Nutrition Articles

Create Your Own Frozen Dinners

Healthier Meals that Save Time & Money

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You're busy. Whether you work full-time, attend college, care for a loved one, run a household—or all of the above—you don’t always have time to make yourself nutritious meals. Like many people who want to eat healthy on a budget, you probably rely on those handy frozen entrees to fill the gap. After all, they seem like a bargain compared to going out for lunch every day.

But if you do the math, you're probably spending at least $60 per month for frozen meals that don’t taste that great and are processed, packaged, and preserved. Why not make your own frozen dinners and save the extra money? By using better quality ingredients and controlling the cooking method, you’ll always have a supply of quick and tasty meals on hand—foods you actually like to eat!

Compared to store-bought, homemade frozen meals are:
  • Healthier. Many commercially-prepared foods are full of salt, artificial ingredients, preservatives and unhealthy fats. By making your own meals, you can control what goes into them and use quality ingredients like brown rice instead of white rice, organic vegetables instead of conventional, and olive oil instead of palm oil.
  • Inexpensive. While a frozen meal may be cheaper than a restaurant bill, it's still more expensive than cooking from scratch. If you prepare your own meals with whole ingredients, you can save $100 a month or more.
  • Time Savers. Making your own meals doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Set aside one day a month to cook a few recipes and you will have enough meals to last for weeks on end. You can even make cooking a social event by inviting some friends and sharing recipes—you’ll get to try something new while you chitchat with your buddies.
  • Eco-Friendly. Frozen entrees are packed in plastic and cardboard that usually ends up in landfills. When you make and package your own foods, you can decrease your impact on the planet by using glass or plastic containers over and over again with little to no waste.
  • Full of Variety. Prepackaged frozen meals don’t offer any flexibility—what you buy is what you get. While you might like some of the ingredients in the meal, not everything is going to appeal to you. But by creating your own, everything will be up to your taste level and standards—and you can change the menu, ingredients, and combinations any time!
The choice is yours. Preparing freezer-ready meals isn't a difficult task. To get started, use these meal-preparation and storage tips.
  • The containers you use to store your meals in should be both microwave- and freezer-safe. Both glass and plastic may work well, if they meet these standards (all glass and plastic containers are different). Another option is large freezer bags. Certain foods will freeze well in a bag, and can then be defrosted in the refrigerator, placed in a microwave-safe container, and then reheated.
  • Before portioning out cooked food into containers, allow it to cool completely first and always leave extra room at the top of to allow for expansion of the food during freezing.
  • Make sure food is wrapped well and/or covered with air-tight lids to prevent air from getting in.
  • Foods with high moisture content (such as soups) tend to freeze better than drier foods.
  • Don’t turn your food into a mystery science project. Use a permanent marker to label each dish with a name and a date. For maximum quality and flavor, use each meal within a couple of weeks. Just like in a store, rotate your stock so that the newest meals are in the back and the oldest are in the front for easy access.
  • Vegetables should be slightly undercooked to prevent them from becoming mushy when you reheat them.
  • Be careful about bacterial contamination. Completely cool hot food before freezing it to prevent the growth of bacteria. Bacteria can grow when the outside of food freezes while the inside remains warm.
  • If you’re not sure a meal will freeze well, cook and freeze only a small portion the first time. If the quality is okay, then go ahead and freeze more in the future.
  • Read your owner's manual to find the fill level that will keep your freezer running at peak energy efficiency. Certain freezers run best when completely full, while others shouldn't be filled more than half-way.
  • Consider posting a freezer inventory list nearby to track the meals (and dates) of everything in the freezer. Check off each item as you remove it and you will know exactly what foods are available at all times. This also prevents forgotten foods from going to waste.
  • Freezing your meals is a great way to keep foods longer, but frozen doesn’t mean forever. As a general rule, fruit and vegetables will stay freezer-fresh for around eight months, fish and shellfish for up to six months, and meat and poultry for three. Trust your instincts and throw out anything from the freezer that smells or tastes "off."
  • Don’t re-freeze defrosted foods because the taste and texture will decline and you could be risking bacterial contamination.

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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • MDANBY1
    A good option is to purchase frozen meals from a company such as http://www.marks-
    gk.co.uk/ - 2/10/2014 9:40:18 PM
  • another good thing to freeze for later use is your different beans like kidney, white, & so on. I do it all the time being I make a lot of different soups. Cook them. put on a cookie sheet & freeze. put them in containers, or bags.Then you have them all done up & you just have to measure out what you need. It sure saves a lot of time. Hope this helps with something else to freeze. - 10/4/2013 8:04:01 PM
  • I have been freezing my own food in single servings for a couple of years. I keep a variety of things in the freezer. Sometimes I combine the carb, veggie, and protein into one and other times I put them in separate containers so that I can choose what I feel like having at that time. I use labels instead of marker so that I can peel it off. I have also frozen my own veggies to use at a later time, and they do not go bad in the fridge then. - 10/4/2013 11:30:48 AM
  • I bought "paper tape" to use on my containers. It comes off really easy, I can mark what is in the container and it isn't permanent!! - 10/4/2013 11:00:53 AM
  • Some good ones, thanks. - 10/4/2013 10:36:47 AM
  • I do a lot of meal & soup freezing. I use containers that will hold 2 cup servings for soups. On meals I use my plate and put each portion on & freeze. When frozen I transfer to my seal-a- meal bags & vacuum seal them. It works great and can stack & store back in the freezer. I have gone through 3 seal-a- meal in the last 4 years as I use it so much. It has been a life saver. I make tons of soup to last all winter. - 10/4/2013 9:57:43 AM
  • Maryed - thank you so much for the link to the mashed potatoes! I'm definitely going to try that.

    There are some great ideas here. I love the inventory list idea for the freezer. Mine is acting up because it's overfull and I hate digging through it to see what's there!

    Thanks again. - 7/17/2013 11:24:40 AM
  • Several people have made comments about glass dishes. I read somewhere that you could put a liner of some sort in an uncooked casserole dish, let the casserole freeze, remove the food from the glass container and just have the food in the freezer without the glass dish. Later, when you're ready to prepare the casserole, remove the wrapping and pop it back into the glass dish and bake. That way, you don't have to have so many glass dishes sitting in the freezer holding frozen foods. You can use them! - 6/8/2013 8:14:43 AM
  • Thanks for the tips! I have tried a few time to cook and then freeze, but it always seems so hard to get the veggies right, and I am ALWAYS forgetting something in the back of my freezer. With the inventory tip and the just undercooked veggies tip, this might actually work for me again. ^_^
    It's the perfect way to cut down on all the salt from preserved frozen meals, while still not having to cook every night! - 5/8/2013 2:22:16 PM
  • For those that choose to freeze food in glass dishes, you do not have to wait until the food becomes room temperature to heat in the oven. First you must place the glass dish in a COLD oven before turning it on or the glass will shatter and you will have a huge mess. You will have to heat the food a little bit longer but you do not have to wait for it to thaw. Another easy tip is to pre-cook chicken or other meats and you can quickly add them to salads, soups or tortillas for a quick meal or snack. I normally cook 5-6 pounds of meat at a time and use some that night and freeze the rest of the meat in meal-size portions. - 3/26/2013 5:35:59 PM
  • LINDABRENT
    I do freeze left-overs, but when you don't use a microwave, it's not nearly as quick or convenient, as the glass bowl has to warm up to room temperature before you can pop it in the regular oven.

    After reading that more than 70% of nutrients of broccoli disappear when microwaved, I can't imagine ever "nuking" food and killing the goodness. - 2/25/2013 8:54:35 AM
  • I LOVE how there is a vegetarian option for each category. - 2/23/2013 4:59:24 PM
  • CIRANDELLA
    Very much worth the time and trouble! It's like treating yourself with instant homemade goodness :) - 2/23/2013 12:28:22 PM
  • So, I thought this would be a great help to create some meals to have in the freezer for hubby for times I'm out of town. But so far, all the recipes I've checked do NOT give directions for the freezing part! Do you completely cook first, cool then freeze? or freeze before they are cooked? If frozen, do you thaw before cooking/reheating
    ?? Times & Temps? A little discouraged for what the title states... - 2/23/2013 12:14:02 PM
  • Is there a concern about BPA in the plastice containers and ziplock bags?? - 2/23/2013 9:22:09 AM