Meal planning before baby arrives: Main Dishes

Easy lasagna recipe

I've been busy filling my freezer in anticipation of our new baby's arrival! :) We've been eating more fresh veggies for our meals, and the space that was previously occupied by 5-pound bags of Costco vegetables is filled with meals to lighten my load in future weeks. :)

I've already shared my breakfast menus and made-ahead mixes, so it's on to the rest: main dishes and easy meal ideas! :)

I've taken the plunge and frozen a number of fully made casseroles using the "mold technique" with my 8x8-inch glass dishes. Each dish should be one meal for our family, and I've made a variety of things in hopes that we can figure out what we do and don't like in a freezer meal! :)

Chicken lasagna recipe

For the past 4-6 weeks, I've made a double recipe of a dinner casserole a couple times a week (filling a 9x13-inch dish for dinner plus two 8x8-inch dishes for the freezer). This hasn't really been too much extra work (just extra ingredients!!). I use FoodSaver bags to seal all of my freezer food/meals since they are the BEST at preventing freezer burn and keeping food tasting its finest! :)

Three-cheese baked spaghetti recipe

Main dishes completely assembled and frozen:

Easy Lasagna (unbaked)
Burritos with beans, rice, cheese, and beef filling (individually wrapped in foil, then sealed in a freezer Ziplock; will warm in the oven)
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese (unbaked)
Three-Cheese Baked Spaghetti (unbaked)
Beef and Spinach Quiche (fully cooked; will re-warm)
Saucy Broccoli Chicken Bake (unbaked, w/rice on the bottom)
Spinach Rice Casserole (unbaked)
My Mom's Meat Loaf (unbaked)

Saucy Broccoli Chicken Bake recipe

I've also prepared meal ingredients for the freezer. Due to limited freezer space and a preference for freshly-prepared meals, having pre-cooked meat, beans, etc. in the freezer is one of my favorite ways to make cooking "from scratch" so much easier! :)

Meal ingredients in the freezer:

Pre-cooked beef with diced onions (for lasagna, crockpot pizza, stuffed shells, and baked spaghetti)

Pre-cooked beef with onions, green peppers, and taco seasonings (for taco salad, spanish rice with beans, nachos, or burritos)

Pre-cooked pinto beans with Tapatio and salt

Pre-cooked beef with onions and spinach leaves (for quiche)

Leftover diced oven-roasted chicken meat (for cheesy chicken vermicelli, chicken lasagna, chicken pot pie, farmhouse chicken, poppy seed chicken and asparagus, chicken fried rice, or saucy broccoli chicken bake)

Having the meat or beans already cooked, seasoned, and/or diced makes all of the above recipes into "quick and easy" for me! :)

Easy pizza recipe

I also have a list of just plain easy meals. When my freezer is depleted of my fully-made freezer meals, I'll turn to this list for last-minute or not-planned-the-night-before dinners!

My list of easy dinners:

Baked chicken drumsticks
Easy Tuna Noodle Casserole
Grilled burgers
Easy pizza
Beans and rice
Baked beans
Meatloaf and baked potatoes
Rice lasagna
Baked cod or salmon 
Salmon potato casserole
Grilled cheese sandwiches
Italian Cream Cheese Chicken over Pasta

Italian cream cheese chicken over pasta

I had planned to freeze some soups, homemade bagels, pre-made garlic bread, etc. but my freezer space wouldn't accommodate all that. So, I tried to stick with main dishes and main dish ingredients, and will make soups or breads as time and ability allows when the time comes. :)

I feel so blessed to have food prepared ahead in the freezer -- much more food than I had with previous childrens' births. Cooking large amounts of ground beef, making a double batch of something, or just freezing the leftovers (like leftover chicken meat from a roasted chicken!) isn't double the work, with some extra effort and only a few extra dishes to wash. :)

I also tried to only make/plan things we really love to eat! :) I'll have to update after we've tried some of the casseroles, since most of those I have not frozen before. Freezing a casserole took some bravery on my part! :)

Update: I share our opinions on the casseroles we froze that were mentioned in this post

Do any of you have tips to share regarding post-birth meal ideas, freezer meals, or easy (from-scratch) meals? I'd love to have even more ideas! :)

Comments

Hi!

This is what I do for meatloaf. I form it into meatballs instead of a loaf and bake them in muffin pans. Once cool, I set them on paper towels to soak up extra grease and then I freeze them all in a big bag.

We can grab however many we'd like for a quick meal or snack. You can put a few between two slices of bread, add some ketchup or bbq and call it a sandwich!

I know you do the "mold technique" and I do that for a few things. But I mainly freeze things flat in bags and stack them. I could fit a LOT of meals in my small freezer this way!

As you start to eat from your stash, you can throw together a gigantic pot of soup and freeze the rest using that method perhaps.

You are one organized lady!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I love the meal ideas!

I just had a little one 2 weeks ago, and I would say my best advice is to have 2 dishes thawing in the fridge at a time. I feel like I am more picky about what I want to eat when breastfeeding than when I am pregnant. Most of the dishes I have made take about 2 days to fully thaw, and if I decide I want to eat burritos instead of chicken parmesan, it's as easy as pulling out either dish and popping it in the oven.

Also, be prepared to deal with leftovers. I have been adding more sides (veggies etc) and eating less of the casseroles I prepared. That means our casserole lasts for more than dinner. In fact, if my husband doesn't like it, it will take me and the toddler several meals to eat it down. So while I keep 2 dishes thawing in the fridge, I also will not thaw any dishes in the fridge once we have leftovers from 2 meals. That way we eat the leftovers.

Sounds great! I had big plans to fill my freezer before the birth of Graham, however due to circumstances was unable to do that. However, in the past I've done something called a 'meal exchange' with some friends. Myself and three friends would each separately make two different meals. I would make enough of those two meals for each family to have a dinner out of. I think the last time I made lasagna rollups & black bean chicken chili. We would then get together and divy up the meals. It wouldn't be that much work for me, since I only made two different meals. But, i would come home with 8 different freezer ready meals. Some of the ones that froze really well were shepard's pie, lasagna's, pizza doughs, soups and other pasta dishes. It was a fun way to try new dishes and to stock up the freezer!

I am wayyyyyy past child bearing age, but have had to have numerous surgeries. Knee Replacement, Back Surgery, and a few more not so serious. Before each surgery, I spent about three weeks preparing food ahead and freezing so my husband and I could have delicious meals while I was recouping. What is wrong with people these days when they think you are a super human when you just use COMMON SENSE. Thankfully, I had parents who reared me with the concept of frugality and just good old common sense. A meal out for us is a rarity, a special occasion. We raised our daughter with the concept that cooking for those you love is a celebration. Our family time was in the kitchen together preparing a meal and it was wonderful. Now I have a 30 year old daughter who can cook anything she chooses. A rarity these days when you watch shows on TV food network such as the worst cooks in America that have 50 year old women who can't peel a carrot. I am just amazed.
Well, I ramble. I am so impressed with you my dear. You have the right idea about food and I love your blog

I have had complete success freezing both rice and noodle casseroles, soups, Italian dishes, burritos, breads and Mokenas (a homemade bun with barbeque chicken inside). I also freeze sloppy joe meat, taco meat, chili and homemade pizza crust. I found that potatoes and egg noodles both disintegrate after being frozen.

I have been using this method of making an "extra" or two since the birth of my daughter 16 years ago. When I had surgery, it was a huge benefit to have a variety of meals available to us that only needed heating in the oven.

As my responsibilities outside my home increase, I rely on premade meals about 3 days a week. I typically add a vegetable, salad and/or fruit to the meal. Knowing dinner is planned "anchors" my day. Additionally, I know that if my husband does not have leftovers available to take to work for lunch, he can grab one of the easy-to-microwave items I keep frozen for just that situation. (Burritos and Mokenas are perfect.)

One of our goals is to limit restaurant and take-out meals as much as possible. With such variety in the freezer, we are able to rely nearly entirely on homemade meals.

Here is a tip I found helpful: Blue painter's tape is very good for labling dishes. It is easy to write on and comes cleanly off the dish or freezer bag. Since we wash and reuse freezer bags (that did not contain raw meat) we appreciate not having a sticky area on the bag.

Blessings,

Sally

Do you leave the frozen food in the glass baking dish and insert the entire thing into the freezer seal bag or do you freeze the food, pop it out of the dish and then insert the food in the freezer seal bag? I've been getting large packages of 50 aluminum baking pans at Sams Club to freeze my meals in, but it does add up after a while if you do this quite a bit.
Nancy

I'm so glad you posted this. I've decide to tackle monthly goals this year instead of year-long resolutions that I'll abandon in the spring. One of my goals for February will be planning out some freezer meal for when my little one comes in a few months. You've given me lots of ideas.
Thanks!

But you will be so thankful for your freezer meals!!

I just had our 3rd child, and this past summer I did the same thing, I made freezer meals and also did lots and lots of canning.

It was so helpful to me to have all that work done and waiting on me once the baby had come!!

She's 3 weeks old now and not that we are on a perfect schedule but things are evening out a bit!!

Congrats on your upcoming arrival!!
Love your website!!
Dana
mom to 2 boys 8yrs old and 4 yrs old and to a precious baby girl 3weeks old

I am due with number three in June and our oldest, Lydia, is going to go on the heart transplant list sometime this Winter (after we go for her pre-transplant work-up, in a few weeks hopefully), We also have a 2 1/2 year old and this will be a very intense Spring/Summer for us. I am planning to have lots of meals all ready in the freezer (we were so blessed to be given a large freezer that is in our basement before our son was born) before this baby is born. I might be alone with my newborn and toddler for a while as there is no telling when our daughter gets a heart and she will need to stay in the transplant city (14 hours away) for at least six weeks in recovery (and my husband will stay with her, bless his heart!), These meal ideas might mean the difference between not managing and getting through. Our church brings meals for the first week or so, but after that I might be on my own and having a freezer full of healthy home-cooked meals will be a life saver. So thank you again! I've been following your blog for a little while and have enjoyed a lot of your tips, tricks and recipes. :)

Linda in Canada

Wow, Linda, I can't imagine having a child who needs a transplant. I'm not sure if you've hooked up with other heart moms, but I have a friend in Arizona whose daughter is awaiting a heart transplant. Sometimes it's nice to connect with others who get it. http://listeningthruthenoise.blogspot.com/

Yes, I'm for sure going to check that out. We are hoping to get in contact with some families through our heart center, but I'd love to talk to anyone in our situation. Thanks again! :)

I am so excited that you are posting these recipes. I am due in August-I know, a long time from now- I like to plan ahead and I love seeing the meals you are freezing because it is giving me some great ideas for meals that I can freeze ahead of time. Thank you so much for sharing!

I have a weekly card playing group. Each week we bring a dessert. I usually bring pie. I'd like to make some easy cakes like the ones at this website but one of the guys is allergic to corn which is in baking powder. He also can't eat oats. Any way to get around the baking powder thing?

If you look you can find baking powder without corn at health food stores or online. Or you can make your own using baking soda and cream of tartar (1 part baking soda to 2 parts cream of tartar).

you could use baking soda, but usually that is in conjunction with buttermilk or yogurt as your liquid ingredient. also a sponge cake or angel food cake uses eggs as their leavening.

One easy one I do is enchiladas, but not really. Instead of rolling them, I put some sauce (you can get cheap canned sauce or make your own) in the bottom of the pan, layer on some corn tortillas layed flat, then some meat or cheese or beans or whatever you want, then sauce, then tortillas, your filling, sauce, topping with tortillas, sauce, and cheese. Then bake until heated through.

A big pot of beans cooked on the stove can go a long way (or in the crock pot) when served with cornbread. For that you can make your own mix to make it easier to make the cornbread.

And when all else fails, breakfast for dinner is almost always easy!

I really like making and freezing meatballs because they can just be popped into a slow cooker with some sauce (which can be from the freezer as well) if you want to prepare dinner ahead of time, or they can be quickly reheated on the stove. I make my favorite meatball recipe when ground beef or ground turkey is on sale and bake them ahead of time. Then I flash freeze them and divide them into meal-sized portions. Also, if you have some frozen chicken stock and frozen mixed veggies and pasta or rice in the pantry that makes a really quick and easy soup. These meals require a few extra steps than some of the meals you have listed, but I still appreciate the convenience of making a quick meal with just 2 or 3 ingredients. :-)

Tammy,
which model food saver do you have?
I'd like to get one, but i need one that would do the biggest quantities possible.
(feeding 8 here;)
-Donna-

We have the FoodSaver Vac 750. It's an older model (we bought it new 9 years ago) but still works wonderfully. I like the bags that come in rolls and you can make whatever size bag you need... make a slightly longer bag and it would hold a 9x13-inch frozen casserole! :)

Thank you Tammy!
Congrats again on that beautiful baby boy!

Best wishes for the new addition to your family.
Love your blog...the only annoying aspect is the inane amount of smileys. I know you must be smiling a lot, but still, you don't have to add a smiley at the end of every paragraph, or sentence!

Did you seriously just chastise this blogger for her use of smilies? And you called her inane? Here's a thought. Go somewhere else.

Love this entry! Was looking for easy dishes I can freeze for a night I don't feel like cooking. This is perfect. And your son is beautiful!

How do you get the mold to be the 9x13? I guess I'm asking how do you get the 9x13, such as lasagna, to stay as a 9x13 shape and not a big pile of mush? Thanks!
-Kim

Hi Kim! :)

I freeze the casserole IN the 9x13 dish (lined with wax paper to allow it to be removed after it is frozen). I take the frozen food out of the dish and wrap or seal it and return it to the freezer, so that my dish can be used while the food is frozen. When ready to prepare the frozen meal, I unwrap and place it back in the 9x13 to thaw or cook! :)

Don't forget to buy all of those wonderfully healthy and CHEAP veggies during the summer. It not only saves money during the winter, but hot.. sweet..corn on the cob is a real treat in December on the Christmas dinner table! I have a Black and Decker food sealer. I buy the bags and bag rolls for 3.99 any size. I like to freeze leftovers in single meal portions. The children and husband can then choose what they would like to take for lunch. Saves lots of $$$ each year! I also buy chocolate, coconut, and baking goods in bulk and on clearence after the holidays. Once sealed and frozen, it lasts for several years.

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