Author: saramckinniss

Cheap Eats Chapter One: Freezer Meals for One

Cooking for one is a pain in the ass. I spend a lot of money on dining out, primarily at lunch. We have no break room at our office and eating at your desk five days a week gets old…I spend money on the experience, support the local economy when I can and catch up with my coworkers who can get away.

However, I know it puts a dent in my budget. I know my way around the kitchen fairly well, so cooking isn’t the issue for me. It’s the idea of eating by myself and screwing around on Facebook for an hour while I eat is the issue.

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Waffles, waffles, everywhere.

Because of that, I know I have to make a concession and realize I’m going to have to eat at my desk some days or plan to eat my other meals at home on the weekend. On days I don’t feel like cooking after coming home from work, I want to have something that’s easy and quick to prepare while still relatively healthy. That’s where the freezer comes into play.

Thanks to Pinterest and bloggers who have the option to stay at home all day and figure this stuff out, I learned that a few tips and tricks can make a huge difference when preparing meals for one in advance.

Some of the tips that I’ve picked up along the way include:

  • Dedicate a weekend day to cooking. I spent a good day figuring out recipes I was going to cook, how long it would take to cook everything and spent some time creating a rough outline of when I can put various dishes in the oven to cook or prepare.
  • Understand what freezes well and what does not. You can’t freeze all foods. Despite what all of the bloggers tell you, there are some things that just do not well in the freezer! These items include fried foods, grain-based dishes (oatmeal, cornmeal, quinoa, rice), some potato-based dishes and delicate vegetables (watercress, cucumbers, radishes, etc.).
  • Have the right equipment. You need freezer bags in different sizes (generic or Ziploc work, just make sure they are freezer bags), foil pans, Saran wrap, foil, a permanent marker, ingredients, measuring tools and the proper cooking equipment. You don’t want to be in the middle of preparing a dish and realize you need something that you don’t have. Make a list!
  • Watch recipe yields. A recipe yield is an indication of how many servings you’ll get out of that one recipe. You don’t want to prepare a meal that feeds 20 people. Most recipes usually give a serving size, so this should help you understand how many servings you can anticipate to freeze.
  • Buy what’s on sale. This should be a no brainer, but check out your local supermarket ad and find out what’s on sale and try to find recipes that can be incorporated into a recipe that you can freeze. You’ll save money. Most ads are online, so you shouldn’t need a newspaper to browse and see what’s on sale.
  • Shop your pantry. See what you already have on hand and build a recipe from there. Apples going bad? Make applesauce. Brown bananas? Bake banana nut bread! Google is our 21st century BFF, so you might as well put it to use. There’s no use in spending money if you already have key ingredients in your cupboards or pantry that can help you prepare meals in advance.
  • Freeze basics. Did a specific meat go on sale this week? Was there a Manager’s Special on chicken or fish? Are frozen vegetables 10 for $10 this week? If so, stock up. These things can always be thawed out at a later date.
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Lowfat banana bread with crunchy walnut topping!

I prepared a bunch of meals in advance two weeks ago, and I still have plenty of options to choose from whenever I don’t feel like cooking. On the Sunday I did meal prep in advance, I made:

  • One loaf of lowfat, whole wheat banana nut bread (with applesauce from the pantry and brown, ripe bananas)
  • 2 batches of Cooking Light minestrone soup (Vegan and Gluten Free, using canned beans, tomatoes and fresh veggies I had on hand), omitting the pasta until I heat up so it doesn’t get mushy; if you buy vegan or GF pasta, it remains vegan or GF
  • Homemade lowfat cheesy potato soup (used milk that was expiring in a day): so that this would not separate easily, I used the immersion attachment on my handheld KitchenAid to blend the soup
  • Homemade waffles: I heated up the waffle iron and felt like using the Bisquik Heart Healthy Mix. I have a standing KitchenAid mixer, and I could have made my waffles from scratch, but opted not too as I wanted easier clean up.

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    A slew of frozen recipes stored in the freezer.

  • Lowfat pizza bagels (had diced Italian-style tomatoes on hand and bagel thins that were expiring that week); I found this recipe online and it worked like a charm. I made homemade sauce by throwing my canned tomatoes with Italian seasoning in the blender for a few seconds.
  • Pork loin was on sale that week. Because my slowcooker was occupied by the minestrone, I opted to freeze  the loin until I could find time to prepare the pork loin for Carolina-style pulled pork.
  • Individual angel food cake slices: I bought an angel food cake at the store (I don’t feel like investing in a pan or a dozen egg whites right now), cut it up into individual servings and froze them for easy, healthy dessert. I prefer to bake everything from scratch, but at $2.99 for an entire cake, you can’t beat it.

The things that I cooked (in sum, I had about 4 hours of actual cooking time invested, minus the time to cool items) were easy and healthier than most items you get through a drive-thru or take out. While I don’t pull things from my freezer each evening, it certainly helps to have a go to option for days when you don’t feel like cooking. Pocket the difference and binge on Netflix instead.