Most people know—almost instinctively—that food prepared at home is generally more healthy than anything purchased at a store or restaurant. In fact, one 2015 study published in Public Health Nutrition found that people who frequently eat at home enjoy a more balanced diet, consume fewer total calories, and generally weigh less than those who dine out more often.
With a little meal planning, you can replace take-out with dining in, and enjoy all the health benefits that go with it. To help you out, here are some tips and home-cooked meal ideas that can easily be prepared over the weekend and stored in the freezer until you need them.
Before we look at specific ideas for each meal, it's important to go over some basic strategies for successful freezer cooking. First, keep in mind that you can easily double a lot of these home-cooked meal ideas. One half of a dish can be enjoyed when it's done cooking and the rest can be packed up and tucked into the freezer for another day.
Of course, many people take a more ambitious approach to freezer cooking. Rather than having frozen meals as by-products of other larger dishes, you may find it easier to create freezer meals for the entire week. Just set aside one day a week to prepare the meals you'll need throughout the week.
Regardless of which technique you use, you're going to need something to store your meals in. While freezer bags can be a convenient, inexpensive option that will help to conserve space, the bags do have their limitations. Certain foods, either because of their size or shape, simply won't fit in a freezer bag. You're also going to have to remove the food from the bag when it's time to reheat. Sealed containers, made of plastic or glass, tend to take up more room in the freezer, but they're generally much easier to work with. Glass containers also offer a distinct advantage to plastic because your food can be reheated right where it is.
Freezer Meal Ideas
Okay, so now that those details are out of the way, what sort of meals can you prep ahead of time? Here are some ideas for each meal.
- Egg muffins: Toss scrambled eggs, vegetables, and cheese into a muffin tin and bake at 350 degrees until they're firm. From there, each muffin can be wrapped individually and frozen.
- Breakfast quesadillas: Quesadillas aren't what most people think of as "healthy," but they could be. Mix spinach and white beans with cheese for extra fiber, a boost of protein, and less fat than more traditional options.
- Granola bars: Try making your own. Start with a combination of nuts, fruit, and oatmeal to fit your tastes and needs. Then bake them into bars and use your freezer to prolong their already impressive shelf life.
- Taquitos: This easy handheld food only requires you to put some chicken, cheese, and beans into tortillas and bake them. Once they're cooled, wrap each taquito individually and freeze them.
- Pasta packets: You have a ton of options here. Start by placing your favorite pasta in a small bag or container. From there, you can add chicken, tuna, or any other protein you prefer. You can also add a sauce directly or keep it on the side and add it in later.
- Pizza pockets: There's a little more prep work required here, but it's worth it. You'll need to start with raw pizza dough that's rolled out flat. Place cheese and other fillings of your choice on the dough, wrap it up, and bake.
- Baked ziti: Bake ziti, meat, cheese, and your choice of vegetables in a freezer-safe container. Once the dish has cooled, cover it up and throw it in the freezer.
- Mac and cheese: Of course, standard macaroni and cheese isn't exactly nutritionally rich, but you can change that by making some minor tweaks. Various vegetables, including broccoli, can easily add some pretty impressive value to this dish, and if you prepare your macaroni and cheese in a freezer-safe container, it can go right into the freezer once it cools off.
As you can see, making frozen meals is a great way to be prepared, eat healthier, and simplify your week. Start with these tips and ideas, and be sure to get creative with the meals you whip up.