By Leslie Dugger | Moonshine Ink
We’ve all had those occasions when you wish you had your own personal chef so that you didn’t have to scramble for dinner or bring home take-out. I know it’s hard to think rationally about eating healthy and budget friendly — especially when you get home late, the kids need to do their homework, and everyone is hangry. While there are a lot of home delivery options that prep your food and give you recipes, they can get pricey, ranging from $9 or more per serving.
How would you like to take a couple of hours and fill your freezer with healthy, economical meals that your family will eat? Putting your own freezer meals together is simple, and you choose the ingredients while keeping within your budget. All you need to do is select your recipes (this is the hardest part), make your shopping list, check your pantry and grocery shop, and you’re ready to put them together. To prepare the meals, pull out all your ingredients, recipes, prep tools (measure cups, measuring spoons, knives, cutting boards, etc.) and storage containers and you’re ready to assemble.
Choose a recipe, be your own prep cook, place in the container, and freeze. This is a great family activity. Get the kids involved in learning how to prep and measure ingredients, safe knife techniques (for those old enough), and instill a sense of accomplishment in helping prepare the family meal.
Most foods freeze well for the purposes of cooking. Slow-cooker meals are a favorite because you can pop it in the crockpot frozen and let it cook all day; however, stovetop, microwave, or grilling (the proteins marinate while freezing and thawing) work just as well.
• You can use zip-lock bags or purchase inexpensive plastic containers that hold the volume you need. I found the perfect reusable containers while at IKEA.
• Label your containers with the recipe name, any ingredients you may need to add, and best way to cook. I use erasable labels or dissolvable freezer labels, found on amazon.com.
• Keep a record of those recipes that worked well so that they are easy to duplicate in the future.
• If there is a lot of liquid (like the stock used in soups), put bouillon granules or concentrate in the container and add the liquid when you’re ready to prepare the meal. It takes less space in your freezer.
• There’s no need to freeze your uncooked pasta, just add it when preparing your meal.
• Mix your ingredients together fully before freezing, so all spices get distributed evenly, especially when marinating proteins.
• Use canned beans. It’s easier and more consistent in cooking.
• If your family is smaller, or if you don’t want a lot of leftovers, split a recipe into two separate containers when you are preparing them: one prep, two meals.
• Freezer meals are perfect to give away for those instances when you want to help someone in need (after surgery, extended illness, new home, new mom, welcome neighbor). Just remember to include an ingredient list (in case of allergies or food preferences) and cooking instructions.
• Find food safety guidelines at www.fsis.usda.gov.
FOODS THAT DON’T FREEZE WELL:
• Potatoes don’t freeze well unless parboiled as the texture changes.
• Vegetables with a high water content that you wouldn’t cook such as cucumbers or lettuce.
• Recipes with cream sauces. (However, cream cheese freezes well and can provide your recipe with the “creaminess.”)
• Mayonnaise and sour cream
FOODS THAT WORK WELL FOR FREEZER MEALS:
• Milk, cream cheese, cheese, butter
• Animal proteins
• Tofu (the texture becomes firmer with “meat like” consistency)
• Most produce
• Nuts and seeds
• Most fruit (except bananas)
Main Image Caption: Dinner is a snap when you just have to pull something from the freezer and pop it in the oven. Make-ahead meals for the freezer are easier than you think. Photo by Caymia/bigstockphoto.com