Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tips on Making Meal Prep Easier

Pin It
As much fun as Baking Days are, something I find just as useful are Meal Prep Days. Yes, I put that phrase in all capital letter because trust me, it's an event. As a family, we try to not to eat out more than once a week. Eating out is fun, and is incredibly convenient, which is probably why many families eat out so often even though it's at least triple the cost of a home made meal. In order to eat out less, I try and have a few quick, easy meals on hand at all times. One of the ways I do that is by doing some prep work on a day that's not so busy, to make it easier to make meals on those crazy, hectic days.

Keep in mind, sometimes even the best plans just don't work out and you'll throw your hands in the air at 6:20pm and order a Domino's pizza...much like I did yesterday. It's called life. I'm learning to deal with it!

However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try! There are several things I started doing years ago that greatly reduce the time I spend in the kitchen on a busy weekday night.

First and foremost, I dice/ chop many fresh fruits and vegetables and freeze them on a cookie sheet. The next day, I break them up and transfer them to a large ziplock freezer bag. At that point, I have a large quantity of individually frozen veggies I can use as needed. I regularly do this for onions, bell peppers, berries, and apples.

Second, I make large batches of sauces and freeze individual portions. My favorite sauce to freeze is Alfredo sauce because it calls for a 1/2 cube of cream cheese, so to freeze it, I make a double batch to use the whole brick. Not only that but it's so versatile and freezes beautifully!  I also like to mix 1 can of Hunt's tomato sauce, 1 can of diced tomatoes and 1/2 lb browned ground beef and divide that amongst 2-3 containers and freeze that. Sauces for dishes like orange chicken also freeze well.

Another huge time saver is to literally make multiple meals when you make one recipe. I normally use one of the meals for dinner that night, then freeze the others. You can pick up foil baking dishes from the Dollar store. I try and get 2-3 uses out of each. In most of my main dish recipes, you can see from my pictures that I am constantly splitting one recipe into 2-3 meals. Meals that take time to assemble are my favorites to split up.

I have a couple great examples of these types of dishes below. We love both lasagna and enchiladas, but between the time it takes to put the meal together and then bake them, we're looking at around 1.5 hours of meal prep, which, most days, is just too much. So I take the time to make a large batch, then freeze 2 meals for later on.

I don't use a recipe to make these, but here are a couple that are very similar:
Chicken Alfredo Lasagna
Chicken Enchiladas

I actually made both meals in a 2-day period, so I sauteed 3 large chicken breasts, then chopped the meat to use for all 6 meals. I also made a double batch of the Alfredo sauce to use for the lasagna, as well as freeze 3 small containers worth.

Chicken Vegetable Lasagna
{Regular Lasagna works just as well too, but we like variety!}

While cooking the noodles, I assembled the other ingredients, chopping vegetables if needed. I used several vegetables I already had frozen in this instance, so it didn't take long. I use what I have on hand, instead of buying vegetables to accommodate this meal.

Layer the sauce, vegetables, cheese and noodles in the 3 dishes. I topped them all with about 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. I didn't use very much cheese inside the lasagna since the Alfredo has a ton of Parmesan, and one of my layers was a cottage cheese/ ricotta cheese mixture.

The end result was 3 delicious, homemade lasagnas! To heat the ones I freeze, I defrost them for 2-3 hours on the counter, then bake at 350, covered for 1 hour, remove foil and bake another 30-45 minutes.

Chicken Enchiladas
I use corn tortillas in our enchiladas, but if you try and roll cold tortillas they'll break, so you need to quickly prep them first. Heat a small frying pan and brush lightly with cooking oil. Working quickly, add 1 tortilla at a time to the pan, brushing the sides lightly with oil each time. You just need to heat them up a bit, so it takes about 30 seconds per side.

Combine the chicken and any other ingredients you want inside your enchiladas in a bowl. Sometimes I like to just have chicken, but to stretch the chicken further, I opted to also add a can of black beans and diced tomatoes.

I combine a large can of enchilada sauce with about 1/2 cup milk {or evaporated milk} to make a creamier sauce over the enchiladas.

Spoon about 2-3 TBSP of filling inside each enchilada. Roll and place seam side down in a baking dish.

Fill each baking dish with enchiladas. Pour enchilada sauce over the top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. To bake the frozen dishes, I defrost them for 2-3 hours on the counter, then bake at 350, covered for 45 minutes, remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.

Other recipes that freeze well:

Do you have an idea that makes your meal prep easier? Leave a comment- I'd love to hear!

9 comments:

Bridget said...

You have such great ideas I and I love your site - you've saved me tons of money. Thank you! I also like to double meals like lasagna and enchiladas and I heard the idea a few years ago of lining your casserole dishes that you'll cook the meal in with saran wrap hanging over the edges. Then partially freeze the meal in the dish and lift it out with the saran wrap and just wrap up the whole meal without having to buy disposable trays or having something frozen in a dish you cook with. Anyway, just a little idea and thanks again for all your great tips!

Kelli said...

Here is a slight variation for your chicken enchiladas, for the sauce: 2 cans cream of chicken soup, 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilis, 1 cup shredded cheese and 1-2 cups chicken, chili powder and cumin to taste. Heat until hot. Wrap corn tortillas in damp paper towels, microwave until warm. Dip chicken out of sauce and roll into tortilas and place in dish. Cover with remaining sauce and top with shredded cheese and bake until cheese is golden brown or microwave until cheese melted. Can be poured over crushed tortilla chips or rice instead of rolled for a quick meal.

The Mom @ Babes in Hairland said...

My mom is from Sweden & so we love her Swedish meatballs. When I go to the "trouble" of making them I make a huge batch, brown them all up so they are cooked through and then freeze most of them on cookie sheets. Then once they are frozen through I'll bag them up in batches for quick meals. I also do the lasagna thing. I've never thought of doing the enchiladas. I do boil my chicken and chop it up and bag it up into a couple cups in each bag and then it's easy to just throw it into a recipe that calls for chicken. I'm going to have to try your Alfredo sauce, because I love any white sauce! Thanks for all your great ideas.

Anonymous said...

I make pancakes and then feeze them. My kids love them for breakfast and I don't have to buy the premade ones from the store. It works out great.

Marie said...

Two great things that I do to save me time are 1) brown/cook my ground beef when I buy it and then freeze/package up into individual baggies for meals, and 2) buy a rotisserie chicken and shred/bag into baggies for meals. Both of these steps really help me to save time in not having to defrost meat and then cook for a meal. This is especially helpful because I work full-time and have an infant at home and a husband who needs to be fed (forget about me!). Such a great time saver.

Amy said...

Thanks for this reminder. I used to do this more often but have gotten out of the habit. Here's a tip for chicken enchiladas (at least the creamy style). I don't bother putting the mixture in the tortillas anymore. I just layer it all like lasagna. Tortillas, chicken mixture, cheese...when I get close to the top of the pan I pour the sauce over cover with cheese and bake it just like the recipe says too. My kids can't eat a whole enchilada anyway so this makes it a lot easier to split them. :)

Stacey said...

Do you know a good source for the disposable aluminum pans?

Peach said...

Thank You so much for your wonderful Blog! I am new to freezer meals and you have helped me so much Thank you!!! Please keep sharing your wonderful info.

mommiev said...

What is the dish/recipe in the photo at the top of this post? I got here from pinterest after seeing that image, and I would like that recipe.

Thanks!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...