Healthy Freezer Meals
Make Your Own Convenience Food
Healthy Fash Food
Eating Right Can Be Easy and Cost Effective
Last year, as a newly married graduate student, with a full-time job, I came up with a couple of ideas for somewhat healthier meals that could keep my cooking-impaired husband fed on my 7a.m.-10 p.m. scheduled days.
I tried making both beef and chicken; hubby decided the chicken was a keeper. He didn't care for beef. Amounts in recipe are approximate as I made this up myself.
Place 3-4 boneless chicken breasts in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 a jar of salsa and enough water to cover chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is white all the way through (about 20 minutes? I'm not sure.) Remove chicken from pot and let cool until easy to handle. Shred the chicken and return to the pot. If chicken mixture looks too thin, bring to a boil to reduce liquid.
Spread about two tablespoons of fat-free refried beans on a flour tortilla. (Buy the thicker "homemade" variety if available; they are much better and won't tear so easily. Tortillas are easier to work with if you warm them first; I microwave mine a bit until soft, then wrap them in a kitchen towel and remove one at a time.) Add 3-4 tablespoons chicken mixture down the center, sprinkle on a tablespoon or so of low-fat shredded cheddar. Fold the sides of tortilla in a bit, then roll from the bottom. Repeat the procedure with remaining tortillas. Wrap each burrito in plastic wrap or wax paper, then place all the burritos in a large freezer zip-loc bag and freeze.
To reheat, remove the plastic wrap and microwave on high until hot all the way through (time will vary depending on size of burrito and power of microwave).
We found that the microwave left our burritos too soggy for our taste, so we came up with another method. Microwave until the burrito is just thawed. In our microwave, this takes 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. Then, bake on lightly greased pan another 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. They get lightly browned and slightly crispy on the outside; it's not as authentic but we like it better. My husband tops his with salsa; I like them plain.
Use dark-meat chicken, or if you're like us and would rather have the white meat despite the cost, then stock up on chicken breast when on sale and de-bone it yourself. (Freeze bones to make chicken soup later.) I do this and wrap the breasts individually before freezing so I only take out whatever I need. You can cook the chicken for this recipe straight from the freezer, no thawing necessary; just make sure you cook it longer. Leftover turkey also works well -- I just shred the turkey and cook it in salsa. Shred the cheese yourself. Do a lot at once and freeze it. Buy when on sale and freeze.
To make this healthier and to sneak in the vegetables that my husband would otherwise avoid, I've added chopped onion and green pepper and cooked them with the chicken.
I've found that fat-free cheese doesn't melt too well. I mix equal parts regular shredded cheddar, reduced fat, and fat free. Or just the reduced fat and fat free if we're really being calorie conscious.
Thaw two loaves frozen bread dough. Divide each loaf in half. Sprinkle work surface with flour and roll out divided dough into four nine-inch circles. Line a deep-dish nine-inch pizza pan with wax paper so paper hangs over the edge. We use our iron skillet. Place one dough round in pan and arrange to fit. Lift out with wax paper. Top as desired. I use Contadina brand pizza sauce, reduced-fat pepperoni, mushroom, onion and green pepper.
I usually chop all veggies, wrap in a kitchen towel, squeeze out as much liquid as I can, put veggies in a freezer bag and freeze till I'm ready to make pizzas. Of course you can also chop, squeeze, and use the same day and freeze whatever's left. It works fine to assemble pizzas using frozen toppings. For the cheese I mix together the fat-free, low fat and regular shredded mozzarella. (To save money, shred your own although it's worth it to buy the fat free already shredded as it's gummy when you try to shred it yourself.) As with the veggies, I always have a bag of cheese in the freezer.
Once all pizzas are assembled, fold the ends of the waxed paper over the top of each and stack. Put stack in freezer. Once solid you can slide pizzas into a large ziploc freezer bag.
To reheat, remove pizza from freezer, carefully peel off waxed paper, place in pizza pan (we cook ours in the iron skillet) that has been lightly oiled. Some people also like to sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom of the pan. Cook at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until desired doneness. I cook mine till the cheese gets a little browned. Hubby likes them gooey-er and cooks his until crust is just done and cheese melts.
Food, gas and other prices keep rising while my family's income remains stagnant and I worry we are heading for debt trouble. Tell us: Yes, I think we are heading for debt trouble and could use some help! or No, we're not in debt trouble but I like finding new ways to help keep my family finances on track!