flake the fillets with a fork for 5 minutes until the salmon is nearly cooked.
  5. Add the egg to the salmon and scramble for one minute.
  6. Add the 'yummy sauce' to the salmon and heat through.
  7. When the rice and peas mix is cooked through, and the salmon is cooked, add the rice and peas the salmon 'yummy sauce' and mix through.
  8. Then serve up and enjoy!

Handy Hint: "Add 1-2 tsp of sesame or olive oil to the pan of boiling water before adding the rice. This will help stop the rice from sticking to the saucepan and make it easier to wash up."

Additional Information

  • Make-ahead
  • Can freeze

3. Chicken casserole

By F0zzie

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon sliced
  • 2 large carrot, peeled and cut into thick batons
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 910g skinless and boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks
  • 4-5 sprigs of tarragon, chopped
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 spray fry light
  • 710ml stock made with chicken bovril
  • 1 tbsp chicken bovril (from concentrate)
  • 200g Greek yoghurt, halved

Method

  1. Spray a large non-stick casserole dish with cooking oil. Place over a high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned on all sides.
  2. Add the onions, carrots, garlic bulb, stock and Bovril concentrate. Season well and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover tightly with the lid and cook gently for 25 minutes.
  3. Add the green beans and lemon slices to the casserole. Cook for 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the garlic bulb. Serve sprinkled with tarragon.

Handy Hint: “Reduce the quantity of stock if using a slow cooker as little will evaporate. Alternatively, before serving, take a quantity out and heat in a separate pan with some cornflour (1 syn per level tsp) to thicken before mixing back into the main dish.”

Additional Information

  • Main Course
  • Autumn/winter
  • Low fat
  • Can Freeze

Vegetarian freezer meals

Vegetarian mince chilli con carne

Vegetarian meals can be so tasty that you don’t need to be committed to a meat-free diet to enjoy them. You only have to walk into any supermarket now to see the impressive veggie offerings available, including plant-based alternatives on products such as mince, burgers and sausages to name a few. 

Veggie meals are also often cheaper and easier to prepare than their meat equivalents so easier to make - ideal for time-poor students. What’s more, veggie meals are also really easy to freeze as you don’t have to worry about meat spoiling. 

4. Chickpea and spinach chowder

By Cies

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 1 bag spinach (frozen spinach will keep fresh if they’re cooking for one)
  • 1 pint stock (or water)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 bay leaves
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 400g chickpeas cooked
  • 2 medium potatoes

Method

  1. Dice the carrot and potato.
  2. Put the stock on to boil with the carrot, potato, chickpeas and bay leaf. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked.
  3. Meanwhile, dice the onion. Heat some oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion until it is soft. Take it off the heat and stir in the paprika.
  4. When the potatoes and carrots are cooked, remove the bay leaf and add the spinach.
  5. Let it simmer for a minute, then add the fried onion.
  6. Check the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.

Handy Hint: “You can vary the vegetables according to what you have around the house. Also, make it more or less liquid by adding more or less stock.”

Additional Information

  • Make-ahead
  • Can freeze
  • Vegetarian

5. Chilli non-carne

By LemonTart

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 3 tsp vegetable stock (bouillon powder or liquid stock)
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 handful cheese grated (or vegan cheese if you prefer)
  • 4 handfuls rice
  • 1 tin baked beans
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 300g Quorn or vegetarian mince
  • 1 tbsp your favourite chilli sauce (or 1 tbsp chilli flakes)

Method

  1. Boil the kettle ready for the rice.
  2. In a large pan, make the chilli.
  3. Simply combine Quorn mince with the 3 cans, stock and chilli sauce.
  4. Add a little water if it looks a little dry.
  5. Bring up to a boil and lower to a simmer. Stir occasionally.
  6. Cook for 10 mins. Add salt and pepper if needed.
  7. While the chilli is simmering, add rice to the boiling water and cook as directed on the packet - the Mumsnetter behind this recipe recommends Thai Jasmine.
  8. Serve with a little grated cheese on the top if you like.

Handy Hint: “The baked beans sweeten the sauce just enough to temper the heat of the chilli. Current favourite combination is Mulato chilli flakes for the depth, chipotle for the smoky middle flavour and Piquin and Piri Piri flakes for the bite. About a small handful in total - but I like a hot chilli.”

Additional Information

  • Can freeze
  • Make-ahead
  • Low fat
  • Vegetarian
  • Nut-free
  • Egg-free

6. Spinach and olive pasta bake

By NKd1167310667456

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion
  • 200g cheddar grated
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bag baby leaf spinach
  • 400g pasta (rigatoni or penne is best)
  • 300g cottage cheese
  • 1 sprig fresh basil
  • 1 handful black olives sliced
  • 1 handful mushrooms sliced

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C or equivalent.
  2. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and drain.
  3. Fry the onion and mushrooms until soft.
  4. Cook the spinach - baby leaf spinach often comes in a microwaveable bag.
  5. Mix all the ingredients together with about two-thirds of the cheddar.
  6. Put into a deep ovenproof dish and sprinkle remaining grated cheese on the top.
  7. Put in the oven for about half an hour or until the top is getting crispy.

Handy Hint: “Make sure you have a nice big ovenproof dish!”

Additional Information

  • Make-ahead
  • Can freeze
  • Vegetarian
  • Nut-free

Quick freezer meals

Pizza takeaway

7. Sticky Chicken Noodles

By Mumsnet user

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breast
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 handful coriander
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 nest of egg noodles

Method

  1. Chop the carrots into thin batons.
  2. Chop the chicken into bite-sized chunks.
  3. Cook the noodles according to directions and set them aside.
  4. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok and then add the chicken, fry until lightly browned.
  5. Put sesame seeds in a frying pan and cook until browned, then stir in.
  6. Add the carrots and cook for a few more minutes. Combine the juice of a lime and the honey, add to the wok.
  7. Add the cooked noodles and stir in.
  8. Check the chicken is cooked through.
  9. Sprinkle chopped coriander over the dish to serve.

Additional Information

  • Egg-free
  • Dairy-free
  • Low fat
  • Can freeze

8. Spicy Beanburgers

By gladbag

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1 pinch chilli
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 slice wholemeal bread made into breadcrumbs in the food processor (or you can use ready-made breadcrumbs)
  • 1 pinch cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp red pesto
  • 1 tin cannellini beans

Method

  1. In a frying pan, heat a little oil to soften the onion and garlic.
  2. In a bowl, use a masher to mash the beans, then add egg, breadcrumbs, pesto/chutney and spices and mix well.
  3. Add the bean mixture to the onions in the frying pan. Mix well and heat through for a couple of minutes.
  4. Scoop it all back into a bowl and allow it to cool for a few minutes, then roll satsuma sized portions into a ball, put back in the frying pan with a little more oil, flatten out with a spatula into a burger shape, and cook through, turning as needed.
  5. Serve with granary rolls and salad (maybe with a little hummus or avocado). 

Additional Information

  • Can freeze
  • Make-ahead
  • Low fat
  • Vegetarian
  • Dairy-free

9. Fast and Easy Pizza

By tatt

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 0.5 tsp salt level
  • 55g cheese grated
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 handful toppings (of your choice, optional)

Method

  1. Mix together the flour, salt and one tablespoon of oil.
  2. Add enough water to make a fairly stiff but pliable dough.
  3. Knead until smooth, then roll out to an 18cm or 7-inch circle.
  4. Fry on one side in the remaining oil until golden brown.
  5. Turn the dough over and cover with the chosen toppings. Cook as required.

Additional Information

  • Can freeze
  • Vegetarian (depending on toppings)
  • Nut-free (depending on toppings)
  • Egg-free

Comfort freezer meals

Pasta cooking on the hob

For students away from home, especially for the first time, having comfort food can be just that… comforting. Whether it’s a filling creamy pasta or a tasty bacon quiche, the taste of home could help stop their homesickness pangs. And the freezable brownie is the perfect treat.

10. Pasta Delight

By kathcake

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 500ml milk
  • 100g frozen petit pois
  • 50g margarine or butter
  • 12 cannelloni tubes
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50g mature cheddar cheese finely grated
  • 1 pinch sweet paprika (a big pinch)
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan grated
  • 1 tin tuna drained and flaked

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and grease a shallow ovenproof dish.
  2. Make the filling. Melt the margarine in a saucepan, sprinkle in the flour and stir over low heat for 1-2 minutes until straw-coloured. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in 300ml (1/2 pint) of the milk. Return to the heat and simmer, stirring, until thick and smooth. Remove from the heat.
  3. Spoon half the sauce into a bowl, then fold in the tuna and peas with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. With a small teaspoon or a forcing bag fitted with a large plain nozzle, fill the cannelloni with the filling mixture, pushing it well into the tubes with your little finger.
  5. Over low heat, gradually stir the remaining milk into the reserved sauce in the pan. Whisk vigorously until smooth, then add the tomato puree, sweet paprika and salt and pepper to taste, then simmer for a few minutes until thickened.
  6. Cover the bottom of the prepared dish with a little of the hot sauce, then arrange the cannelloni on top, separating each one with a little sauce. Cover with the remaining sauce. Mix the cheeses together, then sprinkle over the top.
  7. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling at the edges and the cannelloni are cooked through. Serve hot, straight from the dish.

Additional Information

  • Can freeze

11. Bacon Quiche

By keka

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 block cheese
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 block ready-made pastry

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  2. Roll the pastry out, line a quiche dish with it and cook partially for about 10 minutes.
  3. Cook the bacon and let it cool.
  4. Grate cheese and put in a mixing bowl, along with a chopped onion and cut cooked bacon.
  5. Add the eggs and stir well, add a little seasoning. Add a little milk and stir again.
  6. Pour the mixture over the partly cooked pastry.
  7. Put in the oven until the top starts to brown slightly and the centre feels firm to touch.

Additional Information

  • Make-ahead
  • Can freeze
  • Nut-free

12. Best Ever Chocolate Brownie

By vbacqueen1

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 20

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 400g dark chocolate 70% cocoa
  • 6 eggs
  • 400g butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 100g hazelnuts chopped, optional
  • 100g white chocolate or milk, chopped

Method

  1. Set your oven to 180°C (fan) and line a large roasting tin with parchment paper, to come well up the sides.
  2. Melt the butter and dark chocolate together. Then simply add all the other ingredients apart from the chopped chocolate (and nuts if you're using them) and mix well to combine.
  3. Pour into the tin, then scatter the chocolate and nuts evenly over the surface, poking them down a little to stop them from burning.
  4. Put into the oven and check after exactly 25 minutes. By this time, the surface of the brownies should have dried out and started to crack but inside should still be very soft and gooey. If you're not using a fan oven it may take another 15 minutes or so to get to this stage, so check every five minutes. Once you've made these, make a note of the time they took and you'll know for next time how long they need.
  5. Leave chocolate brownies to go completely cold in the tin before cutting into squares of the desired size.

Handy Hint: “These are great for school fairs or parties. Be careful not to overcook them! They have to be squidgy in the middle otherwise they're not chocolate brownies, just dried out chocolate cake.”

Additional Information

  • Can freeze
  • Make-ahead
  • Vegetarian

What are good meals to freeze? 

Lots of meals are good to freeze - including meals with pasta like pesto or chicken pasta bakes. Dishes with rice like chilli con carne or vegetarian equivalents are also ideal for the freezer. Items that don’t freeze well include fried foods as they become soggy, mayonnaise-based dishes or anything with sour cream or cream-based sauces. 

Meals with meat like chicken may need to be fully thawed before they are recooked. Some dishes can be reheated in a microwave, others in an oven or a pan. 

What meals can I make ahead and freeze?

There are hundreds of meals that you can make ahead of time and freeze, and Mumsnet has over 700 recipes here.

These include:

As well as main courses, desserts include:

As well as dishes suitable for students like filling pasta bakes, noodle dishes, curries and even pizza (see above), there are dishes for when your baby just starts weaning, at around six months, like sweet potato surprise.

Mumsnetters' tips on freezing food

“Personally I like having batch cooked meals in the freezer as I know it’s a complete meal for my family. In stock at the moment are sausage casseroles, chicken pies, lasagne, fajitas etc.” Satwatchinganotherswimlesson 

“I write everything that is in the freezer on the lid with a whiteboard pen.” - SavoyCabbage

“I’ve started freezing things I’d have thrown away as they were past their best i.e. fresh chillis and ginger, which you can grate straight into dishes from frozen. I’ve also had a carrier bag full of lemons given to me which you can also halve and freeze.” - ThroughThickAndThin01 

“Make sure you label all the boxes and tubs of homemade stuff… otherwise you get soup out for a work lunch, along with a couple of rolls and then once it is defrosted you find you have something else, onion gravy and toasty muffins.” - TondelayaDellaVentamiglia

“You can freeze sauces and gravies in ice cube trays, so you can use the amount you need, and defrost quicker. Once frozen, you can tip out of the tray into a bag with minimum airspace. Small tubs freeze (and defrost) quicker than big ones. Square ones pack easier than round. And use cling film or baking parchment to divide sliced stuff like ham or bacon, or you will have to defrost the whole lump.” - PigletJohn