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Cooking advice for make ahead meals

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Once or twice a month I batch cook meals for my father. He lives 90 miles one way, so I batch cook for this reason. He's disabled, but knows how to cook basic things and obviously reheat. He lives by himself and often makes crap like hotdogs, mac and cheese, or ground beef with rice and tomato sauce.

I like to make him food he wouldn't normally make for himself because it requires more than one person to eat it.

That being said, I could use some food ideas that I personally can cook myself and freeze at my house that will reheat perfectly fine in a microwave or in the oven. I'd like something I can divide and portion out into individual portions easily for him to pop in and reheat.

Things I have done in the past and some of his favorites:
Stuffed peppers
Chicken noodle soup
Chili
Stuffed Cabbage

I'd love to incorporate other meats into his diet, like chicken and even pork, but I have no clue how to prepare them so they freeze and reheat well. Also what about noodles like spaghetti noodles, do they freeze and reheat well at all?

I'd like to add that he has trouble chewing, so whatever I make him has to be relatively easy on the jaw, so steak and what not is probably out of the question.

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  1. In the mid-80s I did the same for my grandfather who lived 200 miles away. Did that drive twice a month for a few years!

    The surprise big hit with him was Beef Bourgignon done with pork instead of beef. I used to freeze it in those boilable bags, and always used those frozen pearl onions so he could see all the different veggies in it.

    Another favorite was spaghetti casserole, which was simply spaghetti baked with bottled sauce, cooked ground beef, and sliced olives, topped with cheddar cheese, then baked. That I'd portion out, wrap in foil, then freeze, and he could reheat them easily in the oven.

    You can also make it with fettucine, small sausage meatballs and a different cheese for a change.

    1. Braised chicken dishes freeze very well and reheat well.

      1. Cooked spaghetti can be frozen, plain or in sauce. Better plain, since it will suck up a lot of sauce so the reheated dish won't be as moist as before it was frozen.
        There's SOME texture change in freezing any pasta - any starch, really - but pasta works better than potatoes, which get mealy unless blended with something else as in mashed or scalloped.

        There are lots of threads for make-ahead, freezable meals on this board and Gen Topics. With chewing a problem, all sorts of hearty soups, especially pureed ones, should be high on your list. Also meatloaf and lasagna. mac& cheese. Use the microwavable reusable plastic containers, like Gladware, sold in supermarkets. There are even divided ones that will hold an entree and side(s).

        1. MIL did this for literally years for her mother.
          whatever she'd made for dinner for the family she took what was left and packaged it into TV dinner trays. back then they were foil now I guess heavy duty paper.
          she made the trip once a month and had a freezer in her own garage where they were frozen until the drive. her mon had a freezer too so they went right in hers and were cooked in a counter top toaster oven.

          Swiss steak (of ground beef) mashed potatoes and corn
          Salmon patty with rice and gravy with green beans
          Fish fillets with buttered noodles and peas
          Chili with corn bread steamed cabbage
          meat balls
          spaghetti
          tuna casserole

          all very much appreciated

          7 Replies
          1. re: iL Divo

            Thank you! I bet he'd love swiss steak and some fish. I wonder though how fish reheats if I cook it first?

            1. re: chobette

              I think reheated fish generally sucks :( Pardon my bluntness.

              Here are some stuffed peppers I did a few nights ago:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9707...

              And quiche which can be cooked in a square pan and cut in pieces:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9268...

              1. re: chobette

                Fish works best in the form of fish cakes

                1. re: chobette

                  Something like salmon cakes would work, something like seared fresh fish probably not....
                  Does he like tinned fish like sardines? That would be the most fool- proof, he could add the tinned fish to a grain salad or veggie heavy stew

                  1. re: chobette

                    MIL did fish often especially always on Friday. never a problem.

                  2. re: iL Divo

                    I really like the idea of accumulating a week or two of frozen portions from daily family meals. Much easier for some to fit that into a busy schedule, instead of a full day of batch cooking.

                    1. re: MidwesternerTT

                      you're right mid.
                      plus instead of packing up leftover hoping some body would consume and taking up room in the frig, she had those tins at the ready, compartmentalized and each portion was set in it's place and foiled over. plus portion control was not a problem for an elderly woman who's appetite had waned over the years.

                  3. If he liked stuffed peppers then what about stuffed zucchini, eggplant or cabbage?
                    You can expand on the chili with a white bean chicken chili, sweet potato black beans chili or many other variations.
                    Baked ziti, ravioli, meatballs, and pasta sauce (assuming he can boil water and make pasta) all freeze well too.
                    This previous thread has some great ideas specifically for the elderly, also do search the boards for tons more make ahead and freeze ideas:
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/850749

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      Awesome, I'll check out the recommendations on that link as well!

                      1. re: chobette

                        I second the specific recommendation of white-bean chicken chili if you're looking to get more chicken in his diet. It's ridiculously healthy, and even more healthy than *that* if you go with boneless, skinless, chicken breasts which I've found you can do with some additional seasoning. It reheats very nicely multiple times and tastes better after some time in the fridge than it does on the day it's made.

                    2. When I visit my mom I make 2 chicken pot pies, portion them and freeze them in stackable containers.

                      I also have made her turkey meatloaf, Mac and cheese and Coq au vin. Plus so e other stuff that I can't remember.

                      But she likes the top and bottom crust pot pie with lots of chicken, veggies and sauce the best.

                      1. Pulled pork freezes wonderfully, just put a little extra sauce in the baggies when you freeze it to keep it from drying out when reheated. I like this dish because I get tired of BBQ sauce and it works great in the crock pot: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mu...

                        I also do mashed potatoes in bulk and freeze in individual freezer bag portions. Again, just a little wetter than you would like to offset what the microwave will do in reheating.

                        1. You haven't mentioned his weigh or his age. If he needs to keep weight on, I wouldn't try to keep him from his "crap" (actually things that I like also sometimes). There comes a point where it's important for older folks to eat. Period :)

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: c oliver

                            He'll be turning 60. Not sure of his weight, but I know he's doing just fine in terms of weight. I don't mind him eating crap per say, I just think he should have more variety in conjunction to the "crap" foods like hotdogs and boxed mac and cheese. I'd rather give him homemade mac and cheese or sausages and peppers for instance.

                            1. re: chobette

                              HAHAHA! I'm turning 67 in June :) Forget I asked the question!!! You're doing great.

                              1. re: chobette

                                60???!
                                How disabled is he? Perhaps teaching him a few very basic meals to make that are less "crappy" would be a good idea as well.....
                                Easy low effort things like baked eggs, avocado toast, pasta with greens and white beans and olive oil, etc etc....

                                1. re: Ttrockwood

                                  Disability is not age based...

                                  1. re: jw615

                                    I wasn't implying it was- i was anticipating her father was significantly older. These suggestions were just based on the OPs earlier statement that he is able to make himself mac and cheese, so perhaps other simple meals would be an option.

                                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                                      I get the impression that he's just not interested in cooking other than what he does.

                                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                                        Sorry - I must have unintentionally mentally attached a tone to your post that you didn't mean.

                                        Admitting that I'm overly sensitive here as a young disabled person, and probably even more so since it is a 'hidden' disability.

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  I will say that I am not that old, and have stopped eating that crap myself because I just can't tolerate the salt. It raises my blood pressure and just generally makes me feel miserable. And now I wonder how others without youth on their side can do it.

                                  1. re: foiegras

                                    I think when you get accustomed to eating a certain way, other foods become more noticeable in either a good way or a bad way.

                                    I'm only 24, but I can't eat very much salt myself. In the past few years, especially now having a toddler myself, I've learned to make the processed foods (minus hotdogs) from scratch.

                                    My father doesn't want to because it's easier (and cheaper) for him to buy a package of hotdogs and a box of macaroni and that'll stretch him for 3-4 days easily.

                                    My MIL was the same when she lived on her own, but she would buy a lot of TV dinners, but because she was disabled and barely had income, she had to. So I can see why some have to or choose to. Which is why I like to make him from scratch meals so he can have something a little different (and healthier) to break up his normal routine.

                                    1. re: chobette

                                      It's good that you have stopped the salty stuff now ... that way you won't be mourning when the warranty runs out. I used to like on occasion hot dogs with (canned) brown sugar baked beans on top, with lots of fresh chopped onion and mustard. Delicious! That was the first thing I noticed I couldn't eat any more ... followed by the boxed mac & cheese and frozen pizza. Basically any remaining junk food in my diet has had to go ...

                                3. Meat loaf. Lasagna. 'BB'.
                                  We should all be so lucky to have a daughter/son as good you.

                                  1. From Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday, there his recipe for pork tinga which is wonderful and easy and is done in the slow cooker. It's not super spicy but if he doesn't like a bit of heat you can reduce or eliminate the chipotles:

                                    http://www.food.com/recipe/smoky-pork...

                                    1. Soups freeze really well and are great for both lunch and dinner. Minestrone, ham and bean, leek and potato, black bean, tomato basil, etc.

                                      There are a variety of chili recipes that you might like using chicken and pork – look at white or green chili recipes to see if he’d like them.

                                      Other ideas: Pork, chicken, and/or mushrooms in stroganoff/paprikash; Gumbo with chicken/shrimp/sausauge (I use turkey keilbasa); Chicken a la king/chicken and dumplings/chicken pot pie; chicken divan or tetrazini.

                                      Stuffing a chicken breast or pork chop makes a nice change and they freeze well. I found an easy stuffed chicken breast online years ago that combines spinach, feta, a little mayo for the stuffing, and then is wrapped in bacon. There are a million stuffed chicken breast and stuffed pork chop recipes online that might work for you.

                                      I’ve also been buying quantities of ground beef when it’s at a good price and making some of it into meatloaf and some into meatballs. I bake the meatballs on high heat to get a bit of crust on them, then freeze them so he can pull out what he wants and simmer them in sauce to put on pasta.

                                      A lot of what you cook at home will probably do pretty well as frozen leftovers for the short term. Although it’s expensive, one of those food saver vacuum systems might help you out in the long run since it will help keep food better over a longer period.

                                      Also consider stocking his freezer with the microwave-in-the-bag veggies, and even some of the individually portioned rice. Things like this would help him make a complete meal when needed.

                                      In case you are looking for ideas other than dinner:

                                      My mother cooks bacon in quantity and it freezes well for my dad to pull out a couple of pieces when he wants it. She also does a batch of french toast that he can pop in the toaster to reheat. Sausage and pancakes work, too.

                                      I make a sort of crustless quiche that freezes really well and we pull out a piece at a time. I make it in a 9 x 13 pan with a 16 oz. carton of egg beaters plus a couple of eggs, with 16 oz. cottage cheese, 10 oz. frozen spinach and 4 oz. feta, plus ¼ cup of biscuit/pancake mix or flour, but a version with other meats, veggies and cheese would be grea

                                      1. One of my favourite tricks for pre-prepping meat is to roast or braise it until tender, cool, slice and freeze in single meal portions drizzled with a bit of stock/gravy/pan juices. The liquid keeps it moist when you reheat it.

                                        Rice freezes beautifully, as far as starch goes. Rice and beans, paella, Spanish rice, fried rice (minus the egg), rice pilaf, etc.

                                        Stewed dishes freeze well in general - the breakdown of texture is less noticeable when it's soft to begin with. Beef vindaloo, Thai chicken curry, chicken tikka masala, Moroccan beef, chickpea and tomato stew, pork stewed with onions, vinegar and cumin, pasta sauce, beef and mushroom stew with beer.

                                        You can cook individual ground meat patties for reheating. Freeze with gravy or tomato sauce, and it will reheat into something quite appetizing (these dishes are called hamburger in Japanese cooking, but are more like a mini meatloaf with sauce). Medium lean ground pork or beef works well. I've done kebabs a similar way - ground lean pork with onions, garlic, ginger, cilantro, mint and various spices - and made into patties to be fried.

                                        I do an Asian style spicy ground pork in sauce with soy and miso and Korean red pepper paste that reheats well, and can be served over rice.

                                        Thick soups of any sort. One of my favourites starts with sauteed onions/celery/carrots/mushrooms, then gets chicken stock and canned diced tomatoes for the broth, then any leftover meat I've got on hand, plus chopped spinach, some canned corn and maybe some chopped green beans, and some herbs. Borscht would work well too. Ravioli and tortellini reheat quite well in a thick soup, but I tend not to include noodles if I'm freezing, as they tend to absorb most of the moisture. If I do, I cook the noodles separately, and let them rest in the cooking water for a few hours first.

                                        If you're doing TV dinner style, you can add in lightly cooked blanched or steamed vegetables as a side. Broccoli, corn, peas, green beans, edamame, cauliflower, baby corn, roasted peppers, cooked spinach, cabbage, etc. Season with a bit of butter with garlic and/or herbs, fresh lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, a bit of pesto or pesto and cream, spices, etc. Roasted vegetables will freeze well too - cook with some onion and/or garlic for extra flavour.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                          could not write it up better

                                        2. I cooked for my grandparents during cancer treatments and the accompanying decline.

                                          My mom gave them a George Forman grill and it was a huge hit. They could do fish filets and chicken breasts with ease.

                                          The meals I did for them were the freeze and heat variety-

                                          Hearty soup-ish things like chowder (shrimp and corn was a favorite) or chili with sides of rice (make with stock or broth, freezes great) or corn bread. Eta, I see you mentioned chili. What about mixing it up with a white chicken or turkey chili?

                                          The recipes are gone now but I did dishes with chicken, spinach or broccoli and rice or pastas with sauce and sliced sausage or ground beef.

                                          Roasted meats of pork or beef with mashed potatoes and a side of jarred gravy.

                                          1. I have a question...

                                            If I make him beef stroganoff with egg noodles, will the egg noodles reheat? I usually use ground beef since he has a hard time with steak.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: chobette

                                              if you under cook them, they should be ok.

                                              1. re: chobette

                                                They will. I can see you are unfamiliar with frozen meals ;) I don't eat them any more, but I remember! I believe Stouffer's and the like normally have the pasta pushed to one side, or else packaged separately. It's not bad ...

                                              2. Does he like fish? It reheats well in the microwave.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: joycebre

                                                  He does, but it's hard to find fresh fish here in the North. :-/

                                                2. The CH jerk chicken sandwich recipe is delicious (we toned down the spices, omitted the scotch bonnet), can be made in oven or crockpot, and freezes well. If his teeth can manage a coleslaw salad, that's a nice side - easiest do-it-himself version might be bagged coleslaw mix and bottled creamy poppyseed dressing.

                                                  http://www.chow.com/recipes/27788-pul...

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                    jambalaya or paella can include chicken, ham, schrimp, rice, veggies, and freezes well

                                                  2. chobette, I cook "Mom Meals" for my 83yo mother, and things she likes are:

                                                    baked mac & ham & cheese
                                                    Crockpot beef stew (slow cooked so the beef is nice and tender)
                                                    pork & sweet potato apple cider stew
                                                    beef barley vegetable soup
                                                    chicken corn chowder

                                                    I make the homemade cheese sauce and par-cook the elbow noodles, combine it with cubes of ham (I ask for a single 3/4" thick slice of honey or maple ham at the deli counter and chop that up into small cubes). That all goes into small foil containers I get at a local dollar store that have cardboard lids, and freeze it.

                                                    Mom takes one out the morning she wants baked mac & cheese, defrosts it, removes the cardboard lid, tops it with some Panko crumbs I've given her, and bakes it in the oven (obviously, not the microwave because of the foil tin) @ 350° for about 25 minutes until it's bubbly.

                                                    Let me know if you want any recipes.

                                                    1. I used to do this for my aunt. Three of her favorites were lengua in a tomato gravy, peppers and beef stirfry, and salisbury steak with mushroom sauce. I'd package in individual servings along with brown rice, then freeze. She had a caregiver who'd pick up fresh salads for her so dinner was easy: microwave the frozen item, put some salad on the plate, and done.

                                                      1. Went thru the same thing with my parents. Meatloaf and lasagna freeze wll. Made them in foul pans, thaw, bake and serve in one pan. Chicken noodle casserole and chili work well too. So does a tuna noodle casserole too. I even emailed Cambells soup company and asked for help with recipes. They sent me coupons and recipes. I don't use the creamed soups for myself, but they do work well in casseroles and do freeze well. Good old Tater Tot Casserole would be good too.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Augieang

                                                          Just a psychological thing, but when I have a Stouffers-equivalent, I always put it in a bowl or on a plate.

                                                        2. When sometimes I have cooked for older neighbors, they have especially appreciated homemade desserts. Some things freeze well (eg cake) but when you visit you still might leave a dish of pudding that will last a week (tapioca, rice pudding, chocolate, bread pudding), a fruit cobbler, a batch of cookies etc.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Querencia

                                                            A batch of homemade cookies don't last a week at my house ;) Maybe with a ladder and a high shelf a la Toad in Wind and the Willow ...

                                                          2. Cooked chicken with gravy or turkey with gravy freeze well, just give him a biscuit with it. Stuffing is another thing that freezes well. Doesn't have to Thanksgiving for that!

                                                            1. along the noodle path...lasagna is a good freezer meal, strata, pulled pork sandwiches are pretty simple once the pork is pulled (will be easy for you, maybe not for him...), i also do a pepperoni cooked in tomato sauce in the crock pot which is also good for sandwiches, If you make a ham, that
                                                              s pretty sandwich-easy also, all freezer friendly.

                                                              1. -A small ham is handy...sandwiches, with scrambled eggs or just wrapped around a piece of cheese.
                                                                -Spaghetti/meatballs: all he has to do is boil spaghetti or just do the whole thing and freeze.
                                                                -Meatloaf
                                                                -Lasagna
                                                                -Enchiladas

                                                                1. I've done a good amount of freezer meals when I've had planned surgery and for my husband when I've been out of town.

                                                                  Soups work well, though I've found that some reheat better on the stove. I generally use the microwave for broth based soups, and reheat cream based soups very gently on the stove. I've had good luck with reheating clam chowder on the stove over low heat. When I make chili, I freeze some in larger servings to heat for a meal, and some in smaller portions to serve over a baked potato, which I then make fresh. I'll often make a large batch of chicken tortilla or ham and bean soup in the slow cooker and freeze some of it. To go with the bean soup, I usually make corn muffins and wrap them individually before freezing so that I can just pull out a portion or two when I want them.

                                                                  With pasta, I generally freeze the sauce in portions and cook the pasta fresh when I make it. If you wanted to go this route, you might look into one of the microwave pasta cookers for your dad to make that part easier. I freeze tomato sauce, meat sauce, tomato sauce with sliced sausages and peppers, and homemade alfredo sauce. Lasagna is better if you freeze before baking and then bake from frozen. When I do lasagna for freezing, I'll make several in disposable foil loaf pans. This way works out to 3 or 4 servings for me, which I can finish before it goes bad without also getting sick of it.

                                                                  I do shredded italian beef sandwiches and pulled pork in the slow cooker. These freeze well in small portions and the sandwiches are soft enough that they are relatively easy to chew.

                                                                  1. Individual shepherd's pies are a hit with my father. Meatballs with any type of meat would be another suggestion.

                                                                    1. Sloppy Joes are a good meal too.