If your schedule doesn't allow for nightly meal prep, make and freeze dinner ahead. Does that sound like a plan?

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Credit: Anna Williams

Your schedule means that you can't cook every weeknight—but you can't do takeout all the time. You'd like to feed your crew in a matter of minutes, but you'd also like small serving options, so the noncooks in the house can fix dinner for themselves when you're not home. How can you pull this off? Invest a few hours in cooking one afternoon on the weekend, and enjoy the payoff over multiple meals. Hearty soups, stews, and casseroles are all generally freezer-friendly and having them stashed there is the home cooks equivalent of having money in the bank.

How to Make It Work for Everyone

These tips will help you make those meals you cook ahead work for you and the rest of the family. First, when you cook a family favorite like shepherd's pie or bake a lasagna, make two if you have the time. It's not twice the work to make two at one time and then you can pop the second one in the freezer for a rainy day. You can also divide soups and stews into smaller portions instead of freezing a big batch. Measure out amounts for one, two, or four servings—whatever works best for your household.

To fill a resealable freezer bag neatly, place the bag in a bowl or glass, cuffing the top over the edge of the vessel, then ladle in the cooled soup or stew. Don't overfill—it makes the bag too bulky. Then, do your best to keep your freezer organized: Label the container with the food name and the date frozen—and don't forget to add cooking instructions as necessary. Permanent markers are great for labeling bags and foil; freezer tape is better for reusable containers. To save space, lay bags flat in the freezer until they're frozen. Then you can stack or stand them on end to store them.

And remember: Fresh herbs—like basil—don't freeze well, so add them just before serving dinner.

Late-Summer Vegetable Minestrone

Tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, Swiss chard, and other late-summer and fall vegetables make a substantial, vibrant minestrone that will brighten chilly evenings.

Freezer Burritos

Perhaps the ultimate meal for the family who doesn't always eat at the same time. Use leftover meat or cook chicken, pork or beef to make the burritos, and use your favorite canned beans. Store the burritos in the freezer and one or more can be heated up in the microwave or oven when needed.

Classic Beef Stew

The kind of meal everyone wants to come home to. Bowls of this satisfying beef stew can be dinner with some crusty bread. (Just remember to get the stew out of the freezer to defrost in the refrigerator the night before you want to serve it then you won't need to spend time defrosting it in the microwave.)

And be sure to add our other Freezer-Friendly Meals to your repertoire, too.

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