Not your mother’s tv dinners!

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I happen to love frozen dinners – mostly for the convenience and because the calorie counts are included for easy reference. My favorites are the vegetable lasagnas and the Southwestern Bean thingies (I forget what they are called). They are both rich and delicious and around 300 calories. Lord knows, they have come a long way since the 60s.

Okay so it will be a little messy. But when I’m cooking things like soup and chili, there’s really no reason not to double up the recipe and make neat little bags of meals for busy days. I usually save this chore for Sunday afternoon.

I started doing the math and realized that I’m paying around $25 a week for the convenience of store bought Lean Cuisines when I could be making my own concoctions for a fraction of the cost and cutting down on all the sodium to boot. What’s not to like? Preparing freezer-ready meals isn’t a difficult task. I found a few tips for those of you who are trying to shave costs on groceries and have a supply of healthy meals stocked up for those times you don’t feel like cooking.

I adhere to the theory that you should double any recipe you are making since you’re dirtying up the kitchen anyway.

To get started, use these meal-preparation and storage tips:

  • *The containers you use to store your meals in should be both microwave- and freezer-safe. Both glass and plastic may work well, if they meet these standards (all glass and plastic containers are different). Another option is large freezer bags. I may even try saving the trays from uneaten Lean Cuisines and reusing them since I assumed they are safe. Just make sure food is wrapped well and/or covered with air-tight lids to prevent air from getting in. Foods with high moisture content (such as soups) tend to freeze better than drier foods.
  • *Before portioning out cooked food into containers, allow it to cool completely first and always leave extra room at the top of to allow for expansion of the food during freezing. I learned this lesson the hard way. I cooked some of my fresh squash a few months and ago and packed it into containers. Weeks later I discovered the food had expanded and popped the lids! I had to throw my precious squash away.
  • *Don’t turn your food into a mystery science project the way I often do. I found a package of something I could not identify a few days ago. Even after it was thawed, it was still a mystery. Into the trash it went along with a perfectly good container. Just couldn’t face washing it out. Use a permanent marker to label each dish with a name and a date. For maximum quality and flavor, use each meal within a couple of weeks. Just like in a store, rotate your stock so that the newest meals are in the back and the oldest are in the front for easy access.
  • *Vegetables should be slightly undercooked to prevent them from becoming mushy when you reheat them. Be careful about bacterial contamination. Completely cool hot food before freezing it to prevent the growth of bacteria. Bacteria can grow when the outside of food freezes while the inside remains warm. I didn’t know this and my girl friend Ruthie called me on it this weekend when I attempted to refrigerate some home-made soup I took to her house yesterday. Why I’m still alive I’ll never know.
  • *Consider posting a freezer inventory list nearby to track the meals (and dates) of everything in the freezer. Check off each item as you remove it and you will know exactly what foods are available at all times.(Yeah right. This is never going to happen at my house.) This also prevents forgotten food from going to waste. (Yeah, right. This is never going to happen at my house.
  • *Freezing your meals is a great way to keep foods longer, but frozen doesn’t mean forever. As a general rule, fruit and vegetables will stay freezer-fresh for around eight months, fish and shellfish for up to six months, and meat and poultry for three. Trust your instincts and throw out anything from the freezer that smells or tastes “off.”
  • Don’t re-freeze defrosted foods because the taste and texture will decline and you could be risking bacterial contamination.

As a general rule, the following dishes tend to freeze well: baked goods, burgers (sometimes uncooked will freeze better), burritos, calzones, casseroles, cooked beans, cooked grains, egg rolls, enchiladas, French toast, quiche, lasagna, manicotti, mashed potatoes, meatballs and meatloaf, pancakes, pot pies, poultry, roasted meats, sauces, sloppy Joes, soup, stuffed shells, taco fillings, tofu, TVP, and waffles. Foods that do NOT freeze well include: egg- and cream-based sauces, instant rice, salad, stuffed poultry, hard-cooked eggs and fried foods.
If you’re ready to start making your own frozen dinners, here are a few healthy recipes to get you started with flair!

Broccoli quiche

Calories: 166.0 Protein: 17.0g Carbohydrates: 9.3g Fat: 7.3 g

A great dish for Sunday brunch.
Ingredients

1 cup egg substitute or 4 eggs
1/4 cup fat free half and half
1/4 cup skim milk
3 oz low fat swiss cheese
Broccoli florets to cover bottom of pan

1/2 cup canned mushrooms

Chopped onion and garlic to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 400*F. Steam and chop broccoli.
Add broccoli and mushrooms to cake pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
Mix egg substitute with half and half and skim milk.
Pour egg mixture over broccoli.
Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake in 400*F oven approximately 40 minutes.
Number of Servings: 4 – I usually freeze in containers to accommodate two at a time in case I bring someone home from church.

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