“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Once a week, I will be sharing a tip, trick, or some interesting information about meal planning. I believe meal planning is critical to any long term and effective healthy living or weight loss goals. For me it was the single thing that finally made permanent weight loss achievable. The quote stood true, when I failed to plan, I failed, and I don’t want that to happen to others.
Additionally, I believe that meal planning is a skill that takes time to master and we can all use some help! When I first started meal planning it took up countless hours pouring over recipes, calculating nutritional info and/or points, and creating elaborate calendars. It was painful. Anything I can do to ease that pain for someone else is a win-win in my book.
Finally, I hope by sharing meal planning strategies, it will help you find a system that works for you. Whether it’s using our meal plans, scratching one into your weekly planner, or creating your own meal planning system – I hope this feature inspires you to start planning at least a few meals every week. It will save you time, money, and it truly will help you reach your weight loss and healthy living goals. So with that, on to this week’s tip!
Meal Planning Made Easy: Freezing Leftovers
Part of my monthly meal planning strategy is to have a few back up meals at all times in the freezer for nights that I know I won't have time to cook. That way I don't have to worry about running to the grocery store or resorting to take out when I just don't have the time or energy to make dinner. Normally to accomplish this, I just make double servings of a 2-3 meals each month that I know will freeze well, pop them into Ziploc freezer bags or freezer friendly containers, and label them with the date, recipe name, calories/points, and any reheating information I may need. I also do this with single servings for quick lunches or dinners on the run.
However, when it comes to freezing, not all recipes or techniques work the same. Here are some tips to make freezing leftovers more successful.
- Choosing Foods that Freeze Well: The first step is always choosing freezer friendly recipes. Soups, stews, casseroles, meatballs, enchiladas, meatloaf, slow cooked meats in sauce, lasagna, pot pies, and even proteins like ground beef, ground turkey, and grilled chicken all freeze well. In addition many breakfast and lunch dishes like pancakes, waffles, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, quesadillas, and calzones/empanadas also are great in the freezer. Here are some of my favorites.
- Chill Before Freezing: In my experience, it's best to chill something before freezing it. When your freeze a recipe while it is still hot, more moisture will collect that can lead to freezer burn.You can chill items in the refrigerator or use a cold ice bath for quicker chilling. In addition for items like sandwiches, burritos, pancakes, ground meats, and grilled chicken, I find they come out best if you place them in the freezer first without wrapping or covering them. Then let them freeze for 2-3 hours. This removes some of the extra moisture before wrapping or storing them. Here's a couple examples of recipes that use this technique, DIY Egg McMufins and Freezer Breakfast Quesadillas.
- Choosing Proper Storage: When freezing items, it is best to have as little air space as possible in my experience. The more extra air, the more likely it is for an item to get freezer burned. Whenever possible I opt for freezer ziploc bags since they are the easiest to store. When I need a different shape I usually reach for freezer safe tupperware.
- Freezing Quickly: This tip actually incorporates two important ideas or freezing foods. The first is to freeze the item quickly for the best flavor rather than waiting a few days. This doesn't mean that you can't freeze when you realize you may not use it all, but food generally tastes better when it is freshly frozen. Secondly, you want the items you are freezing to freeze quickly. This means not over packing your freezer or layering a bunch of unfrozen freezer meals on top of each other. When food freezes, ice crystals form on the food, which can lead to freezer burn. The faster something freezer, the fewer crystals form.
How does freezing meals work with meal planning? There are many different ways you can incorporate freezing meals into meal planning. First, like I mentioned before, I always plan on serving and preparing a few freezer meals monthly. I freeze 2-3 new recipes that I am making for future months and then use 2-3 meals that I have previously frozen. Secondly, if you know that you have a particularly busy night every week, you may want to prepare 4 freezer meals at the start of every month. Then pull them out throughout the month when you need that quick dinner. Finally, one of my favorite ways to incorporate freezer cooking is to make it a group affair. Get together with a small group of friends and have everyone prepare a freezer dish for everyone to take home. I usually do this with a group of 4 friends so we walk away with weekly freezer meals for the month.
Love the idea of meal planning but don’t want to do all the work? Since I know that many people simply don’t have the time to create their own healthy meal plans, we provide delicious and healthy meal plans at Slender Kitchen that you can customize to meet your needs.
Here are some highlights from this week’s healthy meal plans:
- Slow Cooker Banh Mi Pork
- Mini Mushroom Frittatas
- Spinach Meatballs
- Persian Chicken Kabobs
- Asian Ground Turkey Stir-fry
- Greek Yogurt Parmesan Chicken
- Brown Sugar Salmon
- Baked Apple Yogurt Bowls
- Grilled Cheeseburger Wraps
- Baked Buttermilk Blueberry Oatmeal
- & more
Each healthy weekly meal plan comes full of delicious recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The meal plans come in regular, vegetarian, and low carb options. All feature complete nutritional information, Weight Watchers PointsPlus®, and categorized shopping lists! There are also two bonus fallback recipes weekly and the option for either a complete meal plan or a Dinner Only plan. All that for less the cost of one cup of coffee per month with the yearly plan.