Cook once and eat twice.
I think we all can agree that home cooked meals are better for our budget and for our health. Even if you truly enjoy cooking, there are those days that you just don’t feel like it, or you’ve run out of time. One way to serve your family a home cooked meal on those crazy days is to have your pantry well stocked with items to make quick, easy and frugal meals, but there are some other ways.
There are entire cookbooks and websites devoted to the idea of making all your meals for a month at a time. The idea is to take one day to cook and freeze all your meals for a month. It works for a lot of people, but personally the idea of cooking (and cleaning up the kitchen) all day really isn’t all that appealing.
I take a somewhat modified approach to this idea by intentionally cooking more than we can eat in a meal. These planned leftovers are great for lunches, or for a dinner later in the week. You can also freeze the extra for use at a later time. By doing this you have created your own convenience food at a fraction of the cost, and without all the added preservatives.
Doubling a recipe really isn’t much extra work. How much extra time does it take to layer up a second pan of lasagna, or mix a second meatloaf, or bake an extra loaf of bread? There may be a bit more preparation or cooking time, but the clean up is pretty much the same, and you get the benefit of a ready to go meal for future use.
Most cooked foods will freeze well. Soups and stews are particularly good for the freezer. Breads, cookies, and cakes also freeze well. You can even freeze components of a meal, such as taco meat, spaghetti sauce, or sautéed onions and peppers. Some of my favorite items to double up on and freeze are chili, pancakes, sloppy joe meat, casseroles, and of course cookies.
There are some foods that do not freeze well. Cooked potatoes have a tendency to come out mushy after being frozen. French fries, though, do well. Cooked pasta can also turn out soggy. This can be avoided by slightly undercooking the pasta when you are planning to freeze it. Raw vegetables don’t freeze well, and egg whites become rubbery in the freezer.
Here are some guidelines:
- When cooking with the intention of freezing a meal, slightly undercook it. This way it won’t get overcooked when you reheat.
- After cooking cool the food quickly. Setting the hot pan in a sink of ice water speeds the process.
- Items like casseroles can be frozen in the dish they were cooked in. Once frozen the food can be removed and wrapped. Place the frozen food back in the same pan when it is time to cook. Do not place your frozen baking dishes in a hot oven.
- Plastic freezer bags are very convenient for freezing, but you can also use freezer paper and foil, or other food containers. You can even freeze in recycled containers like ice cream buckets, cottage cheese containers, or other food grade plastic containers.
- You want a minimal amount of air in the container, but be sure to leave some space for expansion, especially with sauces.
- Label each container clearly with the date and the contents.
- Items are safe to eat for up to six months, but they will begin to lose quality after 2 or 3 months.
- It is best to reheat from frozen. If you want to thaw something out first, do so in the refrigerator or with the microwave.
Even when life is hectic, a home cooked meal is desirable. It is better for your budget and for your health. Doubling a recipe when you have the time and the desire to cook is an easy way to create home cooked meals for the busier days of life.