Whether I’m feeding the kids before the sitter comes for date night or because I’ve had a doozy of a day, I throw together a 15-minute meal scratched together from pantry and freezer ingredients at least once a week. Frozen leftovers like chili, stew, and meat sauce for pasta make for the best of these nights, but the rest of the times these 5 kid-friendly meals that I can make straight from the freezer do the job.

The great thing about these dinners is that they’re made entirely from non-perishable ingredients, but are still well-rounded with a carb, protein, and veggies. And a meal that the kids like that also has veggies is more than good enough on the nights when I need these dinners to save me. Even when they occur more than once a week.

Top:  Homemade Dumplings | Food52

Related: The best stir fry recipes for kids — and parents, too.

 

Dumplings and Edamame

When you need a quick dinner, frozen dumplings and edamame to the rescue. Here's how to cook them straight from the freezer. | Cool Mom Eats

You will never find my freezer without a box of frozen dumplings and edamame. No quick meal makes my kids happier than this one, even when I throw in half an avocado or carrot sticks, which I do often. Also, frozen dumplings make a great school lunch if you can spend an extra 10 minutes making them while the kids eat cereal in the morning.

While some say that cooking frozen dumplings straight from the freezer is not ideal, I’ve never had a problem—but you need to be able to pull the dumplings apart so that you can place them in the pan individually. Worst case scenario: You’ll have to let them sit on the counter for 5 or 10 minutes to thaw enough to do that. Then, heat a pan with just enough oil to coat the bottom (sesame or a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola) until it sizzles when a drop of water is added. Place the dumplings in a single layer and, once the bottoms are golden brown, flip them, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan, and cover to steam the dumplings until heated through, 6-10 minutes, depending on how big they are.

While the dumplings cook, steam frozen edamame according to package directions and, if you want, halve an avocado or cut carrot and pepper sticks. You can also make a dipping sauce: The easiest is equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar with a dash of sesame oil and, if you have some, a touch of chili garlic sauce.

One last thing: Making dumplings is a super fun kitchen project to do with the kids. If you prefer not to buy store-bought, check out this great tutorial on how to make dumplings without a recipe at Food52 (top), complete with directions on how to freeze them.

Stock your pantry and freezer with:
* Frozen dumplings
* Frozen edamame, shelled or unshelled
* Sesame oil, but any neutral oil will do
* Soy sauce
* Rice vinegar
* Chili garlic sauce (optional)
* Avocado, bell pepper, carrots, and/or cucumber (optional, great if you happen to have on hand)

 

Ravioli with Buttered Peas

How to turn frozen and pantry ingredients into this easy and tasty Ravioli and Peas dinner | Real Simple

Ravioli with Peas and Shallots | Real Simple

Just like dumplings, it’s fairly easy to find all-natural ravioli at the market—or, even better, at a local Italian specialty shop—to store in your freezer for when you need a superfast, kid-friendly meal. Boil water, dump them in and, as soon as you see the first ravioli float to the surface, add frozen peas. Continue cooking until all the ravioli float, drain, slather in butter, and serve. If you have the ingredients, throw together a side salad, too.

If you want to get fancy and turn your butter into a silky, restaurant-style sauce with hardly any effort, I’ve got a trick for you: Before you drain the ravioli and peas, grab a mug and carefully scoop out about a cup of the pasta cooking water. Then drain the pasta and peas and return the empty pot to the stovetop over medium heat. Add the butter—don’t skimp—and a big splash of the cooking water. The starch in the water will thicken the melted butter and help it better adhere to the pasta. Once the butter has melted completely and thickened a bit, return the ravioli and peas to the pan and toss to coat well. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

If you really want to get fancy—and you have a lemon and shallots around (I always do; these are great pantry staples)—you can even throw together this Ravioli with Peas and Shallots at Real Simple (pictured). You’ll have to slice two shallots and zest a lemon but, if you do this while the pasta cooks, it won’t take any extra overall time.

Stock your pantry and freezer with:
* All-natural ravioli (we love Three Bridges, which you can find in the refrigerator section and then pop in the freezer at home)
* Frozen peas
* Butter
* Shallots (optional)
* Lemon (optional)
* Ingredients to make a quick salad (optional, great if you happen to have on hand)

 

Shrimp with Indian-Style Spinach and Chickpeas

How to turn frozen shrimp + frozen spinach into this healthy kid-friendly dinner that comes together lightening fast | Cool Mom Eats

It’s no secret that I think frozen shrimp is an essential family kitchen staple. How can a good-for-you protein that goes from freezer to plate in minutes not be? If you buy frozen shrimp that’s pre-cooked, you can literally eat it as soon as it thaws (provided, of course, that you’ve carefully followed the package directions for thawing it properly). If you buy frozen shrimp that isn’t cooked, you can simply rinse it under water for a few minutes to thaw it enough to go straight into a hot pan where it will cook in minutes.

If your kids will eat it, shrimp is genius. If they don’t, I’d seriously consider going on a campaign to see if you can get them to accept it. It’s that worthwhile.

There are so many easy, quick shrimp dinner recipes that you can make with frozen shrimp, but my favorite is the Spiced Shrimp at Dinner a Love Story paired with Indian-Style Spinach with Chickpeas from my own site, One Hungry Mama (pictured). Not only do the dishes taste great together, but both come together in barely any time and are made from entirely pantry and freezer ingredients.

Plus, spinach that my kids will eat made from a box of frozen spinach that keeps forever. Love it.

Stock your pantry and freezer with:
* Frozen shrimp
* Butter
* Ground, dry spices (see each recipe)
* Cilantro (optional)
* Lime (optional)
* Frozen spinach
* Broth (any kind)
* Fresh ginger (you can substitute ground in a pinch or skip)
* Fresh garlic
* Canned chickpeas

Related: How to cook with frozen shrimp, the ultimate time-saving protein, plus 8 kid-friendly, super-fast shrimp dinner recipes.

 

Vegetable Fried Rice

How to freeze cooked rice and then make this 10-Minute Vegetable Fried Rice for a quick, kid-friendly dinner | Pinch of Yum

10-Minute Veggie Fried Rice | Pinch of Yum

I recently discovered that Whole Foods makes an all-natural frozen fried rice that has nothing in it that I wouldn’t use to make fried rice myself. I admit, though, that you pay a premium for this level of convenience, which is why I keep my stash for desperate circumstances. The rest of the time, I make fried rice from leftover rice that I’ve frozen plus a bag of frozen vegetables, because it’s nearly as easy.

Did you know that cooked rice freezes beautifully? It’s one of my favorite tricks. In fact, I often cook extra rice on purpose so that I can make sure my freezer is always stocked with a carb that I can defrost and serve. Our friends at The Kitchn have a tutorial on how to freeze cooked brown rice, with directions on defrosting it, too. The same instructions apply to white rice, as well.

With frozen (or any leftover) rice, frozen veggies, and eggs on hand, fried rice is never far away. And if you keep some fresh ginger and garlic around, too, delicious fried rice is never far away. There are so many versions, but this 10-Minute Veggie Fried Rice at Pinch of Yum (pictured) is a current favorite. And veggies + rice = a complete meal, so in 10 minutes you’re really done.

Stock your pantry and freezer with:
* Frozen cooked rice
* Frozen vegetables
* Eggs
* Sesame oil, but any neutral oil will do
* Soy Sauce
* Rice vinegar
* Fresh ginger (optional)
* Fresh garlic (optional, but worth it)
* Fresh herbs such as chives or basil (optional)

 

Skillet Pasta with Sausage and Veggies

Always keep some pasta and pre-cooked sausage on hand to throw together this one-pot Skillet Pasta with Sausage and Vegetables | Taste and Tell

Skillet Pasta with Sausage and Veggies | Taste and Tell

Pre-cooked sausage is a lifesaver, too. It can last in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and even longer in the freezer. Then all you have to do it heat it up; it cooks quickly in a pan or totally hands-off in the oven. Either way, you’ve got a protein with big flavor with hardly any work.

When I have a little time—about 30-40 minutes—but need to be using that time to get myself ready for date night or (let’s be real) to finish that last bit of work, I’ll throw sausage in a baking dish with a pint of cherry tomatoes, douse the whole thing with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. The whole thing roasts in the oven while I do my thing, and tastes great with a side of rice, orzo, or crusty bread. (A sprinkle of Parmesan is yummy, too.)

If that’s too rustic—and maybe not enough veggies for you to feel like it counts as a complete meal—try this Skillet Pasta with Sausage and Veggies at Taste and Tell (pictured). Though a little more hands on (just a little), this one pot-meal comes together lightening fast with frozen veggies. So smart. So easy.

Stock your pantry and freezer with:
* Packaged pre-cooked sausage
* Olive oil
* Pasta
* Fresh onion
* Frozen vegetables
* Broth
* Milk
* Grated Parmesan (optional, but worth it)
* Fresh parsley (optional)

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