I kind of combine Joe's answer with J Wynia's at my house. We have a standing freezer in the garage, so luckily I have room for a lot of stuff :) I've always been a strategic shopper (chicken breast is $1.49 this week? you better believe I'm buying 20 lbs), so the outside freezer has already paid for itself many times over. We actually got ours from a friend who was going to put his on Craigslist, so it was only $100.
When I have time to make a full meal during the week or on the weekend, I make 3-4x what I need. If I'm making lasagna, I'll make 3 trays. If I'm making ground beef for tacos or sloppy joes, I'll make 4 lbs. When I caramelize onions, I do a 5lb bag. Chili and any soups or stews, an entire crock-pot or dutch oven's worth. Depending on what I have on hand, I'll either vacuum seal them or put them in a freezer bag or ziploc container, dated and labeled of course (it's amazing how difficult some things can be to identify something when frozen). If you don't have a slow cooker (crock pot) get one! You can just throw a bunch of stuff in it and with minimal hassle, you've got a large meal with a lot of leftovers.
If I make 3 extra meals, twice a week, for a month, I've got 24 days worth of meals ready. That's my "rolling" stock of full meals.
Then on a Saturday or Sunday when I have the time, I'll grill 10 chicken breasts, make 2 london broils, 2 pork tenderloins - whatever I might be in the mood for that week. The important thing to remember is, if you're going to make 1 of something, how much harder is it going to be to make 5 or 10? You already have the stuff out and the kitchen in use!
At all times, I have a stock of sliced and diced onions and/or shallots, bell peppers, jalapenos, sliced or minced garlic, and a bag of stock (in ice cube form) in my freezer for impromptu meals.
So, if I get an especially difficult work day and get home late (or I'm just feeling lazy), I'll use the pre-made meals; on a normal day I'll use some combination of these "parts".
Vacuum sealing is great, because if you forget to defrost something the night before, you can throw the entire bag in a pot of boiling water on the stove and have it hot quickly, then finish it off in a pan depending on what it is (if desired). Certain things can be hot and delicious just by boiling, such as lasagna and soup.
Some real-world examples from my freezer right now or in the recent past:
- Hamburger meat - tacos, homemade hamburger helper, sloppy joes. I have a few pounds of cooked taco meat and sloppy joe meat frozen already made, and some plain hamburger meat cooked for hamburger helper or whatever else I may think of
- Burgers - a supply of ground sirloin/chuck burgers, and a supply of ground turkey burgers. I also prep the patties and freeze uncooked between layers of freezer paper for a "fresh" grilling since they're fast and easy
- Chili - a few varieties, each made in the crockpot on low for 8 hours
- Pasta sauce - extremely easy (and relatively cheap)
- London Broil - cooked and cut into thin strips, for sandwiches, wraps, salads, stir-fry, or just by themselves cold or warm.
- Chicken - grilled, same use as the London Broil
- Chicken - poached, for chicken salad, chicken tacos, quesadillas, stir fry
- Pork roast - cooked in crock pot with homemade barbecue sauce, then shredded and frozen, for pulled pork sandwiches
- Lasagna - cut into individual servings and vacuum sealed for boiling as mentioned above
- Chicken Parmesan - I usually make this the same day as the lasagna - and eat them together too - but I freeze them separately to grab for lunch on the way to work as well
- Rice and Beans - sometimes I freeze individually, sometimes I mix them together and freeze like that
- Casseroles - casseroles are like magic, they're easy to prepare, they freeze really well, combine a lot of different foods, and often taste better after sitting. Tuna casserole, green bean casserole, chicken pasta casserole, the possibilities here are endless
- Soups - frozen in ziploc containers. As with casseroles you can get a lot of variety here. Often I'll freeze them in ziploc containers, then vacuum seal when solid, so I can use the boiling water method to quickly thaw
- Frozen fruit - this isn't really for meal planning necessarily, but it can definitely help you in a pinch - a quick smoothie in the morning, a healthy snack during the day, or even to help make a sauce or marinade for dinner. I generally have some bananas, sliced strawberries, sliced peaches, blueberries and grapes - plus whatever was in season in the recent past
One other trick is freezing uncooked things with their marinades. If I buy a pork tenderloin, I'll make a quick marinade and freeze it in the bag. Same with fish, london broil, shrimp (unpeeled), chicken breasts - just about anything really. When you take them out to defrost, they'll marinade at the same time.
I was given two great books as gifts last year:
- Fix, Freeze, Feast - no pictures, but a lot of simple recipes, and full instructions on both how to freeze and how to reheat
- Prevention's Low-Fat, Low-Cost Freezer Cookbook - this book is great. Every page has a sidebar with kitchen tips (such as how to freeze herbs), there's an 18 page intro with good info on what and how to freeze in general, and the recipes are split into two groups: For the Freezer, meals you cook then freeze, and From the Freezer, meals that take use of the "parts" you've previously frozen. As a bonus, every recipe includes your basic nutritional info like you'd find on packaged food at the store, as well as an estimated cost per serving!
Finally, I completely agree with Joe's suggestion for the dinner exchange. I actually do a lunch potluck with a buddy at work at least once a week, and we both use our homemade freezer meals instead of cooking something special. Definitely helps break up the monotony of just eating things you cook - you're already used to those!