by Jen (January 28, 2009)
Even though some frozen dinners are less unhealthy than others, they’re still pricey. You pay for that convenience. There’s a better option: make your own frozen dinners. The advantages to making your own are: you can control what goes in them, there’s no need for preservatives, kids can microwave them if you’re not around for dinnertime, and they save you money. In fact, let’s go into some detail about that last one: not only are they cheaper than storebought frozen dinners, but homemade frozen dinners help you use up all your groceries. That’s a big money saver if you’re someone who finds food going to waste in your fridge or on your shelves.
How to make a frozen dinner
Of course the easiest way to make a frozen dinner is to freeze a one-dish meal: chili, stew or a casserole, for example. Put it all in one dish and let family members scoop out the amount they want to heat, or store individual portions in freezer wrap. This is simple and wonderful, but not all of your food that’s going to waste can be used in these recipes. If that’s part of your goal, read on.
In theory you can make complete meals in compartmentalized dishes, but the problem with this is that not everything reheats at the same time. It’s easier to use individual freezer and microwave safe containers (or freezer bags) for each dish. This also has the advantage of allowing everyone to pick their own combination of main course and side dishes.
- Cook your meat or protein dish all at once and portion it into containers.
- You can use frozen or fresh vegetables as side dishes. Check this article from SparkPeople for a list of dishes that do and don’t freeze well.
- Frozen shrimp and fish from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s can save you time and money compared to buying the same meats fresh and freezing them. Look at the packaging to see the ingredients - if it’s just the meat plus perhaps a reasonable amount of salt or seasonings, it’ll be a healthy choice as well as a savings.
- Look at your canned goods way back on the shelf where you forget they exist. Which of them make good sides, or even main courses? Go ahead and portion them into containers so they’ll be eaten.
- Ditto on those veggies you bought that wound up not going with any of the dinners you fixed. Cook them in a nice big patch and portion them out.
Frozen pizzas are a wonderful frozen food. I use tortillas that are about 9 inches in diameter to make a nice individual portion, and to cut down on the carbs of pizza dough. It’s not easy to find tortillas that don’t have a fair amount of preservatives and so on - ditto on pepperoni - but everything else you put on it can be fresh. Mozarella cheese, homemade tomato sauce, ham, olives, pepperoncinis, chicken, bite size bits of seasoned beef, corn, aspararus, pesto sauce… the possibilities are really endless, and it always seems like such a treat. I find these work better cooked in the oven than the microwave - the tortilla becomes a nice, crunchy crust in the oven and stays soft in the microwave. But you can do the majority of reheating in the microwave and then cook it in the oven for just a few minutes.
The goal with making your own frozen dinners is for you to actually do less work than cooking every night, eat healthier than most “convenience” food allows, and save money. It may not work for everyone, and if you actually enjoy cooking every night or are already good about using every bit of your groceries before they go bad, then this is probably not the tip for you. But hopefully this will help some of you, or give you some ideas of your own for making healthy dinners simple and less expensive.