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Freezer meals for a father-in-law in mourning

Hello All,
Unexpectadly my husband lost his mother yesterday morning. Since she was the cook of the family I am quite concerned what my father-in-law will do once we all leave. I am a moderate cook and he is not the type that is thrilled by the "gourmet" meals but I was hoping you all would have some recipes that would freeze well and wouldn't require much kitchen know how for him to reheat. Thank you so very much.

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  1. Pasta-based dishes, like lasagna or baked ziti, always work well and are easy to defrost in the microwave. I do this for my housebound aunt; she particularly enjoys soups (lentil, chicken and rice, split pea) as well as simple beef or chicken curries served over rice. Rice freezes nicely; I package it separate from the main dish, then heat together.

    1. - chili
      - lasagna
      - mac and cheese
      - baked ziti
      - spinach tarts
      - enchiladas
      - soup (creamy mushroom, veggie, mushroom barley, split pea, black bean, matzoh ball....)
      - beef stew
      - brown or white rice

      1. Thank you for the great ideas. Once question when reheating some of the pasta based dishes, like mac & cheese, will he need to add liquid or?

        2 Replies
        1. re: amylynn4718

          I'm sorry for your loss. I think they mean baked mac and cheese that can go straight into the microwave or oven.

          1. re: amylynn4718

            The mac and cheese I make doesn't really need any liquid, but sometimes I add a splash of milk if I want it to be a little 'wetter'

          2. Meat loaf, franks and beans, casseroles. But leaving him with a freezer-full of prepared dishes doesn't help his long-term needs. Without knowing how far away he lives from family and supportive friends, this may or may not be pertinent..... If he is going to be living on his own and will need to prepare his own meals, perhaps you should have a discussion about what he can/will cook. Maybe you can walk him through some basic skills to get an idea what his abilities and interests are. At some point, if he isn't used to doing food shopping, someone should take him to the supermarket and show him how to select good pieces of produce, what cuts of meat are used for the dishes he likes, etc. Take notes as to what kitchen equipment is in his home. Maybe in the next few weeks you could create a notebook of recipes for him, including which pans and tools to use. If he is going to be buying a lot of prepared foods, go to the supermarket and study labels to find the best choices for his health and budget.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              Wow thank you. I hadn't thought about that. He is only in his mid 50s so those are skills he is going to need. Thank you for your advice. Unfortunately with all of the funeral duties that are going on this week I don't think I will have a chance to go over the lessons with him but we will be coming back the week after so that would be a better time. For now I will leave him enough food until I am able to come back and take the time to teach him. Thank you very much. :)

              1. re: amylynn4718

                I'm so sorry for your loss. What a terrible shock for your family. My favorites for frozen meals: lasagna, soups, meatloaf. Lasagna I usually freeze whole and unbaked, though you could bake it, cut into smaller pieces and freeze those individually. Meatloaf I also freeze uncooked. Let it thaw in the fridge and then bake. You may want to make multiple smaller portions (eg mini meatloaf or smaller containers of soup) so that if he is the only one eating he won't be eating the leftovers for a week.
                Teaching him how to shop and cook probably needs to wait. Aside from this being a busy time, I suspect between shock and grief he probably wouldn't remember anything anyway.

            2. I'm sorry to hear this--we went through something similar, although not sudden, a year ago. A couple of notes to add to others' suggestions. First, search this board, including for "pregnant" b/c many expecting mothers have started threads re: good and varied freezable meals. Second, I highly recommend freezing single or double servings individually (e.g., bags of soup, or wrap lasagna squares in foil, then bag) with clear, simple labels that include reheat instructions, so that your father in law won't feel daunted by either quantity or logistics. This also avoids using up all of your containers. Finally, you might want to include a few bags of store-bought frozen veggies (if he's likely to eat them) and/or some breakfasts and desserts for variety. Quickbreads (banana, zucchini, cranberry, etc.) freeze very well, including pre-sliced, as do cookies, brownies, etc.

              4 Replies
              1. re: sholli

                Another thing that freezes well and is good for either breakfast or dessert are stratas. Make them with cheeses, mushrooms and whatever else he likes. Sausage or other meat can go in. Cut into squares and freeze.

                1. re: karykat

                  Stratas are great for dinner too. I make one with mozarella, mushrooms, spinach, and peppers. Easy to reheat and great with a side salad or some cut up vegetables.

                  Also, if your father in law is a salad person, pick up a few bags of ready to eat lettuce blends and mix up a jar of homemade dressing.

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    I agree and your version sounds great. I said stratas are good for dessert -- but meant dinner. A great comfort food option.

                    1. re: karykat

                      I really thought you meant dessert! I've seen stratas made with fruit and cream...

              2. There are many great suggestions here!

                They only additional ideas that come to mind are:
                *Quiche, cut, packaged and frozen in individual servings. This makes a nice breakfast or is easy to grab as a brown-bag lunch.
                *Roast meats freeze well when portioned into servings. Pork, turkey both are nice either sliced for sandwiches or as a future entree. The meats plus dressing/rice, etc. a veg and a little gravy make good one-dish meals.
                *Stuffed cabbage freezes well and is very comforting.

                So sorry for your loss - your loving thoughtfulness will help him adjust a little easier.

                1. This may be harder than you think.
                  Does he have and know how to use a microwave oven?

                  Seriously. Folks, you may have no idea how un-savy some folks are when it comes to 'cooking' even when that cooking is reheating in a microwave oven.
                  I went through this with my parents...Mom was not wanting to know how to use something frozen in a bag that had to go in boiling water on the cooktop while my Father couldn't eat anything solid. She never did learn.

                  My In Laws refused to learn how to use a microwave.

                  Make sure he knows how to work a stove and an over (and about any quirky appliances in the kitchen.) Likewise how to do laundry.

                  Does your husband know any of his parents' friends who could be counted on to ease him into singlehood?
                  In grad school I ended up filling that niche for my landlady after her husband died. Just to sit and listen is the biggest need he'll have. Or he'll just want silence.

                  Play it one step at a time.

                  Much luck.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: shallots

                    He does know a few basics. She was in cancer remission so there were some tough times when she had to walk him through some simple heating tasks thankfully. Yes he has quite a few friends in the area that are stopping by but they all remind him of her so I think he will try to keep his distance. We are working on trying to get his father to move in here with him which would be great for both of them. All of us will also be rotating weekends in town as well. I just want to make sure that he doesn't end up ordering delivery every night until we are able to teach him more.

                  2. Thank you everyone.You've given me a lot of great ideas that I will be using tomorrow and Friday (probably be back with questions :)

                    1. Something else to think about...

                      When this happened to us, I didn't anticipate the fact that even with a freezer full of food, often the actual desire to eat is completely gone. We had food everywhere, everything you could ever want, yet what saved the day was a case of Ensure that someone kindly and anonymously delivered to our front porch.

                      Getting someone in mourning to open the freezer, defrost something, and heat it up is often just too much. After the devastating loss of a child, I was able to get family members to drink the Ensure when they couldn't bring themselves to actually eat anything. When I left for home, I knew that at least their basic nutritional needs would be taken care of, if nothing else.

                      1. My condolences on your family's loss!

                        The first thing that came to mind as I read through your post was a touching and generous thread on Heidi Swanson's blog 101 Cookbooks a couple of years ago. She posted "A Letter from an Unwilling Cook" -- a recent widower with virtually no kitchen experience -- and received the most wonderful outpouring of advice and links and suggestions from her readers. Hope you find it useful as you help your father-in-law through this difficult time!