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Looking for easy make-and-freeze meals an 11-year old would be proud of and enjoy

My kid friend wants to make dinner for his family once a week but is busy with school and sports and being a kid. Not to mention he doesn't have much cooking experience.

Last time I visited we made lentil chili (which was well received and will be repeated). I'm about to visit again and I'm trying to figure out what we can make ahead to freeze so all he (or someone) has to do is pop it in the oven and maybe make a salad or some other fresh veg. Reheating something on the stove is ok too but something that can go into the oven and needs little to no tending is far preferable.

Constraints: no cow dairy (goat ok), little (preferably no processed foods), no microwave.

I'm trying to think of base dishes I can show him, but am coming up pretty empty. Maybe this is because I'm mostly a peasant cook or mostly it's because I lack imagination or maybe it's actually a difficult challenge. Either way, I would LOVE your help.

Thanks! And if there are things I should have mentioned already, just ask them--I'll happily tell you whatever I can to help you help.

Thanks again!

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  1. Goat cheese pizza

    Pot roast

    Chicken pot pie

    7 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      thanks, they've got a great local pizza place that does take and bake pizzas, so that's not something he needs.

      Does pot roast reheat well? My ex loved pot roast and I (finally) figured out how to make it, but am totally clueless on how you'd freeze then reheat it.

      Chicken pot pie is genius! I can teach him crust and we can make a variety of c.p.pies to freeze and then bake on "his" night.

      eta: I was vegetarian during my formative cooking years so if you're suggesting something meat-centric please point me to remedial help. Thanks!

      1. re: miss louella

        You can easily freeze pot roast in individual tupperware containers.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Ok, so you slice it up and cover it with juice before you freeze? (Sorry to be so remedial.)

        2. re: miss louella

          Also, think about hand pies or empanadas. You can do many different fillings - curry chicken, picadillo, potato, carrot and pea, etc.

          1. re: Dcfoodblog

            If we get to dough on this trip I will definitely be walking down the hand pie/empanada path!

          2. re: miss louella

            Brisket also freezes and reheats beautifully. Same theory as the pot roast. I've frozen brisket, lasagna, and eggplant parm in single serve containers and brought them to my father when he was in the hospital. They reheat "just as good as new."

        3. Chili - can reheat in an oven as easily as on stop stop, just takes longer

          Soups - any soup can be frozen and again reheated in oven instead of stovetop, just takes longer - e.g. White bean soup - learn how to cook dried beans, make stock, etc

          Any braised meat (Pot Roast as suggested - carnitas for Mexican - etc) freeze well and can be reheated in an oven with their liquid in, essentially, the same way they were braised.

          Along those lines, just about anything that you do in a slow cooker can easily be reheated the same way (in a slow cooker or in an oven). I might search on here for slow cooker recipes and go from there for many more ideas (right now everything I can think of in the "freeze ahead" for just in case meals seem to have dairy in it . . . )

          2 Replies
          1. re: thimes

            So clever! I make stock in the oven all the time--don't know why it didn't occur to me to warm liquidy things up in there. (slaps forehead)

            I will do as you suggest on the slow cooker search though I personally haven't found any recipes that wow me. (Will also need to check to see if they have one.)

            1. re: miss louella

              A slow cooker is really the same as a low oven. So any slow cooker recipe can be done in a sturdy covered pot in the oven. The equivalent is about 300 degrees or 325 depending on how long it is cooking.

              A quick online search will give you some time guidelines for converting from slow cooker to oven. Cooking in the oven will take much less time.

          2. Have you asked him what type of things he would like to eat or learn how to prepare?

            1 Reply
            1. re: scoopG

              I definitely will when I get there, but I'm trying to get some ideas/recipes beforehand. I've found many people can answer a multiple choice question easier than an open ended one.

            2. I think a basic shrimp creole would be great. It does not take too long to prepare, is easily frozen in a disposable pie pan covered with foil, reheats in the oven and tastes and looks fantastic.

              Pot pies might work.well, especially with puff pastry crust, if you don't want to make one.

              3 Replies
              1. re: travelerjjm

                Shrimp creole, what a great idea! Would you reheat at a super low temp to keep the shrimp from getting real tough?

                1. re: miss louella

                  Yes. Covered and at a low temp. I freeze it rice and all but you could do it without the rice. I have done jambalaya (without rice) in a shrink-wrap boil bag (like Foodsaver) and that worked and the shrimp didn't get tough at all, if that is a good way for you. Then I made separate rice. I have a rice cooker (I got it for like $15 25 years ago) so it is dead simple.

                  1. re: travelerjjm

                    Yum, I love this idea!! If he doesn't bite on it, I'll do it for my own freezer!

              2. Mac and cheese.
                Baked franks and beans. Use Bush, Campbell's, or another brand of tomato-based baked beans.
                Doctor them up with onion sauteed in bite-sized slices of bacon, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar.
                Slice franks into bite-sized pieces and mix into beans, bake in a casserole till bubbly. Variations:
                nestle whole franks down into the beans, or switch the bacon to whole uncooked strips laid across the top of the beans and sprinkled with brown sugar before baking. This can be reheated in the oven, covered with foil.

                Tuna-noodle casserole.

                7 Replies
                1. re: greygarious

                  Would Mac N Cheese be good with goat cheese since OP says cow dairy would be a problem?

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Goat, buffalo, or sheep, which OP did not mention. Depending on the nature of the sensitivity, the Kraft-type orange cheese powder may or may not be okay though it sure is processed.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      They have a good supply for goat cheese but the others are not really an option. I like the goat cheese m&c though... Would go great with the lentil chili! By the way, what would you use for a cow milk replacement in the m&c? I suspect goat milk is too expensive where they are to be a good option.

                      1. re: miss louella

                        You could try almond breeze or soy milk. Make sure it's unsweetened and plain

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          thanks! Any prefs/differences I should know about?

                          1. re: miss louella

                            I find almond milk has a less noticeable flavor. It's thinner than regular milk. Experiment with it before teaching your student. A friend of mine used almond breeze for years when her daughter was allergic to dairy

                  2. re: greygarious

                    Tuna noodle casserole...that sounds like it would be easy and I think he'd like it, but we'll have to see how his Mom feels about condensed soup as an ingredient. (He's not ready for the make-your-own sauce version yet.)

                  3. Lasagna with tofu or some other substitute for the ricotta.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: calliope_nh

                      Do you have a recipe that gives a good sub for the ricotta? That was my sticking point.

                      1. re: miss louella

                        Tofu could be blended and used for the ricotta. Toffuti also makes a nondairy ricotta.

                          1. re: antennastoheaven

                            fantastic! I somehow missed this until someone pointed it out today.

                      2. Instead of things that he can make and freeze I would try to think of things that can be made from start to finish very quickly.

                        A simple spaghetti sauce.
                        Sauteed shrimp with either pasta or rice.
                        Hamburgers ( I love hamburgers)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kengk

                          Thanks, but he's very easily distracted and when "we" cook together, it's mostly me. So I need things "we" can do together and he can defrost/reheat/set table/etc. It was incredible how proud he was of the lentil chili "we" made last time. (And how insistent he was that the rest of the family do nothing--not even fill their own drinks.)

                        2. Homemade panko crusted chicken fingers or fish fillets. They are perfect for freezing and a great learning tool bout dredging a pan frying.

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: Dcfoodblog

                            So would you fully cook the chicken fingers and then freeze them and rebake later? I think this could be very popular. You don't happen to have a recipe, do you?

                            1. re: miss louella

                              I bake my chicken fingers and reheat. Dip chicken in beaten egg, then in breadcrumbs. Bake/fry and let cool. Freeze on a tray then transfer to ziplock bags. I usually make a lot at one time and season the breadcrumbs several ways,

                              1. re: cheesecake17

                                Yep! Cheesecake is right on the money. It's less a recipe than a technique (mainly because it really depends on your amount and how small you want them. The key is to be bountiful with the flour and breadcrumbs. For about a 1 pound package of chicken tenders here's what i would do. Season them with about a 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Just put in a bowl and sprinkle the seasons on and toss like a salad to distribute the salt and pepper. Then have two plates and a pasta style bowl (a bowl with a wider bottom). In one plate have about a cup of flour, in the pasta bowl have two beaten eggs (I love using egg beaters because you can just pour more as you need wihout breaking a whole other egg) and the last plate have about 2 cups of breadcrumbs (for fish use panko). Dredge the the fish/chicken in the flour one at a time until they are evenly covered on all sides, shake off the excess. Then roll them in the egg until they are covered by the beaten egg mixture. Then roll them around in the crumb mixture. I like Nigella Lawson description of burying them in the sand. Put the oil in the skillet so it comes up to about an inch. Let the oil come up to a medium heat (what I do to test is throw one of the doughy bits of flour/egg/crumb that has stuck to my hands into the oil. If it immediately starts to fry and sizzle the oil is ready. You should have the oil at a medium high heat, something like a 6 on an 8 point scale. Fry until golden on each side. Usually about 4 minutes a side. Hope that helps.

                                1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                  One of our favorite meals growing up was "chicken and garlic spaghetti," and it was one of the first meals I ever learned to make all by myself. The chicken was done just as Dcfoodblog describes, and then we served it with a simple spaghetti all'aglio - chop a ton of garlic, toss it in a cold skillet with some olive oil and a chunk of butter and turn the heat on low. Let the garlic cook slowly until soft and golden. Meanwhile, boil up a box of spaghetti. When the pasta is done, drain and toss it into the pan with the garlic and a little pasta water. Turn off the heat and add a handful of grated cheese (pecorino will work if parmesan is not an option due to cow dairy allergy or whatever). Serve with a salad.

                                  My siblings and I are all in our 30s now and we all still love chicken and garlic spaghetti, and make sure we have it whenever we're all together with my parents. My husband's (incredibly picky) teenage daughters love it too.

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    I like the sound of this... I'm sure it would be delicious with all olive oil and no butter (probably add some salt, I'm thinking)...

                                    1. re: miss louella

                                      Yes, totally delicious with just olive oil - I like to add lots of pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes as well. Salt too, although depending on how much and what type of cheese you use, you may want to be careful with the salt.

                                  2. re: Dcfoodblog

                                    This sounds fantastic and totally doable. When you reheat, how long do you bake and at what temp? (I would probably just put them in at 350 until hot, since they're already cooked.)

                                    1. re: miss louella

                                      350 is fine, but if you have something in the oven at a different temp, it's ok also.

                                      1. re: cheesecake17

                                        It is amazing how forgiving breaded cutlet-y things are.

                                  3. re: cheesecake17

                                    When my child was a toddler I made these all the time since I don't care for the idea of chicken nuggets. I'd save up the tenders from a few chicken breasts or slice whole ones into strips, dip in beaten egg white (although now I'd use beaten whole egg), and dredge in a mixture of panko and breadcrumbs seasoned with oregano, basil, paprika, garlic, and Parmesan. Obviously you could skip or sub out the Parmesan. Saute, freeze as above, reheat in the toaster oven (which we don't even own anymore).
                                    Try Mexican seasonings and a cornmeal blend for the coating and serve with enchilada sauce and rice and beans or as a taco filling. Same with fish.

                                    1. re: cheesecake17

                                      ATK or CC has a baked chicken fingers recipe that should be currently free online.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        I remember that episode. Seemed like a strange recipe and a lot of work

                                        1. re: cheesecake17

                                          Pretty much how I would describe every single ATK recipe. :)

                                2. enchiladas
                                  meat loaf
                                  stuffed peppers

                                  1. Any version of parmesan using sheep or goat's milk cheese
                                    one pot chicken, sausage and rice
                                    poultry tettrazini
                                    baked ziti with meatballs
                                    any kind of stew- lamb or beef particularly

                                    1. How about calzone or stromboli made with goat cheese (or no cheese). You could get pre-made pizza dough at the market and teach him how to roll/stretch it. Let him choose the filling ingredients (we like spinach and mushrooms). Make a quick tomato sauce for dipping. You could make/freeze several, either big ones or individual sized ones and several containers of sauce and it wouldn't take long at all. Playing with dough and assembling different fillings strikes me as something that might keep an 11-year-old engaged.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: onrushpam

                                        Their local pizza place sells great dough so that's an easy cheat... Would you cook them before freezing or after? Thanks so much!

                                        1. re: miss louella

                                          Its fine both ways, but it's much quicker to reheat a cooked calzone. It's a good time to teach him a simple sauce recipe too.

                                      2. I would concentrate on basics, repeated so that he can do them himself after you leave. I cooked all family dinner from age 9+ (for profit!!!) and these were things I could easily manage: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas of a can (ack); pasta with jarred marinara with stuff added; porcupine meatballs; simple fish; chili; chili mac; pies/cakes from scratch;

                                        1. Burritos, filled with whatever he likes. Cook the filling, wrap, freeze. Will heat in oven or toaster oven just fine. Fillings can be Mexican-ish (beans, refried beans, vegetables, meats, cheeses he can eat) or really anything -- I've done burritos and calzones (which are fussier due to the dough) with leftover curries and chilis (just cook down or drain liquid, or fill with a rice+gloopy stuff mixture.

                                          1. Miss Louella, what doe you mean by "peasant cook"?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: lilmomma

                                              Well, I mean I'm a gal who makes most of her main dishes from long-cooking inexpensive ingredients. Filling, delicious, not overly fussy. Need a bean/lentil idea? I can help. Looking for something that requires those little meat leg warmers? Not your gal. Does that help? In general, if you'd find a meal simmering, stewing, or baking in a country home, it's probably something I've dabbled with. If you'd find it in a restaurant where you have to make reservations, far less likely.

                                              eta: ironically, although I live in the US, I'm not well versed in US country cooking.

                                              1. re: miss louella

                                                Does that mean you do a lot of sow cookery type things? Name me some of your favorite dishes. Long cooking inexpensive ingredient recipes sounds right up my alley! :)

                                            2. Got a great idea from a friend at dinner the other night: chicken piccata!! Yum, I'm getting hungry.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: miss louella

                                                I made that the other day to freeze. Reheats well and the 11-yo can be very helpful in preparing

                                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                                  Thanks cheesecake! Do you have a favorite recipe? (My "a bit of this, a dash of that" method doesn't really cut it.)

                                                  1. re: miss louella

                                                    Here's how I make it- not sure if its traditional, but everyone enjoys it.

                                                    4 thin chicken cutlets
                                                    1 box mushrooms, sliced
                                                    1 onion, sliced or chopped
                                                    Few spoonfuls flour, mixed with salt and pepper
                                                    1-2 cups chicken broth
                                                    Splash of soy sauce
                                                    Splash of sherry (optional)
                                                    Olive oil

                                                    Heat olive in in a skillet
                                                    Dip chicken cutlets in flour mixture, shake off excess.
                                                    Brown chicken and transfer to a Pyrex. Doesn't have to be cooked through
                                                    In the same pan, add mushrooms, onion, sherry, soy sauce. Scrape up all the brown bits from the chicken.
                                                    Pour in the broth and a spoonful of flour.
                                                    Let the sauce reduce and thicken till the mushrooms and onions soften.
                                                    Pour sauce over chicken and transfer to oven. Cook till chicken is cooked through. Maybe 10 minutes

                                              2. You said no cow dairy?

                                                I assume no beef and no dairy or just no bovine based dairy?
                                                The ommision of a comma can make a BIG difference.

                                                You seem to cloud your own request in your OP, sadly.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: jjjrfoodie

                                                  Sorry to be so confusing; I meant it as I wrote it without the comma. What I meant was no dairy from cow milk. Beef is fine. Dairy from goat milk is fine. Thanks for your help.

                                                2. I was thinking about this last night and wanted to toss out an idea:
                                                  How about making a large pot of potato and leek soup and then freezing it in small batches? When thawed you can use it as a base for:

                                                  * Clam chowder (add in some cooked / crumbled bacon and canned clams with juice)
                                                  * Corn chowder or corn and crab chowder
                                                  * Add in some slivered kale and some sliced cooked sausages
                                                  * Add in a mix of steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots, etc.)

                                                  It's a very flexible recipe (I use the one from Joy of Cooking, I think): just peel and slice or chunk up potatoes, rinse and slice the what part of leeks, cook in water until very tender, and then use an immersion blender to puree to the consistency you want. No dairy added.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: ElsieDee

                                                    Wow, I love this idea!! Will see how he feels about it (I'm just a few days away from being there now!!!). A friend aptly pointed out that he seems more into serving than cooking, so maybe a base that he "personalizes" will be right up his alley.

                                                    No matter what we end up doing, I'll be reporting back!

                                                    1. re: miss louella

                                                      Although I love ElsieDee's idea of a mother sauce that he can reheat and add to, I know from personal experience that potatoes do not freeze well, especially in a soup or stew prep. They are either soggy cotton balls or mucilage.

                                                      Love the leeks, please don't do the potatoes.

                                                  2. I know it's not made ahead or frozen, but it's just so darn easy to roast a chicken when someone shows you how to properly tie one up and to carve it. I love Thomas Keller's recipe for it's simplicity, and I never actually use the butter and mustard at the end, so the ingredient list is ridiculously short.


                                                    If he heats up some frozen peas and some sort of starch (frozen mashed potatoes?), he can put together a meal for which a cook of any age can be proud.

                                                    1. Lasagna of course. I made two big batches yesterday and refrigerated over night. This morning I will cut them into 4x4" squares, wrap in tin foil and freeze. Anytime we want lasagna I just reheat in the convection oven.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                        Puffin, do you happen to have a recipe that gives a non-dairy replacement for ricotta?


                                                        1. re: miss louella

                                                          If you mean a recipe to make your own, there's one upthread from antennastoheaven.

                                                          1. re: queenscook

                                                            Thanks for pointing that out. No idea how I missed it, but I'm going to blame the back and forth (and lack of focus) of travel. Whoohoo, lasagna is one of my go-to freezer meals, was (but am no longer) stymied by the ricotta.