RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—With an eight-hour workday, a two-hour commute, the gym, the kids, and the holidays, a nutritious home-cooked family dinner can be hard to come by—that is, unless you cook ahead. This week, instead of wandering your supermarket’s frozen food aisle each evening, set aside a few hours to prep your own wholesome and convenient freezer meals. You’ll save time and money.
And you may even wind up with better family relationships. A study published last August found that family dinners lead to better communication between teenagers and parents, and a separate study published last year found that teenagers ate more nutritious foods outside the home if they ate regular dinners with their parents.
In her new book Cook & Freeze (Rodale, 2010), Dana Jacobi details the best methods for freezing, thawing, and reheating meals, and among her suggestions are:
• Keep the freezer at a maximum of 0 degrees F to ensure safe preservation.
• Seal items in airtight wraps and containers to avoid freezer burn. Heavy-duty plastic bags designed for the freezer are "indispensable," she says, but if you're looking to avoid plastic in the kitchen, glass, she writes, is one of the best materials to use, in part because it goes from stove to freezer and back again without many problems. You will need plastic wrap or some other airtight cover to prevent freezer burn, though.
• Eat it up. "Freezing is not forever," she writes. So if your family can't get to all your precooked meals in a week, date them so they don't languish forever in the freezer. Soups and casseroles generally keep for about three months before they begin to lose flavor and texture.
Now that you've got your freezer prepped, set aside an hour this Monday to cook some of these dishes from the Rodale Recipe Finder, and look forward to a blissful week of effortless health food.
#1: Spiced Cream of Carrot Soup. Low-fat buttermilk makes this gives this soup it’s velvety texture, which is laced with the flavors of cinnamon, cumin, red pepper, and garlic—all for less than a gram of fat and just over 50 calories per serving.
#2: Teriyaki Chicken Kabobs. Homemade teriyaki sauce keeps the sodium low in this dish. If you’re a vegetarian, swap the chicken for tofu. Freeze the tofu overnight before prepping to give it a chewier texture. Thaw the frozen tofu completely and squeeze out excess moisture before marinating.
#3: French Roasted Vegetable Sandwiches. This elegant and easy dish was inspired by lunches served in the South of France. Ideal for the office brown-bag lunch, this bread will keep for several hours once outside the freezer before it starts to get soggy.
#4: Tortilla and Black Bean Casserole. Black beans and low-fat keep this hearty dish under 5 grams of fat and just over 250 calories.
#5: California Pizza. Finish off your week with a homemade frozen pizza. At roughly 50 cents per slice, it'll save you almost three times more money than those greasy delivery pizzas full of genetically modified ingredients.
Check Rodale.com every Monday for a new healthy habit to start out your week. The Healthy Monday Campaign is a nonprofit collaboration between Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.