Monday, July 29, 2013

Freezer and FIGURE Friendly Meals


Want to stock your freezer with delicious and nutritious meals for your family?  Struggling to find freezer friendly meals that aren’t loaded with heavy portions of cheese, butter, and cream but light on veggies and whole grains?  No worries – there’s an RD in our cooking club and it’s me, Meghan!  I’ve figured out how to make freezer meals well balanced and packed full of nutrition.  It’s easy if you follow these tips:

Opt for Healthier Freezer Friendly Recipes
I’ve broken it down by category for freezer friendly dishes.  Once you know key ingredients to steer clear of (cream of anything soup, for example) you’ll get the hang of it.  Then you can pick your favorite recipes and create a game plan to stock your freezer.

Chili, Soup, and Stew:
·         Lighten up chili by using lean meats and poultry like 90% or more lean ground beef, ground chicken or turkey breast.  You can even make a vegetarianchili by using a mixture of your favorite canned beans.  Chili freezes well and is a hearty meal on its own, so pair with baked tortilla chips (Try Utz baked tortilla chips), salsa, and guacamole – ditch the cheese and sour cream, you won’t miss it.
·         Broth based soups are a freezer rock star.  Prepare a large pot of soup that contains plenty of veggies.  Simply defrost and pair with a healthy salad or sandwich on whole grain bread for a healthy and filling dinner.  Try these classics: beef and barley, chicken noodle, lentil, or minestrone.
·         Stews freeze well and are versatile.  You can prepare them and freeze or prep a slow cooker kit to freeze and cook later.  No matter what stew you’re making, be sure to add plenty of vegetables, use lean cuts of beef, and opt for low-sodium broth.

Casseroles and Other Entrées:
  • Most casseroles can be modified to cut calories by halving the amount of cheese, using milk in place of cream, and soft tub margarine instead of butter.  Steer clear of recipes that call for “cream of…” soups for thickening and opt for ones that include plenty of veggies like Mexican lasagna bake and polenta ragu bake.
·         Make a lighter version of lasagna with ground chicken or turkey breast.  Add chopped mushrooms to the meat mixture and chopped frozen spinach (thawed) to the part-skim ricotta cheese mixture.  Use whole wheat lasagna noodles and start layering!
·         Sometimes, sides can be easier to whip up during a weekday, but the main dish may slow you down.  Make ahead main dishes like meatballs (90% or more lean ground beef), grilled chicken, or even marinated fish.  Make a main dish salad with grilled chicken or steam veggies to pair with your fish!

Take Some Help from the Supermarket
Sometimes, all you need is a little help from the freezer section of your local supermarket.  Load up on microwave ready sides and vegetables. 
·         Stock up on steam-in-bag frozen veggies and frozen edamame.
·          For healthier frozen starchy sides try some of my favorites:  Birds Eye baby potato or brown and wild rice blend, Alexia Foods potato sauté varieties, and Village Harvest frozen whole grain varieties (quinoa, barley, farro, brown, red, and wild rice).
*Don’t forget to keep a stocked pantry and refrigerator for balanced meals.  Here’s what I always have on hand:
·         Bagged salads and fresh vegetables (whatever is in season and on sale!)
·         Microwaveable brown rice – in different varieties – Jasmine, basmati.
·         Sweet and regular potatoes
·         Quinoa

Freezer Safe
Keep these points in mind for food safety:

  • Divide cooked foods into smaller portions in shallow containers. Soups and stews should be put into portions that are two to three inches deep.  Stir them while cooling to speed the release of heat.
  • Place meals directly in the refrigerator, then transfer to the freezer once they're cold.
  • Defrost meals in the refrigerator or microwave, never on the counter.
  • Reheat all frozen meals to 165ºF and soups and sauces should be brought to a boil.
  • Frozen meals should be used within 2 months.
Hopefully you find these tips and tricks helpful!  I'm happy to answer any questions you have!

Cook happy & healthy!

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