When it comes down to saving both time and money with meal planning, planning ahead and freezing are perhaps two of the more effective things to do.
Making meals ahead of time especially during the weekends should be a must for a lot of people. That's according to a lot of people I've talked to in the past couple of years.
I just did a batch of meal for a week, and it only took me 2.5 hours to do it. On average, people spend around 40 minutes each day to meal prep. That's 280 minutes or 4.7 hours a week. That's half a day. I did mine in less than that.
If you are always busy during the weekdays and don't have time to cook every night but still want to eat healthy or you just simply want to save money, cooking in batches is important.
A couple of hours in the kitchen and a few batches of your favorite meals will make for quick, yummy meals available whenever you need them. Did I say that cooking in batches tends to be more cost effective?
Of course, some people think that batch cooking and freezing the meals aren't healthy. Believe it or not, most foods retain their flavor, texture, and nutritional value when frozen.
Healthy Freezer Meal Prep: The Dos and Dont's
There are a few things to keep in mind during a healthy freezer meal prep to ensure that your meals are nutritious and as yummy as you want them to be. Read on for how to get the most out of your make-ahead meals.
I learned these healthy freezer meal prep tips and tricks mostly from PlateJoy – a meal plan subscription that my family uses and is the main reason that our grocery bill is around $150-$200/month for a family of 6 (i.e., 4 adults and 2 kids). Try PlateJoy today and get 10 days of FREE meal plans! Plus, get a $10 off when you use my special code PRACTICAL10 to sign up for paid subscription.
What not to freeze
Vegetables with high water content like cucumber, lettuce, sprouts, and onions tend to become mushy when thawed. That's why they are best kept fresh.
Don't sweat on these types of vegetables thinking you don't have time to prep them as they can be prepped in no time without any convenience in your part.
Eggs and egg-based products such as mayo do not do well when frozen because they become too watery when thawed. The same thing applies to yogurt, cream, and cheese products. That said, they are fine when cooked into a dish and, then, frozen.
1. Freeze fluids in bags
Liquid meals such as soups and sauces are best placed and frozen in bags. Before putting them in bags, make sure they cool completely. One thing you can do is put them in a bowl and put the bowl in an ice bath to help speed up the cooling process.
Slowly ladle these liquid meals and spread them in a freezer bag. Stack the filled bags in the fridge so they'll freeze flat – that's a space saving trick a lot of people tend to overlook at.
If you are looking for some soup ideas, check out PlateJoy. Thanks to it, I have been able to create yummy, soupy recipes such as clam chowder soup, lentil soup, yellow curry soup, among others.
The same process works well for tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, or cream sauce, in case you’re cooking in batches or just unintentionally make more than you can use. You can keep these sauces fresh and yummy for about 30 days.
2. Don't prep foods that don't reheat well
Some foods aren't meant to be used for meal prepping or aren't designed to be meal prepped.
You don't want to freeze your fried egg rolls (not the raw ones) because once you thaw them, they will be soggy and re-heating or re-frying them makes them taste weird.
Meals like skin-on chicken and roasted vegetables don't taste as good as they did prior to freezing them. While salads don't get re-heated, they aren't the best foods to be meal prepped. Salad greens wilt and can become watery after only a day or two if mixed with vegetables and/or meats that contain a high amount of water.
Find more foods that don't reheat well here.
3. Label, label, and label
To save yourself from a ton of confusion, label everything you cooked and bagged before you freeze it. Trust me on this one. I typically cook meals that have similar color and it was a disaster when I first bagged all of my pre-prepared meals without labeling them.
Needless to say, I had to taste every single meal, which was fine with me, to see which one was what. Don't make the same mistake that I did.
When you label, write down what the meal is, when you made it, instructions for heating, what the ‘best to eat by' is, just to name a few.
One pro tip is to thaw frozen foods overnight in the fridge. This will help you shorten your reheating time, preserve the texture of your meals, and save you money by not having to use the microwave for extra minutes or whatever it is that you use for reheating food.
Another tip is to reheat food in the same manner in which it was cooked. For example, soups and sauces are to be reheated over a medium-low burner. Casseroles are to be reheated at 350F for 20 minutes until warmed through.
4. Check your kitchen and pantry before meal prep
Always check your kitchen, pantry, fridge, and freezer to make sure you have all the ingredients you need to make your meals.
You don't want to find out you're missing some ingredients while you're cooking. That would be a disaster and may make you not want to continue prepping your batches.
Take note of any leftover meals you can re-use to create another meal or two.
Checking the whole nine yards can help you maximize the use of what you have and not waste food that may go bad a week or two from now.
5. Make easily adaptable meals
Just because you are meal prepping doesn't mean you need to create unique, individual meals.
The best way to meal prep is to create something that can be used many times over for different meals. For example, you can always grill chicken and use that for tacos, salads, soups, among others.
The purpose of meal prepping is to save time and money. Creating individualized meals won't do you any good.
Baked or grilled meats less the skin are fairly easy to reheat. You can make cold chicken salad, egg salad, or something else with these meats and make something extraordinary using the same ingredients.
6. Don”t over complicate your meals
At the heart of a healthy freezer meal prepping is the simplicity of ingredients and of the meal. Don't try to make a beef wellington just because you like it.
Meal prepping is meant to save you time. If you create complicated meals with too many ingredients and steps, you are opening your meal prep to a disaster.
Simple meals can be as tasty and yummy as the complicated ones. Some of the easy ones to make include meatballs in barbecue sauce, vegetable soups, just to name a few.
No time to prep a whole meal?
No worries. When you are already elbow-deep in making a single meal, put an effort to chop up a few extra handfuls of things like sweet potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, or kale.
They are easy to prep and they will make easy additions to future meals if they are frozen in a single layer on a baking sheet (designed to prevent sticking) and they are stored in storage bags.
If you are prepping meat on the other hand, you need to cook it before freezing. That however will make preparing it on the other end extra easy: thaw, heat and season.
Meal preppring doesn't always have to be difficult, challenging, and confusing. There are endless meals plans like PlateJoy or so many things you can easily do to make meals one less stressful thing to do.
People think meal prepping is hard, but it really isn't. You just have to have the right mind set, the right ingredients, and set aside time to create your favorite dishes. That's all.
Are you reading to start your healthy freezer meal prep? What areas of meal prepping are you most unsure of or are excited to do?