You may have noticed that Steph and I are both posting a lot about meal prep. Now that the semester is in full swing, we’re both focused on ways to keep up healthy eating habits without being overwhelmed in the kitchen.
I’m a weekend kitchen warrior. The only cooking I want to do during the week involves a microwave or an oven and something already made.
Freezer-based prep and planning developed over time for me as way of coping with long days during the week, and now it’s a habit. It takes a bit of planning and organization so that you don’t end up with a freezer full of stuff you won’t eat.
My tips on making freezer prep work:
1) LABEL EVERYTHING with a date and description. (Trust me, you won’t recognize that container of shredded chicken in a month. You think you will, but you won’t.)
2) Make a list of prepped items you put in the freezer with the dates they were frozen. Keep it wherever you do meal planning. (Hang it on the fridge, even.)
Both of these steps will help you remember what is in there (even if you have to dig for them!) and use them in a timely way.
Pantry Staples are Meal-Builders
A huge time-saver for me is to make staple items in bulk, then freeze them in amounts that match how I like to use them. An example of that is brown rice (or any kind of rice). If I am going to cook during the week, it’s going to be a quick stir fry, a salad, or something that accompanies the fish or chicken my husband can throw on the grill when he gets home.
I prefer brown rice to white; it is a whole grain and has more nutrients. However, it doesn’t cook very quickly, so having it already prepped is a real time-saver. (Yes, you can buy prepackaged frozen rice – but it’s so cheap to buy in bulk, cook in bulk, and freeze it yourself!) I use Alton Brown’s recipe for baked brown rice so often that I really don’t need to check the recipe anymore. I double or even triple or quadruple the amount in the recipe so that I have plenty to stock for later.
Other grains that freeze incredibly well include polenta (grits) and even cooked potatoes.
Cooked beans are also great freezer staples. I am definitely a fan of canned beans as a time-and-sanity saver, but cooking dried beans from scratch yields a tastier meal, I think. My most-used cooking tools are the slow cooker and the pressure cooker (I don’t have an Instant Pot, but that’s the same idea), and beans do great in both. The Kitchn has great tips for pressure cooking beans and here’s a link to walk you through beans made in an Instant Pot. If you’re a slow cooker devotee, here’s info from the Kitchn on beans in your crock pot.
We also cook proteins (meat or vegetable) and freeze them for later use. Some favorites are slow-cooked shredded chicken and pork (you can make plain or mildly seasoned shredded pork the same way, plain, so we can adapt it to recipes later). There are plenty of slow-cooker recipes for pulled pork, too. Make more than you need and put half away for later.
Make More, Freeze Leftovers
Basically, always cook a bit more than you need and freeze it for later. Not everyone loves to eat leftovers all week (my household is kind of weird that way). So freezing even just one or two servings will give you options during a busy week. There’s no reason to limit this approach to meat-based meals; plant-based prep-freeze/leftover-freezing is an option. Check out this list of bulk cooking ideas from The Minimalist Vegan. Vegetarian lentil, bean and pureed veggie soups form the basis of our winter meals, and I always have a container of soup in the freezer.
How to Thaw
My favorite way to thaw frozen food is overnight in the fridge. Because we do most meal prep on Sunday, I’ll take out a prepared meal (soup that we’ll eat with a quick salad and crusty bread) on Friday or Satuday…usually with a sigh of relief that at least one or two after-work dinners for the week are, essentially, already made.
However, there are ways around that overnight thawing approach – check out the Kitchn’s tips on thawing.
Wishing you a great week. Enjoy!