Turning an Afternoon of Cooking into Weeks of Healthy Eating

| 12/18/2008 11:48:54 AM

Somewhere between private chefs and in-home help are personal chefs. During my days as a personal chef, I would enter my clients’ kitchens with armloads of fresh ingredients and, several hours later, leave their freezers full of healthy heat-and-eat meals.

healthy meals

I hung up my chef’s coat long ago, but in order to live affordably and eat as healthfully as I want, I often dip back into my old bag of tricks. By following these tips, you, too, can transform an afternoon in the kitchen into weeks of healthy frozen dinners.

  1. Plan. I generally shoot for five to seven meals, with no fewer than four servings each, for one cooking day. It’s important to balance labor-intensive dishes, like lasagna, with throw-together dishes, like roasted vegetable sides. Remember, it takes less time to make more servings than a greater variety of meals.
  2. Organize. I can save an hour or more on the back end if I spend a few minutes upfront mapping my day, everything from how many cups of onions to chop for all the recipes to when to put the water on to boil.
  3. Cook (maybe). Because all of these meals will be reheated, I do as little cooking as possible. I cook vegetables halfway, so they don’t get mushy upon reheating, and walk the line between scary raw poultry and rubbery reheated chicken puck. I assemble casseroles and baked pasta dishes but freeze them without baking. Finally, I prepare pasta sauces and fish sides but wait to cook the spaghetti and fish until it’s time to eat. They cook in a flash and there’s a clear difference in taste and texture.
  4. Cool. Food maintains the best flavor and texture if they’re perfectly cool before freezing. I divide everything into portions that make sense for my family of two and cool them on the counter for an hour or so. I chill them further in the fridge before moving them to their place in the freezer.
  5. Thaw. I usually move a few days worth of food to the fridge at once. With the exception of fish, meals will generally stay fresh for three to five days once thawed and this gentler thawing method means no microwave-induced gumminess.

Soups are easy, but roasted veggie tacos freeze beautifully, too. What are some of your frozen meal successes? Tell us about them in the comments section below. 

Sarah Beth Jones and Rob Jones sold their business in the big city to learn how to live mindfully in Floyd, Va. Photo by Rob Jones.
5/21/2009 11:32:23 PM

I just bought one of those vacuum sealers, OMG, I love it!! Freezes great and I can make a whole bunch of meals at once. My garden will be forever frozen! www.whatupduck.com

2/26/2009 9:02:01 AM

Life here is always busy. We are both retired teachers who live on 12 acres and raise cattle, turkeys laying hens and broilers and own and operate a specialty "locavore" grocery. We both volunteer for causes we believe in and sometimes one or both of us have to run to a meeting and don't have much time between work and meeting time. I frequently spend Sunday afternoons relaxing in the kitchen cooking bunches of stuff for meals later in the week. A whole chicken can become Crusted Chicken Breast, Chicken Stir Fry, and Chicken in Dressing or Chicken Soup. Three meals out of 1 chicken isn't too bad. With the help of the pressure cooker table from one of the Mother Earth CDs, I make Ham Hocks and Beans and lots of other pressure cooker delecacies. I experiment a lot and haven't made anything inedible yet and it makes meals not so boring.

2/13/2009 2:35:25 PM

I discovered a thing about freezing in jars. You take the lid off until it is frozen, then reattach lid. I haven't thawed any of these out yet, but if this works, it will be the greatest discovery for me! I make meatloaves which I stuff into freezer bags and flatten out, squeezing out all the air. Also pasta dishes, breaded chicken breasts (leave the breading in the bag as a buffer) and twice baked potatoes. Also if you want to add a topping of cheese or herbs but don't want to put it in the bag, place it in a separate smaller bag. Put both bags into a meal "kit" / larger bag.

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