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How to Prepare Make-Ahead Freezer Meals | Easy & Healthy

Make-Ahead Freezer Meals:

In some circles, being insanely busy is a badge of honor. People suppose those that run nonstop, barely assembly their private {and professional} obligations, are extra profitable than individuals whose lives, whereas full, aren’t fairly so frantic.

Whether or not you settle for that overscheduling is an essential situation of productiveness and materials success, it’s not controversial to say that the majority of working-age Americans are very busy, particularly with youngsters within the combine. And by necessity, very busy individuals generally want to make trade-offs.

Food figures into several of those trade-offs. Millions of Americans have willingly (or essentially) exchanged full, sit-down breakfasts for cereal bars on the go, wholesome lunches for noodles or reheated leftovers, and scratch-made dinners for frozen, prepackaged trays or costly, not-so-healthy takeout meals.

These trade-offs are the info of life. However, not less than when it comes to balancing busy skilled and private lives with healthful, reasonably priced consuming, such trade-offs don’t have to be stark or painful. There’s an more and more well-liked variety that splits the distinction between scratch-made and store-bought meals, decreasing dinnertime prep necessities without compromising taste, high quality, or total healthfulness. It’s the do-it-yourself freezer meal, and it’s a budget-friendly alternative for anybody who’s confronted cooking dinner for a hungry, impatient household on the finish of a protracted day.

What Are Freezer Meals?

Freezer meals should not be the TV dinners in your grocery store’s freezer part. They’re partially or assembled meals or entrees you make from scratch components. You can freeze them in plastic luggage, foil baking pans, or reusable quart or gallon meals storage containers. When you’re prepared to eat, you are taking them out of the freezer to reheat or prepare dinner.

Virtually any meal you may safely preassemble, freeze, and prepare dinner later is worthy of the freezer meal:

  • Complex pastas, reminiscent of ravioli and lasagna
  • Potato-based dishes, reminiscent of hash
  • Casseroles and bakes
  • Hearty soups and stews
  • Stir-fries
  • Meaty dishes, reminiscent of pork chops with vegetable sides
  • Lighter dishes and sides, reminiscent of lettuce cup filling and pureed vegetable soups

Beyond security and the logistics of cooking and meeting, the one restriction is your creativity.

Creating a Freezer Meal

Freezer meals are designed to be quick and handy. They’re not essentially sooner total to put together than different scratch-made meals, although they are often sooner per serving for those who make bigger batches. But since you assemble them upfront and freeze them for future use, they scale back the required time funding when it issues most: while you and the household are hungry, drained, and prepared to eat.

The course of constructing freezer meals has three main steps.

1. Preparation

Though the preparation step varies relying on the menu, the essential thought is to put collectively uncooked components right into a type you may prepare dinner while you’re prepared with as little extra work as potential. In some circumstances, it requires an honest quantity of labor — for instance, assembling a seven-layer lasagna or mixing a casserole. In different circumstances, prep is so simple as slicing just a few veggies or simply dumping uncooked components right into a freezer-safe container. Light to average cooking, reminiscent of parboiling potatoes for hash or precooking a casserole, sometimes makes a look in the course of the prep stage.

To focus your assets and efforts, it’s finest to put aside just a few hours on a weekend day to put together freezer meals for the approaching week or month.

Pro tip: Services like MyFreezEasy assist make freezer meals easy. They present budget-friendly recipes, aid you put collectively buying lists, and give you step-by-step freezer prep directions. Sign up for MyFreezEasy.

2. Storage

Freezer meal storage varies by meal kind. Overriding issues embrace security and capability. You want storage containers that are sturdy sufficient to survive freezing, thawing, and generally cooking. And they should have ample quantity for saved meals after accounting for growth within the freezer.

Common freezer meal storage containers embrace:

  • Rigid Containers. Rigid plastic or Pyrex containers, normally quart- or gallon-size, are acceptable for storing stir-fries, stews, and soups. They’re much less fascinating for delicate or form-set recipes, reminiscent of ravioli or casserole, as compression and shifting can happen. Look for dishwasher-safe containers you may reuse indefinitely, reminiscent of an reasonably priced 18-piece Pyrex set or 48-pack of plastic deli containers. Note: Pyrex cookware can crack or shatter due to sudden temperature modifications, in accordance to Southern Living. If you retailer freezer meals in Pyrex, at all times permit the cookware to attain room temperature earlier than inserting it in a preheated oven. After heating, retailer scorching glassware on a dish towel to stop thermal downshock (a speedy drop in temperature that may weaken the dish).
  • Plastic Bags. You can use plastic luggage for liquid or semisolid dishes, reminiscent of pureed greens or soup. They’re reusable, however they’re not as sturdy or as straightforward to clear as inflexible containers. Just ensure you get freezer luggage, like 1-gallon Ziploc freezer luggage. Always freeze luggage flat for simpler storage — flattened, stackable luggage take up a lot much less freezer area than lumpy ones.
  • Baking Trays. Foil baking trays are perfect for bigger volumes. They’re additionally handy for recipes that decision for cooking in standard ovens, reminiscent of lasagnas and casseroles. If you purchase them in bulk, you will get them for just a few cents every — for instance, a pack of 100 aluminum lasagna trays prices lower than half a greenback every (although smaller portions aren’t outrageously costly). If you’re involved about waste and have room in your funds for the added upfront value, reusable steel baking trays are extra sturdy and dishwasher-safe.
  • Glass Containers. Depending on their building and capability, sturdy glass containers could also be appropriate for freezer meal storage. For instance, Mason canning jars can survive a number of freeze-thaw cycles. However, it may be troublesome to discover resealable glass containers giant sufficient to maintain whole meals, so glass might be a more sensible choice for sides or condiments. Also, watch rigorously for cracks after every freeze-thaw cycle, and discard any glassware that appears compromised. Follow the identical gradual heating and cooling precautions used for Pyrex cookware.

Except for plastic luggage and disposable aluminum baking pans, it’s usually not a good suggestion to use any container that isn’t dishwasher-safe.

3. Cooking

You want to prepare dinner freezer meals to a protected temperature — sustained readings above 140 levels F. The preferred cooking methodology will depend on the meal kind and the period you’ve on meal day:

  • Slow Cooker. Slow cooking works finest for soups, stews, and a few meat-centric dishes (reminiscent of roasts). Since slow-cooked meals requires minimal supervision and is prepared to eat any time after it reaches a protected temperature, it’s preferrred for busy households. Cooking a freezer meal in a sluggish cooker is usually so simple as dumping a frozen or defrosted container of veggies and meat right into a cooker set to low earlier than heading to work within the morning.
  • Pressure Cooker. A strain cooker will help you get monetary savings within the kitchen. It can be a lifesaver when time is brief (and while you neglect to arrange your sluggish cooker within the morning). The Instant Pot Duo seven-in-one cooker is suitable for many informal residence cooks.
  • Stovetop. Stovetop cooking is finest for stir-fries, hashes, and different meals that profit from grilled taste and don’t want extra liquid to stay palatable. It additionally works for boiled meals, reminiscent of ravioli.
  • Conventional Oven. Oven baking works finest for large-volume, fixed-form meals like casseroles and lasagna. It’s additionally appropriate for meat-centric dishes with small meat parts (reminiscent of cubes or strips) that don’t require plenty of prepare dinner time — bigger hunks of meat are most likely higher within the sluggish cooker, which is way safer to go away unattended. Remember that oven prepare dinner instances (together with preheating) have a tendency to be longer than that of different cooking strategies, so this isn’t the best choice when time is an overriding concern.
  • Microwave. Microwave cooking isn’t the optimum means to draw out advanced flavors, but it surely’s protected, easy, and normally sooner than standard oven cooking. However, freezer-safe containers aren’t essentially microwavable, so it’s possible you’ll want to switch your freezer meal earlier than nuking.

Pros of Freezer Meals

The freezer meal idea may not be rocket science, however not each freezer meal profit is manifestly obvious. Freezer meals’ most important benefits embrace each monetary and bodily advantage.

1. Healthier Than Cheap, Store-Bought Dinners

Today’s store-bought frozen dinners aren’t the tasteless, uninspired, freeze-dried TV dinners of the “Mad Men” period. They’re flavorful, creative, and even generally wholesome.

However, as a basic rule, budget-friendly TV dinners stay much less wholesome than meals comprised of recent, complete components — together with freezer meals. According to WebMD, store-bought freezer meals lean closely on sodium and infrequently comprise eye-popping quantities of saturated fats and energy.

By distinction, freezer meals’ dietary profiles are comparable to meals comprised of scratch, placing you in command of the sodium, fats, and calorie content material.

2. Faster Than Scratch Preparation

On the day you devour it, a freezer meal requires much less lively prep and prepare dinner time than a comparable scratch-made meal. That’s as a result of, ideally, you’ve already executed most or all of the uncooked prep. You simply want to prepare dinner, cool, and serve it. In a sluggish cooker, that may take nearly no lively time in any respect.

3. Less Energy Required Than Preparing From Scratch

Freezer meals aren’t simply faster to put together — they’re additionally simpler. It takes a lot much less effort to dump a freezer container’s contents right into a sluggish cooker or slide a baking tray right into a scorching oven than to make a stir-fry or seven-layer lasagna from scratch. At the top of a troublesome day at work, each ounce of saved vitality issues.

4. Cheaper & Healthier Than Ordering In

Ordering takeout is the last word low-energy dinner possibility. If the meal arrives in time, you don’t even want to warmth it up. And in case your order is full and considerate, you don’t have to fear about including any sides or seasonings.

Of course, ordering takeout is way much less cost-effective than getting ready high-quality meals from scratch utilizing reasonably priced, extensively accessible components. Takeout is almost as costly as eating out — and for those who order supply as an alternative of selecting up the order yourself, you want to tip the driving force and presumably pay a supply payment. All the methods for saving cash at eating places can’t alter the economics of paying a group of execs to make your meals. Unless your private funds have loads of room for discretionary purchases, continuously ordering takeout simply doesn’t make monetary sense.

Furthermore, freezer meals (and do-it-yourself meals on the whole) might be more healthy — and simpler for individuals with dietary restrictions or meals allergy symptoms to management — than takeout. As lengthy as you stick to recent, complete components in your freezer meals, you’ll at all times know what’s in them and may honor any particular dietary wants.

5. Less Wasteful Than Store-Bought Dinners or Takeout

Freezer meals produce much less waste than TV dinners or takeout. According to retail and restaurant business service supplier Lightspeed, takeout produces substantial quantities of paper and plastic trash, not to point out dangerous carbon emissions throughout manufacturing and transport.

While all meals produce some carbon footprint, you may reuse dishwasher-safe freezer meal containers indefinitely. Plus, the quantity of inorganic waste (plastic luggage and packaging) accompanying your meals’ recent, store-bought components is probably going to be decreased per serving than that of takeout or store-bought frozen meals.

6. Excellent Teaching Opportunity for Kids

Cooking with youngsters might be very fulfilling, and freezer meal prep day supplies a superb alternative. You can’t anticipate maintaining your youngsters’ consideration each time you make a meal from scratch. However, you may most likely corral them into spending an hour or two with you on a weekend afternoon as you get your freezer meals prepared.

Engage smaller kids in every step of the method with step-by-step explanations. Give greater youngsters extra duty in the course of the prep course of — if age- and skill-appropriate, have them design (or execute from a current recipe) a whole meal from beginning to end.

Cons of Freezer Meals

Make-ahead freezer meals do have some drawbacks, starting from surmountable to expensive.

1. Significant Ongoing & Potentially Costly Storage Space Requirements

No matter how effectively you retail them, freezer meals take up valuable freezer space for storing. If you’ve just one freezer, as is the case for hundreds of thousands of middle-income householders, your potential to make freezer meals effectively forward of time is bound to be restricted by chilly storage wants of equal or larger significance.

2. Greater Vulnerability to Extended Power Outages

Though they’re extra frequent in locations with a frequent extreme climate, fragile energy grids, or each, energy outages are a reality of life in all places. Unfortunately, a weeks-long provide of meals that want to stay frozen always is uniquely susceptible to a prolonged outage. Depending on your freezer’s tightness and effectivity, an outage as quick as 24 hours might irreparably harm (or render unsafe) your freezer meals, forcing you to write off a whole lot of {dollars} in wasted meals.

3. Potential for Significant Time Investment on Weekends

While freezer meals undoubtedly save time on meal days, they do require some preparation. If you propose to make several weeks’ price of freezer meals consisting of several recipes, it is best to anticipate to spend the higher a part of a weekend day within the kitchen to prep them. You received to have to do that each weekend, however discovering time might show difficult in case your off days are overscheduled already.

4. Long Defrost Time for Some Meals

Some freezer meals want to thaw forward of time, normally in a single day. It’s straightforward sufficient for busy people to neglect that first easy however essential step in such meals’ cooking: taking them out of the freezer. I’ve executed it myself. You can keep away from the lengthy defrost interval by selecting recipes that may go straight into the oven or onto the stovetop, although. And it’s not at all times the top of the world for those who do neglect — whereas it’s not preferred, you should use water or your microwave to defrost issues shortly if essential.

General Tips to Prepare, Store, & Cook Freezer Meals

These basic suggestions can scale back the monetary and logistical hassles of getting ready, storing, and cooking freezer meals.

1. Use High-Quality Ingredients If Cost Is Not Paramount

If the per-meal value is your prime freezer meal concern, don’t be shy about going low cost. Buy reasonably-priced cuts of meat at your native low-cost grocery retailer, cease by a farm stand proper earlier than closing, and fill up on bulk seasonings and staples at warehouse golf equipment reminiscent of Costco or Sam’s Club.

If there’s extra wiggle room in your funds, spring for higher-quality components, as they provide several advantages. First, freezing is an unbelievable means to protect meals, but it surely’s not good. High-quality components tend to style higher after months on ice than lower-quality components. They’ll appear brisker for longer too, although they’re not immune to freezer burn.

Additionally, high-quality components are extra probably to prepare dinner higher. My spouse and I discovered the exhausting means that low-cost cuts of meat aren’t at all times well worth the financial savings. The low-grade beef fajitas we heated up in our sluggish cooker got here out greasy and difficult, a far cry from the succulent fajitas that materialized from our subsequent batch made from higher-quality cuts.

2. Invest in a Chest Freezer

Freezer meals require a freezer area, particularly when deliberate weeks or months upfront. If you’re dedicated to consuming freezer meals typically and have sufficient area (and a spare electrical outlet you received to want for anything — ever), spend money on a chest freezer. Freezer prices and high quality fluctuate extensively, but it surely’s the potential to discover a dependable, energy-efficient mannequin for lower than $200. (My spouse and I bought a GE chest freezer for about $190 after tax. It’s crammed with freezer meals, frozen meat, and frozen veggies.)

Depending on the way you are worth your time, a $200 chest freezer funding can shortly pay for itself, as most freezers can maintain dozens of rigorously stacked quart containers and baking trays. In reality, a chest freezer that holds 50 family-of-four-size freezer meals at a median value of $10 per meal accommodates the $500 price of meals. If these freezer meals substitute takeout dinners at a median value of $25 per meal, that’s $750 in financial savings or $550 after subtracting the freezer’s value.

3. Work Well Ahead

Instead of continuously making freezer meals in small batches, decide what number of freezer meals you anticipate to devour per week, on common, and put together sufficient to cowl several weeks or months. For occasion, for those who devour a median of three freezer meals per week and wish to work 4 weeks forward, you want 12 freezer meals.

You’ll naturally be restricted by your freezer area, funds available, and the anticipated shelf life of the meals within the freezer. However, it’s price adjusting your grocery funds to account for extra substantial, much less frequent grocery retailer journeys. As an alternate, you may kick off your freezer meal section of life with a marathon cooking session that produces sufficient freezer meals for several weeks, then store and prepare dinner as essential to substitute what you eat in the week.

For a short-lived resolution that doesn’t require long-term budgetary changes, look right into a low-APR bank card with an introductory 0% APR curiosity promotion to fund your freezer meal expenditures. If you’re employed far sufficient forward, you’ll have loads of additional freezer meals — which means there might be months between marathon grocery purchases. That additionally means loads of time to repay earlier grocery purchases and save for future buying journeys.

Pro tip: Save cash in your grocery retailer journeys through the use of apps like Ibotta or Fetch Rewards. Just scan your receipt and obtain money again for the gadgets you buy.

4. Consume Meals Roughly within the Order You Make Them

While this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, purpose to devour meals inside six months of preparation to stop freezer burn and scale back meals waste due to energy interruptions. Follow the “first in, first out” rule, inserting newer meals behind or beneath older ones. And label each meal with its title, prep date, and any particular dietary notes.

5. Make It a Party

Hopefully, the considered saving plenty of money and time on future dinners is sufficient to get you thru your subsequent freezer meal prep session. But it’s honest to guess you’d benefit from the expertise much more — and, maybe, study some new methods — with some firm.

Why not collect a gaggle of pals and have a freezer meal prep occasion? With nothing to prepare dinner, you didn’t receive have to fear about oven or stovetop bottlenecks — although a big occasion may be unrealistic in case your kitchen is cramped or lacks ample counter area.

6. Plan Freezer Meal Nights in Advance

Having a scorching and ready-to-eat freezer meal isn’t instantaneous. Most probably, it requires not less than some prepare dinner time on the day you need to eat it.

To keep away from last-minute time crunches or delayed dinners — issues freezer meals ought to mitigate — get within the behavior of planning your freezer meal nights at the first of every week. Planning ensures all things fall into place every evening.

When planning, specify which meal you’ll eat every evening, when it is best to take away it from the freezer to defrost, how and while you’ll prepare dinner it, and what else you want to do (reminiscent of facet prep) to make it full. Take 10 or quarter-hour to lay this all out on Sunday afternoon, and also you’ll certainly scale back your dinner anxiousness in the week to come.

When planning your freezer meal nights for the week, a word which (if any) want to defrost in a single day. Set a reminder in your calendar or cellphone to warn you with sufficient time to spare — say, at 8 pm the evening earlier than. To guarantee they defrost earlier than cooking, put any containers that want to thaw in your fridge 18 to 24 hours forward of preparing dinner time, holding in thoughts that bigger volumes take longer to defrost.

If you neglect, all isn’t misplaced. You can use a bowl of chilly water or your microwave’s defrost characteristic to speed up thaw instances. Get the complete directions on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Eat Right.

7. Get a Warehouse Club Membership:

For around $60 per yr, a warehouse membership is an economical compliment to a freezer meal routine. Warehouse golf equipment like Costco and Sam’s Club promotes high-quality components in giant packages. If you should use all the things you purchase, you’re certain to get monetary savings over daintier grocery retailer parts. Rather than freezing the lion’s share of these parts as quickly as you get residence, incorporate them into inventive freezer meals earlier than placing them on ice.

Final Word:

So many life choices come down to an alternative between two restricted assets: money and time. The freezer meal is an uncommon proposition that is executed properly, saves each money and time.

Sure, cooking a frozen meal you ready months earlier isn’t fairly as magical as composing an elaborate scratch-made meal from beginning to end. It’s additionally not as stress-free after a protracted day at work as ready for the supply man to arrive from the consolation of your sofa. However, on the all-important time vs. cash continuum, it’s fairly darn shut to a win-win.

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