Saturday, February 11, 2012

Eating Well // Freezer Meals

My husband has a crazy schedule. He works as an assistant apartment manager during the day as well as a high school and college sports official, which means games at least four days a week in the afternoons and evenings. Winter/Spring season is especially busy. It’s been several days (weeks?) since we have had a home-cooked meal together. Since he is always on the go, quick and easy is better for him. So we’ve fallen into frozen dinners for his lunches, or sometimes he will break it up with a PB&J or by eating out with his coworker. 

Thankfully Adam has expressed an interest in eating healthier. I don’t think he is ready to dive into all organic and natural items…yet. So I came up with the idea to at least make him homemade freezer meals. This would give me the opportunity to feed him more wholesome foods than the processed, pre-packaged stuff. And it will, hopefully, be cheaper. 

Today I set out to give it a try. Here’s what I did:

I found some Rubbermaid divided containers that seem to be a good size for a meal. I bought a bunch of different kinds and asked Adam which he preferred. Thankfully he chose the cheaper ones! We went with the Take-Along 3-pks for $2 each at WalMart. I got three packages.

And yes, considering plastic was an issue for me. However, Rubbermaid claims to now produce BPA-free products. I know there are people who believe that the other substances in plastics are still harmful. Here is where I had to find a balance – either drop $8+ a piece on glass containers, or go with BPA-free plastic which, when paired with my homemade food, has to be multitudes better than whatever junk is the store-bought foods and plastic trays. I am at peace with my Rubbermaids for now. And so is our budget.

Next I planned out and gathered ingredients for four of Adam’s favorite meals. Three of them are actually the meals he chooses for his store-bought dinners, but I know he likes the homemade versions too. I’m glad I had a place to start!

These are the meals:
  • Lasagna roll-ups with broccoli
  • Chicken Parmesan with whole wheat penne pasta
  • Baked “fried” chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans
  • Beef and brown rice with broccoli
It was interesting making all four recipes at once! But I felt it was the most efficient way. So I started by cutting up some sirloin steak to marinate while other things cooked. Then I set to boil a few pots for the potatoes, rice and to blanch the broccoli. 

Rice boiling over in the back, getting ready to blanch broccoli
...oh and some carrots too (not for Adam's meals tho).

Once I got those done, I started prepping the chicken. To fit the chicken in the containers and make re-heating easier, I decided to halve the chicken breasts, then butterfly cut them to make the pieces thinner. This also helps use less meat. I made my own “breading” for the chicken…it’s just a light coating of breadcrumbs and herbs fit whatever recipe they belong to.

Chicken on the left is coated in breadcrumbs, herbs and parmesan.
Right is breadcrumbs, flour, S&P. I quickly pan-fried then oven-baked.

In the middle of that, Adam came home from his shift at the golf course needing lunch. So I threw together some multi-grain English muffin pizzas. Yum!

Back to the dinners…I’m not really sure what came next. I know I was blanching veggies, pan-frying meat and boiling noodles all at once. At one point I whipped up the cheese mixture for the lasagna roll-ups and made some pasta sauce. I also made some gravy for the chicken and potatoes, as well as a buttery sauce for the veggies.
Cooking some ground beef and pasta sauce (left) and marinated sirloin (right).

After using every pot, pan, bowl, colander, spoon and spatula in my kitchen…multiple times…I finally completed each part of each meal. As the different foods finished cooking, I set them aside to cool before placing them in the containers. There was just enough of everything for nine complete meals. (I even have some rice and penne left over that I can eat from this week!)

The last step was wrapping the containers in plastic wrap (for added protection while freezing) and labeling them so Adam can easily see what he is grabbing. This is the final product!

Wrapped and labeled. They look pretty good!

And here’s what my kitchen looked like:


I think I started cooking around 10:30 or 11:00am…and I finished all the cooking and cleaning by 3:00pm. It kind of seems like a long time for only nine freezer meals, but I’m giving myself some grace. This was my first attempt! As I do this more in the future, I am sure I will find short-cuts to save time. 

Even if I don't find short-cuts, it is totally worth it. We haven’t replaced all our foods with organic and natural yet, but we are starting to move forward. So these meals included Greenwise beef and chicken, whole wheat penne pasta, brown rice and semi-homemade sauces with spices. If these meals are a success, I will start to tweak little by little so they incorporate more whole foods. Next time I think I will make my own gravy and pasta sauce with fresh ingredients. Still, these meals are lacking many other random ingredients (chemicals) that are found in store-bought foods…and that is the goal!

Also, I did some estimated math and it looks like each meal cost about $2.50! I’d say that’s a win for a full nutritious meal!