Home-cooked frozen meals can enable you to serve your family a healthy, quick and convenient dinner in just minutes. During the week, all you need to do is reheat the meals in the oven or microwave and add your family's favorite salads or side dishes. To serve your family the best-tasting meals possible, pay careful attention to food safety during meal preparation and choose foods that will keep their taste and texture while spending time in the deep freeze.
What to Freeze
Since most vegetables, meats and cheeses maintain their taste and texture in the freezer, you can freeze many of your favorite's family meals. Avoid freezing meals made with potatoes, which can turn mushy and dark in the freezer. Battered or fried dishes don't freeze well, nor do stuffed chops or chicken breasts. Do not freeze whole eggs in the shell, dishes made with mayonnaise, soups or stews that include cornstarch and custards or pies made with cream. Lettuce, tomatoes and fresh greens lose crispness and texture when stored in the freezer, so stock up on these items weekly and keep them in the refrigerator. Make up a quick salad topped with creamy dressing to accompany your frozen meals.
Healthy Meal Suggestions
To keep your meals healthy, use minimal amounts of oil when preparing foods for the freezer. Excess oil adds fat to the dish, which can interfere with the taste and texture of frozen meals. Lighten up your family's favorites by using reduced-fat cheeses and lean meats. For example, you can make lasagna using ground turkey in place of beef or sausage and cottage cheese instead of ricotta. Add broccoli and other vegetables to quiche instead of ham and cheese. Other meal ideas that freeze well include turkey meatballs and marinara sauce, burritos, macaroni and cheese made with extra vegetables, calzones, taco fillings, manicotti, roasted meats and burgers. You can utilize the freezer to help you serve your family a healthy, home-cooked breakfast on rushed, busy mornings. Prepare a large batch of whole-grain pancakes, waffles or French toast. Package them into individual servings that your family members can pop in the toaster for a quick breakfast.
Make the freezer routine work for your family by spending one afternoon a week preparing your meals for the week. Get your entire family involved by allowing your children to chop vegetables or layer ingredients into casserole dishes. The taste of spices and seasonings can change during storage in the freezer so add these items to sauces, meats or desserts just before serving. Slightly undercook the pasta, rice and vegetables in your casseroles to avoid overcooking them during the reheat.
Keeping Meals Safe and Healthy
Because prepared foods, such as casseroles, soups and stews, do not maintain their quality for as long as individual ingredients, eat your freezer meals within four to six months. Choose microwave and freezer-safe packaging for your meals and cool the food completely before placing it in the freezer. When placing meals in the freezer, label them with their name and date so you will know what the mystery package contains -- and how long it has been there. Check your freezer's owner manual for the optimal fill level -- some freezers work best when filled completely while you should only fill others halfway.
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