Cook Now...Freeze Later

Don’t you just love coming home after a long, hard day at work and spending hours in the kitchen preparing supper for the family? Of course you don’t. But it’s a reality for a lot of folks. No rest for the weary, right?

So, to make things easier we often either call in a to-go order or make a pit stop in the drive-thru lane. Definitely easier and more convenient, but is it worth it in the long run? There are actually quite a few benefits of eating home-cooked meals that we miss out on when we default to the prepared foods.

Why should you eat home-cooked meals?

Health
You control what goes into the dish. Commercially prepared food is crazy high in fat, salt and sugar. When you cook at home you can prepare your meals with natural ingredients without all of the extra-added junk, and you can make healthy substitutions like using rolled oats for breadcrumbs and unsweetened applesauce for oil.

Portion Control
Restaurant portions are huge. Did you know that plates have gone from 10 inches in 1990 to 12 inches in 2010? That’s two inches of extra food on your plate.

Safety
No worries if the food is handled or cooked properly when it’s prepared in your home kitchen.

Budget
Simpledollar.com has a fabulous breakdown that compares the costs of home-cooked burgers verses $1 menu fast-food burgers.
3 pounds hamburger @ $1.99 lb. = $5.97
16 slices cheese, store brand = $1.99
16 hamburger buns, actually 2 packs of 8 = $3.98
1 small bottle ketchup = $1.50
… for a total of $13.44. One doesn’t have to pay sales tax on these products as they’re staple foods. 16 $1 menu double cheeseburgers, on the other hand, cost $17.12.

Family Time
Research actually shows that kiddos who eat meals together with family perform better academically and aren’t as prone to risky behavior. There’s just something calming about a sit-down meal with the family.

But the cool thing is you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to experience these fabulous benefits of a home-cooked meal. You can cook now...freeze later! We’ve pinned a couple of freezer meal ideas to get you started. Here are a few of our favorites.

Mini Meatloaves from muffintinmommy.wordpress.com

1-pound extra-lean ground beef
1-cup plain or seasoned bread crumbs
1-teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1-tablespoon brown sugar
¼ medium onion, diced
1 egg
½ cup ketchup

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Mix all ingredients in large bowl.
  • Dividing into 12 muffin cups sprayed with cooking spray.
  • Bake the mini meatloaves you need for the night for 20 minutes (check with meat thermometer to make sure internal temp reaches 160 degrees).
  • Freeze remaining pre-made mini meatloaves in a plastic bag or sealed container for an easy meal later.

For more delicious meatloaf recipes check out our Not Your Grandma’s Meat Loaf Recipes blog.

Easy Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken from gimmesomeoven.com

6 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-teaspoon salt
2-teaspoon black pepper
2-teaspoon garlic powder
(Optional) ½ cup water or chicken broth

  • Place chicken breasts in slow cooker and sprinkle with seasonings (and liquid, if using). Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the chicken shreds easily with a fork.
  • Remove the chicken with tongs and shred using two forks or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Use immediately or freeze in Ziploc bags or sealed container for an easy meal later.

Cheesy Vegetarian Lasagna from thekitcn.com

1 onion
1 (8 ounce) package baby bella mushrooms, diced small
1 small (12 ounce) eggplant, diced small
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-teaspoon salt
1-teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
6-ounce package baby spinach
3 cups tomato sauce
15 dry lasagna noodles (regular noodles, not no-boil)
2-½ cups ricotta cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions are sweated and are just starting to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid and most of that liquid has evaporated, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add the eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper, and cook until all are softened, another 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Clear a little space in the middle of the pan. Add another teaspoon of olive oil, the garlic, salt, and spices. Stir the garlic until it is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 30 seconds, then stir it into the vegetables. Scatter the spinach over the vegetables and stir until it is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the skillet of vegetables from the heat.
  • Spread a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish. Lay 5 of the lasagna noodles over top, breaking them if needed to create a single layer. Spread 1 cup of the ricotta over the noodles, then half of the vegetables, 1 cup of the tomato sauce, and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Arrange another 5 noodles over the top, followed 1-cup of ricotta, the remaining vegetables, 1 cup of the tomato sauce, and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Top this with a final layer of 5 noodles and the remaining sauce. Dot the top with the remaining 1/2-cup of ricotta. (Reserve the remaining mozzarella for the end of cooking.)
  • Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour. Check to make sure the noodles are done by poking the lasagna with a knife; the knife should slide easily through all the layers. If it doesn't, cover and cook for another 15 minutes. When the noodles are done, sprinkle the remaining cup of mozzarella over the top of the casserole and bake, uncovered, until the mozzarella has melted, another 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Turn on the broiler and place an oven rack 6 inches below the heating element. Broil the lasagna until the mozzarella is browned and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.

We would love to hear from you. Share your favorite cook now...freeze later meal on our Facebook page.

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