The transition from summer to fall is always a busy one. But you can use freezable, make-ahead recipes to make it easier. Whether your kids are going back to school, you are fall marathon training, or you’re getting back to work after an extended summer vacation, your calendar is likely jam-packed this time of year. Unfortunately, with a busier than usual schedule, you have less time to prepare healthy meals for you and your family. And that means sugary cereal, takeout, and delivery pizza end up on the menu more than you’d like.
The easiest way to avoid the “What’s for dinner?” (and breakfast and lunch…) question is to plan in advance. Luckily you already have a fantastic resource in your kitchen to help you out—your freezer. With a bit of meal prep, you can freeze large-batch (or individual portion-size) meals. After a tough workout, swim, or soccer practice, you can just defrost and enjoy a homemade meal that beats greasy pizza any day.
Here are four freezer-friendly, make-ahead recipes from top nutritionists.
Matcha Green Tea Energy Muffins
Making a large batch of healthy muffins is a great idea for busy mornings—but they can mold before you eat them all. That’s why Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in New York City, stores them in her freezer. “I love to freeze a batch of these muffins,” she says. “In addition to being super tasty, each muffin is a good source of filling protein, thanks to the cottage cheese, milk, and eggs. And, you get a burst of caffeine—and energy—from the matcha. For a quick breakfast on the go, I’ll reheat a muffin and grab a banana and a hard-boiled egg.”
1-cup all-purpose flour
2/3-cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons culinary matcha powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
Dash of salt
1/2 cup one-percent fat small-curd cottage cheese
3/4-cup milk or milk alternative (example: unsweetened rice milk)
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/2-cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons olive oil
1-teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-cup cacao nibs
- Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.
- Coat non-stick muffin tray with cooking spray.
- Mix flour, matcha, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add eggs, cottage cheese, maple syrup, oil, and vanilla extract, stirring minimally. Fold in cacao nibs.
- Spoon batter into muffin tin, filling each cup about two-thirds full.
- Bake about 12-15 minutes, until cooked through.
- Cool completely before freezing in freezer-friendly bags.
* One batch makes 12 muffins.
Creamy Oats and Lentils With Sweetly Spiced Apples
Looking for a protein-packed breakfast option? Oatmeal is a hearty choice. And, paired with lentils, you’ll feel full until lunch. You can also freeze it in individual portions and heat it up in the microwave at work after you hit the gym. “This recipe takes a traditional oats recipe and pairs it with lentils for a boost of protein and an additional type of fiber,” says Jill Weisenberger, R.D.N., C.D.E., C.H.W.C., F.A.N.D., and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. “Both oats and lentils feed your gut bacteria and both are good for cholesterol-lowering and blood sugar management.”
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large apples, cut into bite-sized pieces (about four cups)
½ teaspoon cardamom
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup red lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 cup steel cut oats
1 ½ cups nonfat milk (or milk of choice)
- Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the canola oil and swirl to cover the surface. Add the diced apples. Cook until slightly softened, about three to five minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the cardamom and cinnamon and stir to mix the seasonings well.
- Add the water and the salt. Increase the heat to bring the contents to a boil. Add the lentils and oats. Stir vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-low to obtain a steady simmer. Add the milk and stir well.
- Cover and continue to simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils and oats are cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Serve with toppings of choice, such as additional diced apples, brown sugar, honey, almonds, or walnuts.
- Freeze leftovers. To reheat, add a little milk and warm on the stovetop or the microwave
Quinoa and Black Bean Bowl
For a quick lunch or nutrition-packed dinner that your entire family will love, prepare quinoa and beans in advance and store them in the freezer, recommends NYC-based Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. It will save you the trouble of boiling water when hunger strikes. “This is one of my go-to, easy freezable meals because quinoa actually freezes really well,” she says. “It retains the moisture of the grain, so it doesn’t taste dry when you heat it from frozen. Plus, this bowl is protein-packed and can be modified to include your favorite toppings.”
1 cup cooked quinoa
15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
Salt to taste
Plain Greek yogurt
- In a large container, mix the cooked quinoa with black beans. Freeze until you’re ready to eat.
- When you’re ready, defrost in the microwave for one to two minutes.
- Top with fresh toppings of your choice.
Curried Chicken and Chickpea Stew
Weisenberger says that she created this recipe for her daughter when she was too busy with graduate schoolwork to cook. “I created this for my daughter when she said she needed some new flavors and more dinners for the freezer,” she says. “This recipe has practically everything—delicious seasonings, lots of vegetables, and both chicken and chickpeas.” And, as the weather turns cooler, it can replace your summer salads and still allow you to meet your daily vegetable requirements. Cook up a double batch on the weekend and freeze the extra portions to enjoy on a chilly fall evening.
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons ginger root (either freshly grated or jarred)
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons canola oil
1¾ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
6 carrots, sliced or chopped
½ medium head green cabbage, cut in quarters, and then sliced in ¼-inch pieces
2 (14.5-ounce) cans petite diced tomatoes, no salt added, undrained
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups water
Cilantro, for topping
- Mix the onions, garlic, tomato paste, curry powder, ginger root, black pepper and canola oil in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for five minutes, stirring about halfway.
- Place the chicken, broth, and onion mixture in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently boil until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and shred with two forks.
- Return the chicken to the pot with the broth and onion mixture. Add the carrots, cabbage, canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and water. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Squeeze the lime over the hot stew and stir. Garnish each serving with freshly chopped cilantro.
- Freeze extra soup in gallon-size freezer bags or individually portioned in freezer-friendly Tupperware.
Don’t fret about making something different for every meal of the week. Next time you’re overwhelmed with obligations or simply don’t have the energy to whip up something, look to these make-ahead recipes that you can freeze and defrost in just a few minutes.