by Tarah Chieffi
When I talk to people about healthy living and introducing more whole foods into their diets, the biggest complaint I hear is that it takes too much time. Cooking all of your meals from scratch can be incredibly time consuming, but for those of us who can’t spend all day in the kitchen there are lots of handy tools and shortcuts that we can put into practice. There is no need to order a pizza or rip open a TV dinner after a busy day at work. It is possible to feed your family wholesome, nutritious, REAL food even with a busy schedule. I am going to share with you a few tips and tricks for utilizing freezer meals to bring more whole foods to your family.
There are two ways to approach freezer meals. The first method is preparing large meals with lots of leftovers that can be frozen for busy nights. Soups, stews and chilis made in a large stock pot or slow cooker are great for this. You can even double or triple the recipe if your pot or slow cooker is large enough. You can also freeze cooked meats like chicken breasts or pork loin and breakfast items like egg muffins and frittata or casserole slices.
Allow food to cool completely to room temperature before freezing. You want to freeze in large freezer bags, squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible, label it and freeze flat for 2 to 3 months. You can even use small freezer bags for individual size portions (best used for egg muffins, frittatas and breakfast casseroles for quick reheating). Meats should be wrapped in freezer paper and then placed in a bag to prevent freezer burn. You can also freeze fruits and vegetables before they go bad and throw them into soups, smoothies or baked goods.
When you are ready to use them, soups, stews and chilis should be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator or you can place the bag in a large bowl of hot water to thaw and then pour the contents into a large pot to reheat. Meat should also be thawed in the refrigerator overnight before heating. Egg muffins and frittata or casserole slices can be put straight into the microwave or oven to reheat, no thawing required. This Zesty Italian Brunch Bake from my blog can easily be doubled or tripled and made in a larger pan. Just slice up the leftovers and you’ll already have breakfast on hand for those busy mornings.
The second method for quick and easy meals from your freezer is to prep all of your ingredients and freeze them until you need them. Just chop your meat and veggies, add your spices and freeze flat in large freezer bags. Again, you want to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible and label it with the date, the name of the recipe and any ingredients that need to be added during cooking (such as beans, grains, stock or water). These should freeze well for up to 2 or 3 months. If you have a few hours on the weekend you can prep a bunch of meals at once. Before I had my son, I spent an afternoon doing this and had about two weeks worth of freezer meals ready to go for those early days when I was too busy (and tired) to cook. When you are ready to cook your meal, just pour the frozen ingredients into the slow cooker along with any ingredients that need to be added during cooking. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours for lean meats (chicken or turkey) and 6 to 8 hours for fattier cuts (beef, pork, lamb) and dinner is ready when you are!
This Cuban Pork Roast can be assembled in about 30 minutes and has tons of flavor! When you know you have a busy day ahead, just dump the contents into the slow cooker and dinner will be waiting for you when you walk in the door.
Cuban Roast Pork
Assembly Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 6-8 hours
2-3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large red onion, sliced
2 large bell peppers, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup diced green onions
1/4 cup ﬁnely chopped cilantro
Add meat, onion, bell pepper, garlic, orange juice and spices to a large freezer bag. Mix the
contents up a bit, remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal tightly. Label with
the name of the meal, date frozen and list the ingredients that need to be added day of
cooking, as well as the cooking time. Lay ﬂat to freeze.
On day of cooking, empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Garnish with avocado slices, diced green onions, chopped cilantro and/or salsa.
Ready to learn more? Join me on May 17th at 11:30am at Babyology (3934 Dutchmans Ln) for my class, Finding Room on Your Plate: Real Food for Busy Families. We will be discussing tips and tricks to find room on your plate and time in your day to prepare healthy meals with real food that you whole family will love! Click here (http://whatigather.ticketleap.com/roomonyourplate) for more information and to purchase tickets.
Bio - Tarah Chieffi is a stay at home mom, blogger, freelance writer, graduate student and local nutrition educator in the Louisville and Southern Indiana area. On her blog, What I Gather (http://www.whatigather.com), she shares healthy recipes, as well as pregnancy and parenting information. Her teaching focus is on nutrition education for pregnant women, new moms and busy families.