Nothing can prepare someone for the level of exhaustion and elation that accompanies the early days of parenthood. But helping stock a friend’s freezer with delicious, nourishing dishes that need just a few minutes in the oven or microwave can certainly help.
A few tips: Before whipping up a freezer feast for friends, make sure there’s room in their freezer to accommodate it. For recipes that serve more than two, consider preparing half to eat soon and packaging the other half to be frozen and eaten at a later date, or divide a six-serving recipe into three meals by packing them in three two-serving containers. Use containers you don’t need returned, and label them with the dish’s name, instructions and maybe a little note — something like “You’re doing great, Dad!” or “What a lucky kid to have you as a mom.” Becoming a parent is a wild, and at times, lonely road. A little Post-it pep talk can go a long way.
Melissa Clark’s take on the classic Italian American casserole of fried, breaded chicken covered with tomato sauce and gooey cheese is cozy and satisfying. You can use pork or veal in place of the chicken, or, if you’re cooking for vegetarians, there’s always eggplant Parmesan or lasagna.
These cinnamon rolls, which were adapted from “At Home With Magnolia: Classic American Recipes From the Owner of Magnolia Bakery” by Allysa Torey, don’t take as long to make as the traditional sort because they use baking powder and baking soda instead of yeast. Make a double batch, then gift one and freeze the other for your future lazy Sunday self.
recipe: Easy No Yeast Cinnamon Rolls
With chicken, rice and vegetables, Von Diaz’s arroz con pollo is a complete meal (or two) in and of itself. Boneless chicken thighs work best here — boneless breasts don’t have enough fat or flavor — but you can also use bone-in chicken thighs.
Hot tip: Make friends with Genevieve Ko. Why? Because when you have a baby, she will appear at your house with slices of this cake stacked between wax paper in Tupperware. “Frozen, the slices are like fudgy brownies,” she said.
recipe: Texas Sheet Cake
Cheesy heaven in a 9-by-13 pan, these Tex-Mex enchiladas from Bryan Washington will make everyone in the house happy. Include a jar of salsa, a container of sour cream and other toppings that’ll keep for a while with your delivery.
recipe: Cheese Enchiladas
“I have made lifelong friends with this soup,” wrote Julia Moskin, and we believe her. Black beans, also known as turtle beans, make a complex, silky broth, so it doesn’t need meat for seasoning like some bean soups do. This recipe calls for chipotle chiles, but ground cumin and ground coriander are a milder substitute. Make a batch of cornbread — cut into wedges and plastic-wrapped so they can be frozen and thawed as needed — to go alongside.
recipe: Best Black Bean Soup
New parents spend a lot of time holding their little people, so any foods that can be eaten easily with one hand — trail mix, muffins, cookies, hand pies, etc. — are a great idea. These gorgeous, pillowy-soft muffins, a recipe Marian Burros received from a reader in 1987, are tender and sweet, perfect for a 4 am breakfast or a late-night feeding snack.
Eric Kim reverse-engineered the much-loved Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, and for that, we love him forever. It’s so rich and creamy that it’s a meal on its own. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Velveeta! It has sodium citrate, which prevents the sauce from separating.
recipe: Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Technically not a meal, but for a harried new parent with only one free arm, a big handful of this spicy-sweet mix from Ali Slagle counts. Make two batches: One to snack on now, and one to store in the freezer for later. You can eat it straight from the freezer, but the flavors are better if you let it come to room temperature first.
recipe: Hot Honey Nut Mix
Pack as much seasonal produce as you can into this Italian vegetable soup from Sarah DiGregorio for a delicious and nourishing vegetarian meal that will delight new parents who’ve been subsisting on dry cereal and takeout. (Here are stovetop and Instant Pot versions as well.)
Make a batch of this chocolate chip cookie dough from David Leite (or any drop cookie dough, really), roll it into balls and freeze them in layers separated by parchment or wax paper in an airtight container. Whenever the desire strikes, new parents can bake off a cookie directly from the freezer. Write the baking instructions on an index card and tape it to the top of the container.
recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies
“I make a really big pot of dal or khichdi and batch it into quart containers to freeze — always a hit with new moms!” Priya Krishna wrote. She recommends this recipe from Tejal Rao. Send along a few containers of cooked rice, which can also be frozen.
recipe: Toor Dal (Split Yellow Pigeon Peas)
This quick shrimp-fried rice from Eric Kim smartly employs the use of one of our favorite shortcut ingredients: frozen vegetables. You can also make it with chunks of boneless chicken, but adjust your cook time accordingly. To reheat frozen rice, add a splash of water and stir the rice to break up chunks, then gently heat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through.
recipe: Shrimp Fried Rice
Chili is a near-perfect food for sharing. This one, from Pierre Franey, is easy to make in large batches and to adjust spices for differing palates. It also tastes better the second day, freezes like a charm and can be repurposed into a topping for baked potatoes, nachos or chili dogs.
This lemon cake from Yossy Arefi is the ultimate lemon cake. It contains the zest, juice and flesh of the fruit, so it’s tender, moist and delightfully lip-puckering. Bake it, slice it, then individually wrap the slices before freezing, so tired parents can defrost a slice or two whenever they need a little bit of sunshine.
recipe: Lemon Bundt Cake
Divide Alison Roman’s recipe for chicken potpie into two smaller pans before topping with pastry and baking. Once cool, wrap well with plastic wrap and foil, and freeze. Ta-da! Two meals for the new family.
recipe: Skillet Chicken Potpie
Crumbled Ritz crackers are the secret to these rich, tender meatballs from Kay Chun (but plain bread crumbs or even old-fashioned oats work, too). Once baked, layer them between parchment and freeze. Stir together the sauce in a small, lidded jar — two parts soy sauce to one part distilled white vinegar, sliced scallions and red-pepper flakes if you like — and pair with a salad that’ll keep for a few days like Genevieve Ko’s kale salad with plums.
If you want to contribute something, but you don’t have the time, then this is the recipe for you. Rub a boneless pork shoulder with a simple spice rub, toss it into a slow cooker, pour over a can of Dr. Pepper, root beer, cola or birch beer, then let it cook on low until the meat collapses and shreds easily. Toss with your favorite barbecue sauce and pile it into a big Tupperware container. Pick up a package of buns and a container of slaw from the store, and voilà, you’re the best friend ever.
recipe: Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork
These bean and cheese burritos from Kay Chun are a cinch to make, and they freeze beautifully. Make a double batch, wrap them individually in foil and tuck them into your exhausted friend or family member’s freezer. If you have a kid, enlist them to decorate each wrapped burrito with cute pictures and messages using a Sharpie.
recipe: Bean and Cheese Burritos
Homemade bread is balm for the weary soul. Bake up a loaf or two of Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead bread, then do as Emily Weinstein does: Slice, then toss into a plastic resealable bag and freeze. Whenever they want a piece of perfect toast, all they have to do is pop it into the toaster. (You could also reserve half for them to eat fresh with the pot of soup you’re bringing and slice and freeze the other half. Do you!)
recipe: No-Knead Bread
Savory and sweet with pops of briny olives and crunchy almonds, picadillo is a Cuban beef and tomato dish that’s a delight to eat. Krysten Chambrot, associate editor of New York Times Cooking, said her mom filled her freezer with it when she was in college. “I ate it for months and was so grateful,” she wrote. “It’s literally the most cozy thing in the world to me.”
Homemade chicken soup is always a good idea. Sarah DiGregorio’s lemony riff is a “fix-it-and-forget-it” version that comes together in a slow cooker so it’s mostly hands-off. Once it’s done, divide it into a couple of different containers — one for now and one to freeze — and don’t add the tortellini yet! Boil it separately until just al dente, and include it in a separate container so they can be added to the soup as needed.
recipe: Slow Cooker Lemony Chicken Soup
We’ll say it again: Make them foods they can eat with one hand. This chunky, chocolaty granola from Ali Slagle fits the bill and can be eaten out of hand, in a bowl with milk or over ice cream. For those with a sweet tooth, you can add mini chocolate chips or Cocoa Puffs cereal after the granola has cooled.
recipe: Big Cluster Chocolaty Granola
“Ice-cream. A freezer full of ice cream is an amazing thing,” wrote Pete Wells, when asked what freezer-friendly dish he likes to gift new parents. We’re pretty sure he meant ordering several pints (Jeni’s and Graeter’s are staff favorites), but some of Melissa Clark’s homemade salted caramel ice cream would feel like a real luxury.