Serves One

It will not come as a surprise to anyone out there that I love my freezer. There is no greater mom-porn moment for me than transferring a big batch frozen pork ragu to the fridge before work, knowing that by the time I walk in the door at dinnertime, it will be thawed, and all I have to do is boil some rigatoni to make dinner happen.

But recently, I’ve started to do things a little differently, and I know this might be a hard concept to get your head around, but it has made me love my freezer even more. Why? Because I’ve started to freeze in single-serving batches.

Now, you might be wondering, this is a blog devoted to family dinner. In theory, the four of us are always sitting around the table at the same time eating the exact same thing. When on earth would we have any use for a single-serving meal?

I am so glad you asked! Three scenarios come to mind immediately:

Scenario 1: Babysitter Night
The grown-ups are going out to dinner, the kids are staying home. Having single-serve homemade meal at-the-ready makes it much easier to not reach for the Trader Joe’s frozen chicken pot pies, which are ridiculously addictive (read: salty), but let’s face it, not exactly healthy. As for cooking a fresh meal for them before I go out to dinner? Nuh-uh. That’s the whole point of going out — so I have a night off
What to have at the ready
: Four or five turkey Meatballs (frozen in a little sauce) and a baguette that’s been sliced up into sandwich-size pieces. Both in BPA-free ziptop bags. Combine for Turkey Meatball Sandwiches (pictured above).
To reheat meatballs: Run bag under slightly warm water to get started on thawing, then dump into medium pot over low heat with a little water, covered. Usually ready in about 15 minutes.

Scenario 2: Entertaining Families
When we’re having people over, we do our best to find out ahead of time who’s kosher, who’s Paleo, who skips gluten, whose vegan, which kid has sworn off pig this week — but it’s hard to keep up with all the dietary restrictions these days. It’s nice to be able to pull something homemade out of the freezer and tell the guest “It’s no problem at all! Now go have another glass of wine.”
What to have at the ready: Minestrone, frozen in single-serve batches in BPA-free ziptop bags. If you skip the bacon, it’s the most indulgent vegetarian (vegan actually) meal I know.  The only problem is that it might end up showing up the main event.
To reheat: Run bag under slightly warm water to thaw, dump into medium pot over low heat with a little water, breaking up as much as you can. Cover. Usually ready in about 15 minutes.

Scenario 3: Protester at the Table
As you know, I’ve never been much of a stickler for the rule that everyone has to eat the exact same thing at dinner. I’ve served Abby a peanut butter sandwich while the rest of us eat steak (she no longer eats beef), I’ve served Phoebe a PJ Frozen Burrito while the rest of us eat pasta (she has never eaten pasta). I’ve heated up a Trader Joe’s frozen pizza for the girls when it’s late and all I want in the world is fast, farm-fresh omelet with good cheddar (neither of them will touch eggs). My philosophy, which you will not find validated in any picky eater expert book (nor by any parents of 3+ kids), is basically “If it means the dinner table is a pleasant place, and you’re not short-order cooking every night, well then who the heck cares if you have to spread some PB&J on bread?” Having a serves-one dinner in the freezer just lets you upgrade that PB&J a bit.
What to have at the ready: Chili and Cornbread Freeze single serve batches of chili in individual BPA-free ziptop bags. For the cornbread, cut into squares and store all of them in one large ziptop freezer bag.
To reheat: Run bag of chili under slightly warm water to thaw a bit, dump into medium pot over low heat with a little water, breaking up as much as possible. Cover. Usually ready in about 15 minutes. To reheat cornbread, wrap in foil and heat in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes.

I am your loyal freezer meatballs, ready to serve when you need me.

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30 Comments

Lori

I’m a bit new to your site, and haven’t read the book “YET” but I wanted to say…. I love that none of your reheat instructions include using the microwave. :) That’s really kind of nice.
Thanks,
Lori

Reply
Jenny

@Lori: Welcome! Little known fact: we do not have a microrwave in our kitchen. When we re-did our kitchen six years ago we realized we hardly used it for anything other than reheating coffee. I never did figure out how to evenly thaw meat, leftovers, etc in the microwave. I’d always end up biting into a cold patch of chili or something, which was enough to make me just suck it up and reheat dinners on the stovetop. We do still have our old microwave (which Andy had in his first apartment in 1995) in our basement. And we still use that from time to time. To reheat coffee.

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Awads

how big is your freezer? do you have more than one? how is it organized?? post a pic!! (my hard copy of DAL arrives today via amazon b/c cooking from a digital copy on my iphone was not cutting it!)

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Ann

Right on! I’m with you on babysitter night and protesters! Love the freezer! I’m thinking of getting another one for the basement.

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Amanda

Hold on, were you in my kitchen this last night? Because I had that same “mom porn” moment when I pulled he following out of MY freezer:
1) Pulled out two single servings of meatballs (your grandma Turano recipe) with sauce for school lunches to defrost.

2) I also pulled out a batch of your butternut squash and apple soup to defrost for tonight’s crazy combo of late soccer practice + frustrated and tired homework doing = late dinner.

Just opening my fridge this morning and seeing these ziplocs and tupperware dishes defrosting, I emitted a slight giddy moan of happiness knowing that the day was essentially taken care of. Thanks!

Reply
Marlana

First, let me say I just found your blog and am so glad I did! I cooked from scratch every night before my son was born, and let’s just say that hasn’t been a priority since returning to work full time. But you’ve renewed my inspiration and it’s going well so far.

I’m also a big fan of single-serves. Growing up, my mom called this “refrige-a-luck”–as in, good luck, see what you can find in the fridge. Thanks for the continued inspiration.

Reply
The Steady Table

This is a great idea. We tend to take the tough love approach to our kid’s dinner fickleness. These are great options for when we tell her “If you don’t like it, you know where the fridge is.”

Reply
Sue

Plus not all of us have a family. I’ve been freezing single-serve meals for a long time, being a single.

Reply
Katherine

I love this post! I use frozen single-serve meals when packing my daughters’ lunches for preschool. And often times for dinner, as well, as we get home within an hour of bedtime.
I am always looking for ideas to add to the repetoire so please continue to include freezer ideas on your blog!

Reply
Helena

I just did this for school lunches too – burrito bowls – rice in one little bag, shredded chicken in another. But now that you’ve suggested freezing sections of baguettes (why didn’t I think of that before) there may be new sandwich options coming too!

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Heather H.

You mentioned BPA free zip top bags. I’m sorta assuming my ziplock freezer bags are not BPA free? What brand do you use?

Reply
jenny

@Heather: Ziploc food storage bags are BPA-free. I read that on a blog and thought, no way that’s true. But their official site says they removed all traces of BPAs from their products three years ago. Many independent studies have confirmed this, but if anyone else out there knows more, please enlighten.

Reply
Kate

High five to a fellow no-microwave in the kitchen person! We did a complete gut on our kitchen this summer and everyone asked, “where is the microwave?” and I would explain again and again that we never ever used it.

Reply
Jessica Bright

I. Love. You. Any chance you would consider being a mail-order wife/stay at home wife? We have two kinda nice kids you may or may not come to enjoy. :) Seriously, wonderful idea!!! We have been racking our brains on how to make a date-night work since my man got is kids full-time.

Reply
Zelda

I’m the crazy mother who used to cook roast chicken with all the trimmings before going out to dinner myself, and I wish could have given myself permission to order pizzas for sitter and kids and just leave. Even now, if my kids choose to stay home when we’ve all been invited for dinner, I still feel a twinge of guilt not cooking for them (I shouldn’t, I know – it’s their choice).

Reply
Trina

I freeze soups and sauces in silicone muffin pans. Once frozen, I pop them out and put all the frozen muffins in one large ziploc bag. This works better for me than having lots of small bags in my freezer. One serving of soup is 2 or 3 “muffins.”

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Kath the Cook

OK – so Ziploc is good to go, awesome. because I will now base my purchases on this. What about Glad? guessing that might not be the case? thanks

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jenny

@julia: No, first I submerge the frozen bag in a large bowl or a pot of slightly warm water (off the stove) then when it’s thawed somewhat (and not a block of ice anymore) I remove/squeeze the contents of the bag into the pot, set over low heat with a little water, and cover.

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Kathy B

I’m one of those +3 mothers, and our approach was always that you didn’t have to eat the meal that was prepared, but the alternative was a bowl of cereal. I never got the “eat it or go hungry” philosophy. Who wants to deal with a hungry, angry kid?

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Amanda

I have been single -serving your recipes for almost a year now. My sister-in-law (with 2 little kids) told me about your blog. When I go stay with their family, the running joke has become “What Would Jenny Do?’ You’re a family celebrity.

Reply
Mia

I really like this! I am so lazy when I am cooking for just me that I often just skip dinner or have cereals…And it’s so unhealthy! I will certainly try this, looks yummy!

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Tracy

Thank you for including defrost instructions. I never knew how to best tackle that! And I love hearing that Ziploc bags are BPA free. Thanks for all the great posts!

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brianna

It’s difficult to cook for one. Who can make a single serving of meatballs? You have to make an entire batch, but freezing them is a good option, making it easy when nights are busy, but fast food isn’t an option.

Reply