Put those take-out menus back in the drawer!
You can save time and money in your own kitchen by making meals ahead and freezing them. That way, you’ll have them for those “too busy to cook” days.
When life gets too hectic, pull out of one of your prepared meals.
Not only will your meals be tastier, they’ll also be healthier than those you are tempted to buy on-the-go.
You may have heard stories about how you can make a month of freezer meals in a day — and that’s definitely possible. But, I prefer to simply double up on recipes and expand my inventory of prepared meals as I go.
If you cook a double recipe a few times a week, you can enjoy one now and freeze one for later.
These type of meals are great for people who:
- Rely on fast food now, but want to change their ways so they can eat healthier with less prep and in less time
- Are too busy at times to cook a healthy and complete meal on several nights a week
- Are ill and unable to cook
- Are cooking for just one or two, and recipes make too many servings
Just about everyone can benefit by planning ahead, preparing your meals and freezing them.
Of course, there are some food items that don’t freeze well.
For instance, frozen lettuce, cucumbers, bean sprouts and raw potatoes turn mushy when they’re thawed.
Hard-boiled eggs become rubbery.
And, egg-based sauces, including mayonnaise, will separate and curdle when they’re thawed.
Many dairy products, such as cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and cottage cheese, sometimes become watery when thawed, but if used in a baked dish, they will probably be alright.
When you’re getting ready to make some frozen meals, you’ll need to have something to store them in.
So, first decide what storage containers are right for you. Freezer zipper-top bags in quarts and gallon sizes are great and take up less room than containers, but they are single-use. Be sure to squeeze out all extra air, and make sure that they are sealed tight, so that they do not leak. The aluminum foil pans with covers are also just good for one use and then must be discarded.
Check discount stores for lower prices.
Reusable plastic, glass or metal containers are another option. Some are made stackable for easier storage. The size you pick will depend on if you are cooking for two, four, six or more.
Be sure to label with content, date and cooking instructions, especially if you are sharing with a friend.
For best quality, try to use within 3 months.
All leftovers and casseroles should be cooked until they are reheated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read/quick-temp meat thermometer. (By the way, no kitchen should be without an instant read/quick-temp meat thermometer, because it is the only accurate way to test for doneness.)
Betsy Crisp is a Professor Emeritus, UF/IFAS Extension – Family & Consumer Sciences.
Oven-Baked Chicken Tender Strips (kid-friendly, fast-food competitor)
3 large chicken breasts (approximately 1 pound = 4 servings)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cups Italian-style, whole wheat panko breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs will also work)
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
Cut chicken breasts into equal-sized strips.
Into 3 shallow bowls or pie plates:
In one bowl, add flour, salt, and pepper and mix well.
In another bowl beat 2 eggs.
In third bowl add 1 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
Dip each piece of chicken in flour, then egg and then breadcrumbs.
For freezing: After dipping chicken in flour, eggs and breadcrumbs, place on parchment-covered baking sheet and freeze until frozen solid (takes approximately 3 hours). Transfer to a freezer zipper-top bag and place back in the freezer.
Baking later: Place frozen strips on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in oven for 30 minutes to 35 minutes, or until cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
For cooking now: Place chicken strips on a greased or parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes to 25 minutes, or until cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn chicken strips halfway through cooking, to ensure even cooking and crispiness.
Serve with ranch or blue cheese dressing, honey-mustard or barbecue sauce for dipping.
Beef or Chicken Enchiladas
1 pound lean ground beef (or 3 chicken breasts = 1 pound)
1 medium onion diced
3 cups reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, divided
10 medium (8-inch) whole wheat tortillas
2 cans (10-ounce) red enchilada sauce
Optional: 1 can (15.5-ounce) black or red beans; jalapenos or green chilies; 1 cup cooked white or yellow rice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a frying pan, cook ground beef and drain (if using chicken, place 4 raw chicken breasts into a pot of water, and boil and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or until chicken is able to be shredded).
Mix 1 cup cheese, onion, beef/chicken and 1 can red enchilada sauce in a bowl. (Add optional black beans/peppers/chilies/rice, if desired)
With a large scoop (approx. ½ cup), fill each tortilla with mixture. Roll it up, and place it in large 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with seams down. Repeat until all mixture is used.
Pour the second can of enchilada sauce over the top.
Layer 2 cups shredded cheese over sauce.
To freeze for later: Cover with foil, label and freeze. Bake later (after thawing overnight in the refrigerator) at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes to 45 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbling, and reaches a minimum internal temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit on a quick-temp meat thermometer.
To bake now: Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes to 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbling.
Serve with sour cream, salsa, lettuce, beans or rice. Makes 10 servings (1 per person).
Published August 30, 2017