The cost of convenience: How to have easy meals without ready meals

Posted on Feb 27 2019 - 9:00am by Claire Herbaux

So you want to cut out the ready meals – great!

All the ready and processed food is doing more damage to our bodies than it is helping us feel like we’ve saved time. Having food conveniently ready is easier than you think and can basically be broken down in just a few steps.

Prep meals for days when you don’t have time to cook, have (healthy) snacks and meals ready when you need them, and freezing prepped food, food cooked in bulk or veggies to have high vitamin foods available without needing to run to the shop.

Cooking in bulk

The first step to eating more home-cooked food is to prepare in bulk and freeze “leftovers”. This way you have healthy meals ready in the fridge (short term) or freezer (long term) for days when you are short of time.

A crockpot is great for making meals in large quantities, but you can also just use a larger pot and pan! Very easy recipes to make in bulk are soups, curries, chillies, stews and sauces. Cook them, let them cool down, and then pack them up in freezer bags in portions so you can defrost one at a time.

You can cook and freeze more than you think! While you wouldn’t freeze pasta alone, if you make a pasta bake, you can easily freeze it for another time. Pasta bakes and lasagne are great to store in aluminium containers (similar to takeaway containers, available in most supermarkets) with a paper/aluminium lid.
If you are going to freeze rice (to add to your chilli for example) because you won’t have time to cook it fresh, pack up the rice as soon as it’s cooked when it’s still steaming (and therefore moist) in an airtight container and close the lid. Then, when you reheat the frozen rice, it uses the moisture and tastes like freshly cooked rice!

Here are some ideas for meals you can freeze!

Think of your greens!

Having fresh food around and always having a good variety without letting anything go off is difficult. And it isn’t always necessary. Frozen food contains similar, if not the same levels of vitamins as their fresh counterparts. So avoid the tinned veg and stock up on frozen ones instead.

You can also cook your own fresh veg and then freeze it in portions you can use later. If you are going to freeze vegetables, it is best to blanch them, which means they are almost cooked. That way, you can add them to your meal without overcooking them.

This also works for your herbs. Grow them at home, and when you cut the leaves, chop and freeze them in a plastic jar. Adding herbs to your food will give it extra flavour and you will quickly cut down on the salt. And you will notice a big difference between dried and frozen herbs. You can even sprinkle the frozen chopped basil or parsley on your salad and by the time you are ready to eat, it will have defrosted.

If you are going to freeze fruit (which is great if you want to store them to use in baking or smoothies later), make sure you pack them in airtight containers when they are very fresh. (Unless it is a banana detsined for a banana cake or milkshake, don’t wait until they are almost off.)

Prep food

Preparation is key if you want to avoid being hungry and feel the need to grab a ready meal.

This means you need to have healthy snacks available during the day (muesli bars or fruit) as well as having a meal with you if you know you will be out for the day.

This can be a sandwich you make at home in the morning, a balanced lunch box or even one of your meals you cooked in bulk. You can pack the latter in a lunch box and re-heat at work. For dessert, you can keep a jar of home-made applesauce at your desk or in your car, which is a fruity snack and filling if you need a snack. (To mix it up, add other fruit to it such as pear, banana or even peaches – cook them and put them into jars when they are in season!)

But you can also prep food you want to cook at home to cut down on cooking time. On the weekend for example, you can start chopping and packing up any food you know you want to use in the next few days. Or you can make vacuum packs of food to use in a meal. For a chilli for example, you can chop and cook the veg and beans ahead of time (in bulk or when you have those left over), then pack and freeze them and simply get them out when you need them.

If you are a baker, think about prepping dough and having it ready to use when you need a last minute cake or cookies. You can also make pizza dough and freeze it for the next time you fancy a home made pizza but don’t have time to start kneeding.

A few reminders…

Here are a few things you should avoid freezing

  • Milk, yoghurt and similar milk products
  • eggs in shell
  • cheese
  • salad greens
  • sour cream
  • potatoes
  • raw fruit and vegetables (cook or blanch them instead)
  • fried food

Freezing, defrosting and reheating food

Generally speaking, you should let food cool down completely before freezing it.

In terms of taking it out of the freezer, the best thing is to plan ahead and take it out early so it can defrost in the fridge (not on the side) so it remains at fridge temperature until cooking.
Make sure you place the frozen food in a dish or on a plate to catch any juices.

If you are in a hurry, you can use the microwave, but you need to ensure it is on the defrost setting or a very low setting so the food does not start to cook on the outside while you try and defrost the inside.

When you reheat your food, ensure there is enough moisture and make sure it is piping hot before eating.

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