Friday, January 9, 2009

The Fit Freezer -- Making Healthy Frozen Meals at Home

If you like frozen dinners like those made by Lean Cuisine®, Weight Watchers® or Jenny Craig®, you'll love these homemade alternatives. The meals offer the speed and convenience of going from microwave to table in minutes. More importantly, they cut down the urge to cheat, as they give you a portion controlled amount of food that takes the guesswork out of dieting.

With the recipes and instructions in this article, you can stock your home freezer with delicious homemade, portion controlled low fat foods that have many advantages over their store bought counterparts:

  • More Wholesome - A lot of commercially prepared foods are loaded with unnecessary sodium, sugars, preservatives and other ingredients that you don't need. By making your own meals at home, you control what goes into the foods you eat and you can season them according to your own tastes.

  • Less Expensive - The prepared diet meals you buy at the supermarket are pricey and those sold at commercial diet centers like Jenny Craig cost even more. By preparing your own meals at home, you can easily save 50%-75% or more.

  • Greater Flexibility - When you're counting fat and calories, every little bit counts. Who wants to waste calories on foods you don't really like? When buying prepackaged diet meals, you're unfortunately stuck with whatever combos the manufacturer has chosen - you might like the entrée but not the side dish. Maybe you'd prefer high fiber, nutrient rich brown or wild rice instead of white rice. By making your own meals, you can mix and match entrées and side dishes to create low calorie, low fat healthy meals that suit your individual tastes and needs.

  • Saves Time - As each recipe makes several meals, you can plan to cook several recipes in a single session and have enough food in the freezer to last for weeks. Get together with your diet buddy or a group of health conscious friends and have a "cooking party" -- you can all eat well, stay on your diets, and have a fun day preparing meals together.

Cooking for the Freezer Basics:
If you've never prepared foods for the freezer before, don't worry. It's easy. And don't worry if you only have a small, fridge-top freezer -- if you pack carefully you can easily fit a month's worth of meals in the space you have.

In order to prevent freezer burn, which occurs when large ice crystals form during the freezing process, cool foods well before freezing (cool for no more than 1 hour at room temperature -- otherwise cool in the refrigerator to prevent foods from sitting in the danger zone for bacteria growth between 40°F and 140°F).

Unless you like playing dinner roulette, be sure to label your freezer dinners, not only so you'll know what inside, but also in order to use the oldest foods first. Permanent markers, like Sharpies® work great -- you can even write directly onto aluminum foil or freezer bags. Or you might want to tape an index card on the package with heating instructions (especially handy if other family members will be doing the reheating).

Packaging Freezer Meals:
You probably already have some containers in your pantry that will work -- small glass dishes that can go from freezer to microwave or conventional oven. These containers work great for freezer cooking, although most people don't have enough of them. Keep your eyes peeled for sales at department stores or you might even get lucky and pick some up dirt cheap at garage sales or thrift stores.

Another option is to purchase some of the great containers made by Glad® or Ziplock® (you can use and re-use them over and over again, so they are actually quite economical), as they are designed to go from freezer to microwave. But don't limit yourself. Get creative -- any food-grade containers will do, like margarine or whipped topping tubs, Tupperware® or whatever other small containers you might have in the house.

If you plan on cooking your meals in a conventional oven, foil take-out containers like those used by restaurants are terrific (again, I use and re-use mine multiple times). They are quite inexpensive when bought in quantity at a local restaurant supply house.

Of course some recipes, like the French Bread Pizzas, need no more packaging than a tight wrap in aluminum foil. Others you can carefully place in a zippered freezer bag, freeze flat, then place in a baking dish when you are ready to heat them.

Healthy Freezer Friendly Recipes

Book Recommendation -- Holly Clegg's Trim and Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals: Quick and Healthy meals You Can Make in Advance

Holly Clegg, our favorite everyday meals cookbook author, has done it again with a terrific collection of recipes you can make ahead and stock in your freezer. Now a good hot meal will always be waiting for you and your family, you'll just have to heat it. Not only that, Holly's recipes are always light -- lower in fat and calories than their traditional counterparts (you've seen Holly's recipes in Cooking Light Magazine for years).

The best thing about a Holly Clegg cookbook is its consistency, and this one is no exception. Her recipes have been meticulously tested, so you're guaranteed to get fabulous results. Every recipe is simple to prepare from ordinary easy to find ingredients. None takes over 30 minutes to make and many take less time than that.

I have personally been "cooking ahead" for years -- making one meal to eat now and one or more to freeze for later. Until now, however, there has been a lack of good cookbooks on the subject. The few I have read have turned out mushy, flavorless concoctions that filled the physical void of needing dinner but provided none of the emotional pleasure that eating good food brings. No so with Holly's recipes! These formulas turn out tasty food with both flavor and texture.

Each recipe comes with detailed instructions on:

  • how to make and prepare it for immediate consumption
  • how to make and freeze it for later use
  • how to prepare the dish after freezing

I recently met with Holly while on a cross-country trip that took me to her home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was thrilled with the response to her new book -- the first printing sold out almost instantly. What amazed her though was the fact that so many people seemed to have missed the fact that ALL her cookbooks contain many freezer friendly recipes. I found that I had never paid attention to that in the past either, despite the fact that I regularly turn to Holly for recipes. So I went back and checked and sure enough, a good number of recipes in all her books have a small "snowflake" icon next to them, to denote they can be frozen and reheated. One note, these books do lack the detailed freezing prep and reheating instructions that come in this book. Of course, all of Holly's books, including this, come with detailed nutritional analysis, so you can count calories, fat, carbs or whatever.

Chapters include: Freezing Facts; Freezing Guide; Appetizers, Muffins, Breads and Brunch; Chiles, Soups and Stews; Sides and More (includes pizzas!); Poultry; Meat; Seafood; Desserts; Pies, Cookies and Cakes; Suggested menus; Cookware Tips.

I love to cook, but that doesn't mean that I have the time or desire to do it every day. These recipes have solved that problem and made chores easier and more streamlined. Cooking this way also allows me to take advantage of supermarket sales. With the productivity of my time in kitchen doubled or tripled, I have more time to pursue other activities. The only problem is, I may have to buy a bigger freezer!

You can try some sample recipes from this book in the list above.

Click here for more information about this book or to order through


TheRoosterChick said...

Great post, I'm a huge fan of freezer cooking. Nothing beats grabbing a healthy home cooked meal from the freezer and calling it dinner in a matter of minutes. said...

I am in graduate school at the VCU Brandcenter and am doing a campaign around Lean Cuisine and was wondering if you could post my survey?

I need as many respondents as possible.

Much Thanks.


Angela West said...

If you want to buy organic freezer meals, check out some of these companies:

Post a Comment

Please leave us a comment