Who else feels totally uninspired after a long busy day? The reality is that cooking every meal from scratch is not always practical or possible. Not without a little bit of pre-planning or extra prep.
Since becoming a busy working mum of two, I have tested every new and ingenious way to make weeknight home cooking quicker and easier - combining my own tricks with some of the shortcuts I got accustomed to while living overseas.
One big difference I noticed is how most households in Australia make do with a much smaller freezer space and mostly just fill it up with random leftovers and frozen ready meals. Afterall, the frozen aisles in Australia are not the most inspiring and very limited compared to what’s available overseas.
But the current pandemic has changed all this. As Australians began stocking up their ‘pandemic pantries’ with food to get through the coronavirus lockdown and self-isolation, freezer sales soared. People desperate to store extra food and reduce reliance on frequent supermarket visits.
And since we’ve all cleared more space in our freezers, now’s the time to rethink the way to maximise it - making home cooking easier as we go back to our normal day to day lives.
Are you ready to better use your freezer and become a meal prep pro?
Here is a quick guide to get you started - from ready to re-heat meals, through to shortcuts and ready to use ingredients. Ideal for busy weeknights, lazy weekends or last-minute visitors. Your future self will thank you for it.
1. Convenience and time saving
2. Money-saving since cheaper than eating out or ordering in
3. Healthier eating, as opposed to ready meals
4. can also help reduce food waste, with batch cooking & portioning
Family-sized or individual-serve homemade meals, ready to reheat in the microwave or oven. The following options are easy to make in bigger batches and always freeze well, so an easy win:
- Casseroles – bolognese, beef Bourguignon, pulled pork, ratatouille, curry, vegetable soup, chiken soup, tagine, chili, paella
- Pastry/Crusts – quiches, pies, cakes, Mac'n'cheese Bites
These are our go-to shortcuts, flavour boosts for a quick fix on the night. We always make a new batch of the following items before we run out:
- Flavoured butter
Flavoured butter is easy to make and the absolute best. We usually make a full block at the time and slice it to freeze individual portions. It can be used to either straight in the pan for a stir fry, to stir in soups or risotto or add as a finishing touch on top of any grilled fish, meat or vegetables. Our go-to flavour combos include garlic & parsley, lime & chilli, basil & tomato, or brown sugar and cinnamon for a sweet topping on hot porridge or pancakes.
- Bechamel sauce
Bechamel sauce (or white sauce) is super versatile and great to have at hand to make scalloped potatoes, mac & Cheese, lasagne, gratins, moussaka, cheese croquettes, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Make a big batch ahead and freeze in small silicone pods (used for baby food) so you only take out of the freeze what you need.
- Pesto sauce
Homemade pesto sauce is a lot healthier than the store-bought alternative, as can be made with much less salt and oil. You can add half spinach and half basil for extra vegetables and vitamins. Pesto is not only handy for quick pesto pasta, but it also goes well in risottos and on pizzas and bakes. Again, best to freeze in small silicone pods (or snack size baggies) so you only take out of the freeze what you need.
- Fresh herbs
Sometimes you just need a handful of something, such as coriander for a carrot soup or chives for a potato salad. Did you know that herbs can be prepped and flash-frozen (aka quick-freeze or blast frozen) ready for use later? To flash freeze at home, place the chopped herbs on a baking sheet or tray. Make sure the edges of the food do not touch during the freezing process. Once frozen, place in a zip bag or air-tight container.
Tips – how to get started:
- Clear up. Eat up current frozen stock & make space. Ideally, free full shelves to keep new creations together. Get rid of what you know won’t get eaten & know what’s left.
- Plan ahead. Shortlist the meals that you want to cook & freeze before you go grocery shopping, so you can buy double the ingredients, so you can make an extra portion to freeze.
- Stack up. Buy freezer containers of same shape/sizes to stack up neatly. It will make it easier to find and also help maximise space.
- Less is more. Don’t stack it full and leave space to ensure it’s useable (20-30% free).
- Keep it organised. Date & label everything, so you know what you have and keep any store-bought items (e.g. chips, vegetables etc) in a separate tray.
- Keep it fresh. High churn is key to keep track of your stock, so don’t keep it for a rainy day – eat it up and enjoy the convenience!
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading how to spark joy in your cooking and set yourself up for quick & easy weeknight cooking.