Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Freezer to the rescue

All I wanted for Christmas (materialistically at least) was a freezer.

And why would I want a freezer instead of say jewelry, designer purses or other fun items? It’s because I’m tired of the nightly dinner dance. And, yes, I realize that only wanting a freezer for Christmas makes me officially old.

I’m tired of trying to figure out a fast, healthy item to prepare. I’m tired of work emergencies, late meetings and a heck of a commute derailing our attempts to eat healthy. Let’s face it. Who wants to figure out a plan for dinner after spending two (or more) hours in the car commuting, eight (or more) hours working and – in a perfect world – 30 minutes to an hour exercising? My husband and I have a sweet deal where if I cook he cleans so at least that saves some time at the end of the day, but actually getting a meal on the table at a decent hour can be just a bit too much some days. And with the cost and little nutritional value of ordering pizza on those days that get derailed I knew there had to be a better way. Enter the freezer.

I started slow – which for me meant gathering recipe ideas on Pinterest and ordering a book off Amazon.

Then it was getting the freezer.

Then I made my first freezer meal – a ravioli bake (see below for recipe). It came in handy one night when I’d had a migraine most of the day and cooking wasn’t high on my list of things I wanted to do. My husband popped it in the oven as I headed home and dinner was ready shortly thereafter, with pretty much no cleanup even because the dish it was baked in went to the trash. Add a quick salad and it was actually a pretty healthy option. Freezer for the win!

From there I got bold. I blocked a Sunday afternoon. I gathered seven recipes. I bought ingredients and containers. And I started cooking. Two hours later I had 11 healthy homemade meals sitting in my freezer ready for either the crockpot or oven whenever needed. I doubled some recipes and portioned some into two meals so we wouldn't have tons of leftovers. I also had a full dishwasher because I had used most of our mixing bowls and spatulas, so one tip I’d share is make sure the dishwasher is empty because you won’t want to be washing dishes after this. I even had dinner for that evening in the oven too. Most are complete meals, save a side salad, and the others call for just boiling some pasta or cooking another simple side.

I didn’t think to add up the cost of the ingredients, but I’m guessing that all those meals easily cost less than three nights of ordering pizza. That’s before taking to account that the dishes I made were all lower calorie and better for us. And taking out the stress is better for my well-being too. After doing it once I’m officially hooked. I’ll be enjoying the fruits of my labor for the next number of weeks but come April I’m guessing I’ll be booking another freezer meal making date in my calendar.

How do you simplify the dinner routine? Do you have any freezer meals you love?

Ravioli bake
Portions can be adjusted depending on your needs. With the breakdown below it works out to two good-size dinner portions for adults and enough leftovers for lunch. You could easily make this recipe in a 9x13 pan and have it serve more people.

1 bag of frozen cheese ravioli
1 jar of pasta sauce
Mozzarella cheese (amount depending on your tastes)
4 cups fresh spinach

Get two small freezer safe pans. Put a layer of pasta sauce in bottom of each pan. Top with a generous amount of the spinach. Top with a layer of ravioli. Repeat. Finish with remainder of pasta sauce. Cook on 375 degrees covered for 1 hour (if frozen). Top with desired amount of mozzarella and bake until cheese melts.

Jennifer Erickson is a Sr. Public Relations Specialist at Texas Health Resources.

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