For nearly 10 years, The Dinner Ladies have delivered nutritious fresh and frozen meals to busy Sydney households, helping to take the stress out of dinnertime.
You too can ease the nightly panic by taking a leaf out of the Dinner Ladies' book and get into the habit of buying ingredients and cooking in bulk, then refrigerating or freezing the excess. You'll not only save time but it's also a more cost-effective way of eating.
So many family favourites can be completely made ahead – curries, tagines, pasta sauces – and they're perfect for popping in the fridge or freezer. Best of all, they're a cinch to reheat whilst you cook an accompanying dish of rice, pasta or couscous.
Other dishes such as pies and lasagne can be completely assembled before freezing and require a final cook once thawed. Even last minute dishes such as salads and stir-fries can be made easier by marinating and freezing the meat, chopping and freezing the vegetables and making sauces ahead of time.
The key is to cook in batches and freeze meals in advance, then you always know you have a meal that can be put straight in the oven.
Hot Freezing Tips
Don’t put piping hot food in the fridge: you won't chill your food as efficiently. In fact, its temperature will rise and endanger food already in the fridge. Once the food has cooled to room temperature you can then put it into storage containers, cover and refrigerate or freeze.
Making The Most Of Your Freezer
A full freezer is more economical to run as the cold air doesn’t need to circulate as much, requiring less power. If you do have lots of free space, half-fill a plastic bottle with water and use it to fill the gaps.
An icy freezer is also inefficient, so make sure you defrost your freezer if ice builds up.
The cheapest and best all-purpose storage containers are rectangular takeaway containers as they’re neat and stackable. Remember to label and date them with a permanent marker, so you remember what's in them and when they were put in the freezer. Ziplock bags are good to store chopped herbs or marinated meat, or if you have a vac-seal machine they will extend fridge-life even more by sucking out most of the oxygen around the food.
Sealing food properly should prevent against freezer burn. Remember to freeze food in conveniently sized portions to reduce thawing time.
If you’ve heated and cooled your food safely, most prepared dishes should last in a well-maintained fridge for up to three days. To ensure quality of food, it’s best not leave things in the freezer for more than three months, although some food is OK to freeze for up to six months.
Remember to never re-freeze anything that has been frozen before.
Defrosting and Reheating
If you know what you’re cooking two days in advance, defrost your meal in the fridge. Alternatively, a microwave on the 'defrost' setting or running room-temperature water will both work if you’re in a hurry to defrost. When you’re reheating, make sure the food reaches 70C or is steaming hot all the way through to ensure you've nixed any nasty pathogens.
Make sure you stir your food during the defrosting process.
Most pre-prepared dishes need a little bit of love when it’s time to serve, such as a bit more seasoning or a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste everything before serving and make any adjustments you need. Reheated dinners will almost always benefit from some fresh herbs, chilli or a final sprinkle of cheese to add flavour and colour.
What Not To Freeze
• Raw eggs in the shells will expand and crack • Hard-boiled eggs go rubbery • Vegetables with high water content, such as lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts and radishes; they'll go limp and mushy • Soft herbs, like parsley, basil and chives will go brown • Egg-based sauces, such as mayonnaise, will separate and curdle • Plain yogurt, low-fat cream cheese, single cream and cottage cheese go watery
What To Freeze
• Butter and margarine can be frozen for up to three months • Grated cheese can be frozen for up to four months and can be used straight from the freezer • Most bread, except crusty varieties such as French Bread, will freeze well for up to three months. Sliced bread can be toasted from frozen • Milk will freeze for up to one month. Defrost in the fridge and shake well before using • Raw pastry will freeze for up to six months and takes just one hour to thaw • Spring vegetables when frozen properly should retain all their flavours. They need to be blanched quickly before being spread out to freeze, so they don’t stick together, then transferred to a freezer bag or Tupperware container. Try with peas, beans, asparagus and broccoli
Final Freezing Facts
• The freezing process does not destroy nutrients itself* • Keeping your freezer full makes it more efficient • Never refreeze anything that has been frozen
Meet The Dinner Ladies
Sophie and Katherine met at the school gate when their eldest children became friends in kindergarten. In 2007 they formed a dinner delivery business for time-poor families called The Dinner Ladies. Originally their meals were prepared for friends and family members to ensure they would always have good, homemade food in their fridges and freezers.
They started cooking in the shed in Katherine’s backyard, on a converted trailer and two camp stoves. What started as a back shed project has now grown to a fleet of delivery trucks supplying meals to more than 800 busy Sydney homes every week.
From making no money in the first two years they now have a chef, a production kitchen, office employees, four vans and deliver about 10,000 dinners a week.
Today The Dinner Ladies are based out of a commercial kitchen in Matraville but still cook each dish as if it was for their own families – using great, fresh ingredients and taking no short cuts. They buy their own fruit and veg fresh from Flemington Market and make everything from scratch – from stock to paste and sauce. They even make and hand-roll their own shortcrust pastry.
They cook for their clients the same way they cook for their families – it’s home cooking, only better. The Dinner Ladies use only wholesome ingredients, avoiding anything artificial. In addition to their weekly menu of fresh specials they also have their favourites for the fridge and freezer.
Between the two of them they have seven children and two husbands "with varying sizes, appetites and degrees of fussiness". There's not much they don’t know about pleasing the trickiest of crowds.
In 2016 Sophie and Katherine released their first cookbook, The Dinner Ladies, Fill Your Fridge and Freezer published by Murdoch Books.
For further information on The Dinner Ladies check out www.dinnerladies.com.au
View The Dinner's Ladies' Classic Fish Pie recipe, which is a family favourite and perfect for the freezer.