IN today’s busy world, we often hear the proverbial excuse “I just don’t have time to cook.” To this we say: the freezer is your friend! There’s no better time than now to add timesaving, make-ahead meal planning and preparation to your routine.
Here’s how to get started: Select a couple of recipes you and your family like and shop for the ingredients. Take a little time during the weekend to prepare those dishes and let them cool. Divide the food into serving sizes using recipe information to determine portions. Use freezer bags or reusable bowls to store meals in the freezer.
With these steps in place, you’ll be ready defrost your main course in a few minutes; add a side of fresh salad or fruit; and then enjoy a nutritious and delicious meal.
1. Soups that freeze best are bean, rice, broth-based, meat-based, or pureed soups. Avoid freezing soups that are heavy in cream, dairy, or seafood.
2. Soups can be stored in portion-controlled sizes, such as freezer-safe bags that can be laid flat for stacking. Make sure there are no air bubbles or open-air spaces in the bags or other freezer containers, as they leave space for freezer burn! I also love muffin tins for freezing soup. When the soup is frozen, pop out portions, wrap them tightly in foil, and put them in the freezer for later use.
3. Eat frozen foods within three months to ensure freshness. Label and date your packages to prevent spoilage.
4. Thaw your foods in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature to prevent food-borne illness.
Almost seems too easy? Well, that’s the point! Your new meal mantra will be: make (only once a week), freeze, and reheat. To get you started, here are two of my freezer friendly foodie favorites. The recipes were developed by the Canyon Ranch Culinary Team and are used with permission.
VEGETARIAN BEAN CHILI
Servings: 10 (1 cup each)
Nutrition Information (per serving)
Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 189 mg
Carbohydrates: 32 grams
Fat: 2 g
Fiber: 7 g
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
1/2 cup navy beans
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup adzuki beans
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2/3 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
3/4 teaspoon dry basil
Pinch ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
Pinch chipotle pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon dry oregano
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato puree
1 3/4 cup tomato sauce
2 cups vegetable stock
4 teaspoons minced green chili
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1. Soak beans overnight. Drain soaking water. Add fresh water. Bring water and beans to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
2. In another saucepan, sauté garlic, onion, and peppers in olive oil until tender. Add dry spices and sauté briefly. Add tomato products and vegetable stock and bring everything to a simmer. Add cooked beans and bring the chili back to a simmer. Add green chilies and cook for 45 minutes.
3. Add cilantro, parsley, and molasses and cook for 5 more minutes.
Nutrition Information (per serving):
Protein: 33 grams
Sodium: 506 mg
Carbohydrates: 40 grams
Fat: 11 grams
Fiber: 5 grams
Cholesterol: 139 mg
3 cups nonfat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup egg yolks
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 cups marinara sauce
9 whole grain lasagna noodles
2 medium zucchini squash, very thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 medium yellow squash, very thinly sliced on the diagonal
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly coat a 9” x 13” x 2” baking pan with olive oil.
2. In a large bowl, combine ricotta, egg yolks, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
3. Meanwhile, cook the lasagna noodles in a pot of boiling water (see package for instructions).
4. To assemble lasagna, spread 3/4 cup marinara sauce in bottom of baking pan. Place three pasta noodles over marinara. Top with 1/2 ricotta mixture, followed by ½ zucchini. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese over zucchini. Next top with another 1 1/2 pasta sheets and 3/4 cup marinara. Arrange 1/2 yellow squash over marinara and top with 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat process, starting with pasta noodles.
5. Top the lasagna with remaining one pasta sheet, one cup marinara, one cup of mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan.
6. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. 7. Cut into eight servings.
8. Freeze the lasagna in individually-foil wrapped pieces in freezer-safe containers. When you’re ready to eat, simply defrost, reheat, and enjoy!