Do It Yourself (DIY) Frozen Meals
Prepackaged meals fill the freezer aisles in grocery stores, and what was once called the "TV dinner," or a quick alternative to mom's home cooking, is now eaten regularly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It is undeniable that these meals (Stouffer's, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, etc.) are convenient for a grab-and-go lunch or a fast dinner after a long day, but for this convenience you may be sacrificing nutritional value and great taste. For just a little prep work and the same amount of money or less, you can make and freeze your own meals and have them available for those busy days when you only have minutes to heat something in the microwave.
By making your own frozen meals you will be able to tailor them to your taste preferences and dietary needs. Homemade meals can have far less sodium and preservatives than store-bought counterparts. Try improving their nutritional quality by using brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and low sodium pasta sauces and broths. You can also boost the nutrients and decrease the calories by adding non-starchy vegetables to the recipe such as bell peppers, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, carrots or zucchini squash.
Most cooked dishes keep for 2-3 months in the freezer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends storing all foods at 0ºF or lower to retain vitamin content, color, flavor and texture.
Tips for DIY Frozen Meals:
- Double or triple recipes you were going to cook anyway, such as a casserole. Let the extra portion cook while you eat and then simply portion and store it during clean up.
- Once you have prepared and cooked your meal, let it cool to room temperature before freezing it. This will allow the food to freeze faster, preserving the freshness and taste.
- Choose containers that are appropriate for cold temperatures: thick plastic bags, plastic, or glass containers labeled as freezer-safe.
- Think about portion-size! Store meals in size-appropriate containers: If it is a casserole you will eat with your family, freeze in a large dish; if you will be eating single servings, separate into smaller containers. You may consider freezing sauces or toppings (such as pesto) in ice cube trays. Using containers of various sizes will save you the hassle of trying to break a frozen meal apart, or thawing and refreezing unused portions.
- When ready to enjoy your meal, you can either heat the frozen food directly, or thaw it first (this will allow you to heat it faster). If you choose to thaw it, simply transfer the meal from your freezer to your refrigerator a few hours (or more, depending on the size of the meal) before you plan to eat it.
Foods that freeze well:
- Marinara sauce
- Breads (cut bread before freezing if you will be eating it in single servings)
Click here for helpful tips from the USDA on how to safely store all foods, and information on freezer storage time for various foods.
Emily Blessing is the LIS/Client Services Supervisor in the Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital laboratory. Blessing is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University.