Wednesday, February 6, 2013

14 Quick (and Dirty) Freezer Meals in an Afternoon (under $80!)

One of my goals when I found out I was pregnant again was to fill up our freezer with dinners for when the new baby arrives. I had a number of meals prepared and frozen before Emma was born, and it was a HUGE help during those first few sleep-deprived weeks. This time around, knowing that I'll have a chatty, active toddler along with the new baby, freezer meals are a priority.

The way I figured it, if I could make a double batch of one meal each week of my pregnancy - and freeze half - I could have a whole month's worth of dinners tucked away in the freezer with minimal additional effort and little strain on our budget. Like all good-intentioned efforts, it started well, but I must admit that over the holidays and Derek's birthday, I fell behind on my "one extra meal per week" goal.


Now that things have settled down, I arranged to have my mom come out to watch Emma for the day, so I could do some cooking catch-up! I did all of my shopping in the morning, and started food prep a little after 1:00pm. I was completely done - including having dinner ready - when Derek got home at 6:00pm. Full disclosure: My mom did chop 2 onions and 2 bell peppers, and got pizza dough started in the bread machine while Emma was down for her nap. It was also a big help having her here to play with Emma while I was cooking. The whole process would have taken a lot longer if I'd had to keep stopping to change diapers and entertain Emma.

However, even if you don't have a helper for a big all-at-once cooking day, you could power through a number of these recipes during a single naptime. These are quick and dirty recipes and for a few of them, you're simply dumping ingredients into a freezer bag and you're done. Most of the recipes below are doubled (recipes with a 2) and then split into two containers, so you could also make a big batch in the evening and put half in the freezer, and continue on with the recipe to make the other half for dinner.

Pizza Stuffed Peppers (2) adapted from Diets In Review
8 medium bell peppers
3 cups whole grain bread cubes (I bought a loaf of whole grain bread, and cubed it myself)
5 links Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups pizza sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Dried oregano

Coat 2 baking dishes with nonstick cooking spray. Cut tops off peppers and pull out seeds. Put 4 peppers into each baking dish. Take stems off pepper tops, then coarsely chop tops (you should have about 2 cups) set aside to use in filling. Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. Meanwhile, chop onion and cook sausage. In a large bowl, combine crumbled sausage, chopped onion, chopped pepper, and pizza sauce. Gently fold in toasted bread cubes. Then fill peppers with mixture. Top peppers with mozzarella and sprinkle with dried oregano if desired. At this point, you can cover with foil and freeze.

Day of Cooking: Defrost in refrigerator. Bake, covered with foil, in 425 degree oven for 35 minutes until peppers are tender and cheese melts.

Chicken Parmesan (2) 
4 large chicken breasts, each cut into 2 cutlets 2 eggs
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 cups tomato sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Coat chicken cutlets in egg. Dip chicken from egg into breadcrumbs and coat well. Pour 1/2 cup tomato sauce each into 2 baking dishes. Put 4 chicken cutlets into each baking dish. Using the remaining sauce, cover each chicken breast. Evenly sprinkle the shredded cheese over each chicken breast. At this point, you can cover with foil and freeze.

Day of Cooking: Defrost in refrigerator. Bake, covered with foil, in 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes. Serve with pasta or your favorite vegetable.

Chicken Tacos (2)
4 chicken pieces
1 package taco seasoning
2 cans corn
2 cans black beans
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 small can green chilies

Split the above ingredients into 2 freezer bags, and mush together to mix. (If you prefer to have a full taco seasoning packet in each batch, you can certainly do so. I have found that 1/2 packet works fine for my family.)

Day of Cooking: Throw it in the crock pot, cook 6-8 hours on low. Serve in tortillas with sour cream, salsa, guacamole, etc!


Chili (2)
2 lbs ground beef or turkey
1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 cans stewed tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans, drained
2 cans pinto beans, drained
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp chili powder

Brown and drain the ground beef, then let cool. Chop onion and peppers, and drain canned ingredients. Split the above ingredients into 2 freezer bags, and mush together to mix.

Day of Cooking: Throw it in the crock pot, cook 6-8 hours on low. Top with cheese, sour cream & chives, etc.

Sweet & Sour Chicken (2) adapted from Joel & Kitty
1 bottle Catalina Dressing
2 envelopes of onion soup mix
2 cans of whole cranberries
6 chicken pieces

Split the above ingredients into 2 freezer bags, and mush together to mix.

Day of Cooking: Defrost fully. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or grill! Serve over rice or with veggies.

Calzones (2)
1 package provolone
1 package frozen spinach, thawed completely & squeezed dry
1 package pepperoni (I used turkey pepperoni)
1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
1 bag (3 cups) shredded mozzarella
2 tubes of pizza dough (I actually made a large batch of pizza dough in my bread machine, but you could use store-bought pizza dough.)

Unroll one container or stretch out one ball of pizza dough on a greased cookie sheet. Layer half of the pepperoni, provolone, spinach, sauce and mozzarella over half of the dough. Fold the other half of the dough over the topping and pinch all the edges together.

Repeat with second ball or tube of dough and remaining half of the toppings. I put my two large calzones on a cookie sheet to freeze, then transferred them to freezer bags.

Day of Cooking: Defrost fully. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.


Manicotti 
1 package frozen spinach, thawed completely & squeezed dry
15 oz ricotta cheese, or cottage cheese
1 bag (1 cup for filling, 2 cups for topping) shredded mozzarella
2 cups Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1 box (12 to 14 shells) manicotti noodles
3 to 4 cups marinara sauce (1 jar + a little more)

In a large bowl, mix spinach, cheeses, and eggs. Stir together until well blended. Place about 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce in a 9x13-inch pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom. Place the mixed filling into a plastic bag. You can use either a frosting piping bag or a gallon zip bag. Snip the corner, gather the top and squeeze the filling into the corner. Hold an uncooked manicotti shell in your hand and squeeze the filling inside the shell. Let it overflow on both sides. Place the filled shell into the sauce-lined pan. Repeat with remaining manicotti and fill the pan with the stuffed shells, until you run out of shells and filling. You should be able to fill 12 to 14 shells. Cover the pasta with remaining marinara sauce. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan on top. At this point, you can cover with foil and freeze.

Day of Cooking: Defrost in refrigerator. Bake, covered with foil, in 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.
Hot Ham & Cheese Sandwiches  
1 12 pack of King's Hawaiian Original Rolls
1 lb. deli ham, shaved
1 lb. Swiss or provolone cheese, thinly sliced

Cut the entire pack of rolls in half, horizontally (keeping all top and bottom halves intact). In a greased 9x13 pan, place bottom half of rolls. Cover the bottom rolls with a layer of ham followed by the cheese. Replace the tops of the rolls. At this point, you can cover with foil and freeze.

Day of Cooking: Defrost in refrigerator. Cover and bake in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes and, once finished, separate for serving. 



The best part? The total for my shopping trip was $78.65. Granted, I did already have one 5 lb bag of frozen chicken at home, along with freezer bags and the tins that I used for the stuffed peppers, chicken parm, and ham & cheese sandwiches, as well as a few staple ingredients like onions and butter. BUT my shopping trip also included this week's essentials for my family like milk, eggs, bread, deli sandwich meat and cheese, yogurt, apples, bananas, oranges, etc. So I think $80 is a pretty accurate price - which comes out to about $5 per meal.


One other side note, in case you're thinking, "No way was this all $80!" is that I did all of my shopping at Aldi, and I am not very brand-loyal in most categories. That being said, if having a few meals in the freezer saves you from ordering take-out in a pinch, you'll still probably have more money in your pocket and healthier food in your tummy no matter where you shop!

Do you have any tried and true freezer meals that you like to keep on hand?

My 3 good things for today are:
  1. My nesting urges can take a break for a few days now that I am caught up on my freezer stash.
  2. I didn't break the bank grocery shopping.
  3. I only had to clean up the kitchen once, and I even had time to share a cup of tea with my mom.

3 comments:

  1. These sound great! What other recipes have you frozen already?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm planning to do a follow up post with a few of the recipes I've already done. Look for it in a week or so!!

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  2. Yum! I'm going to try the manicotti this weekend. Looking forward to the next post.

    ReplyDelete