Lose Weight, Save Time, and Save Money with Frozen Meals
Which is your favorite TV Dinner Variety?
Why we love frozen meals
Frozen meals are convenient and easy- no cooking, no mess, no thought required. There are hundreds of delicious favorites available at your grocery store- Salisbury Steak, Pot Pie, Chicken Nuggets, Meatloaf, Lasagna...
Alright, who's getting hungry? These frozen meals taste so good... surely better than many of us think we could recreate. And they're already portioned, there's no chance of going back for seconds of anything. Many of them are even created with a healthy balance of vegetables, whole grains, and protein- taking all of the work of meal planning off our shoulders. Plus, it practically never goes bad- no more wasting food. What's not to love?
Why we don't love frozen meals
First of all... really think about that last "perk"... this stuff practically never goes bad. Is that really a good thing? No. That should be a red flag. These foods are packed with preservatives and usually that means very high sodium content as well. Why do we care about preservatives? Aren't they doing a good thing for us by preserving our food? Preservatives are known to be, at best, contributing factors to the development of many different cancers. They can also be neurotoxic, speeding the progression of neuromuscular disorders and impeding the functionality of individuals suffering from them. This also affects the healthy development of young children. Some preservatives also cause birth defects and actually deplete our bodies of nutrients. We, as a global society, did not use many of these preservatives at all until recent years and the quantity we're using has grown at explosive rates. We just don't know all of the harm these preservatives may be causing yet- the health concerns I've mentioned here are only the tip of the iceberg in what has been proven, and what has been hypothesized.
If you want to dismiss this with blind faith in the FDA, just consider how many foods and drugs are recalled on a daily basis. You see it on the news, and you see the commercials for lawyers settling cases against the drug companies. Is the FDA really who you want to trust, or do you think it's time for you to learn about your food and take control of it?
Aside from the preservatives, many of these meals taste so great because they are designed by chemists to "hook you". Certain flavors and chemicals trigger hormone secretion that tells your body that you are satisfied with this meal. The most commonly known "flavor enhancer" is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Food manufacturing isn't about feeding you, it is, like any business, about making money. And a great way to make money is to ensure repeat business. The sensation of satisfaction essentially gets us psychologically addicted to these foods. Even if they do use "natural" ingredients, they are using far more salt and sugar and butter and other ingredients, than you would ever use if you were preparing a meal.
The Solution: Make your own
The solution is simple. Claim your independence from the food industry, and support your local farmers, by buying your food fresh and freezing prepared meals. If you don't love cooking, you can get it all done on one day of the week and freeze up to a month of each meal. If you're afraid of cooking, watch Rachael Ray and the Food Network- its not as intimidating as you think.
Tips for freezing cooked meats
The process of freezing cooked meats is very simple, however, food safety is a serious concern here. You want the internal temperature to be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 2 hours of the temperature dropping below 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That means, remove it from the dish you cooked it in and let it rest no longer than 30 minutes before you get it into the freezer. When you are reheating, it should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or be "steaming hot."
Of course, storage matters as well. Always remove as much air as possible and drier meats (such as poultry) should either be covered in some sauce, or cut and dipped in a solution of 3 tsp salt per quart of water before freezing. If you have separate pieces, freeze them apart from each other before putting them together so that they don't make a solid block. If cooking a full turkey, for example, break down the parts of the turkey and freeze them seperately.
Tips for freezing fruits and vegetables
First of all, this is one place where the frozen foods section of your grocery store may actually be better. Fruits and vegetables grown specifically for freezing can be allowed to fully ripen on the plant. They can then be picked and flash-frozen at the peak of their flavor and nutrient content.
If you do come across an opportunity to pick your own fruits and vegetables, you can freeze them yourself. Just keep in mind that soft fruits like bananas and strawberries will get soft when thawed because of the freezing process. Start with a quick 2 minute soak in a big bowl of ice water with about 2 tsp of lemon juice per quart of water. You won't taste the lemon juice but it prevents oxidation that can destroy flavor and color. Remove and sit on towels to remove the excess water. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in your freezer for about 2-3 hours. Now it is ready to bag up. Use strong freezer bags that you are able to remove as much air from as possible.
In most cases, you won't want to precook any of the fruits or vegetables because they will get very mushy and not taste great when thawed. Anything with edible skins that are a different texture than their insides, like apricots, peaches, tomatoes, or peapods, you should quickly blanch in boiling water before the lemony ice water bath. This goes for anything leafy or leathery in it's raw state as well. Always remove pits, greens, stems and any inedible parts before freezing. For freezing berries, dissolve 3/4c sugar for every quart of water in your lemony ice water bath. For broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables that are very tough in their raw state, dissolve 3 tsp of salt for every quart of water in your lemony ice water bath. All of these methods (blanching, lemon juice, sugaring and salting) serve to disable enzymes that break down any live plant (as fruits and vegetables are) when it freezes.
Preparing and Freezing Desserts
Cakes, cookies, and pies can be treated the same as breads, rolls, and biscuits. Pudding can be prepared and frozen... and is great eaten frozen as well! Try blending it with some frozen fruit and a splash of milk for a thick, delicious milk shake!
Tips for Freezing Cooked Rice, Noodles and Breads
Freezing rice is simple- just put in portion sized tupperware containers as soon as you take it off the heat (the directions will normally tell you to let it sit, covered, at this point. Not when freezing- give it a quick stir to distribute the moisture and portion and freeze). This is to make sure the required amount of moisture is present when reheating.
Noodles should be frozen separately from sauces, although they can be reheated together. Just boil your noodles and drain them in a wide colander. Toss them with a minimal amount of oil, just to keep them from sticking to each other, and leave them in the colander for about 10 minutes. This allows them to cool and allows excess moisture to escape. Depending on the type of noodle (if it traps a lot of water), you may even want to dump them out on towels before freezing. Excess moisture makes for mushy reheated noodles.
Breads, rolls, and biscuits should be sealed in freezer bags, individually portioned, if possible, with as little air as possible without crushing them. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. If heating, do not heat from frozen.
A Full Week of Frozen Meals
For example, in one day a week, you can cook and freeze a couple meatloafs, make a slow-cooker roast, and grill some chicken breast, bake some brownies and cook up a big pot of rice and a big pot of noodles. Its a lot of food, but surprisingly little mess and clean up. It might take most of your day- but then you don't have to cook, or clean up, again all week. Pair those foods with some bread or rolls from your favorite bakery, some frozen vegetables, and a tall glass of milk and you have a fantastic, healthy, filling, inexpensive, and above all- convenient meal, every day of the week.
Keep it up week after week and you'll have more and more choices and will probably get to the point that you are only cooking about 2 or 3 times a month.
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