Contributed by Michelle Hassler
Life gets busy and the daily grind can be hectic and unpredictable. Being able to provide a tasty and nutritious meal for your family without much thought or preparation could be the silver lining on an otherwise cloudy day. If you need something in a pinch or are preparing a meal for others, it may be a good rule of thumb to stick to basics. Come up with something that will appeal to the entire family – especially kids who can be particular about what they eat. Remember, warming up a frozen meal should provide relief, not require you to take on the role of a short-order cook for picky eaters.
If you are preparing a meal for someone in need, find out if they have any dietary restrictions. You may need to create a dish that follows a gluten-free, dairy-free or even diabetic diet. When it comes to freezer friendly meals, you can’t go wrong with a casserole, soup, chili or meatloaf; these foods hold up extremely well when it comes to freezing and reheating. It is best to defrost in the refrigerator, but if you did not plan ahead there is usually a defrost setting on the microwave that can be used. I have adapted three family-friendly recipes to prepare, freeze, and pull out for a rainy day.
Baked Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe from Skinnytaste takes a beloved classic and jazzes it up by incorporating broccoli which adds nutritional value as well as a pop of color. Also, using low fat cheese and milk makes for a healthier take on this beloved dish. If broccoli is not appealing to you, leave it out. However, this is a great dish if you are looking to entice your kids into eating some veggies! Plus, macaroni and cheese is usually a safe bet when you are delivering a meal to someone and are unsure about their tastes.
12 oz. high fiber elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup flour
2 cups skim milk
1 cup fat free chicken broth
2 cups reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
salt and pepper (to taste)
12 oz. fresh broccoli florets
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and coat a large baking dish with cooking spray.
Cook macaroni and broccoli together in a large pot of salted, boiling water. Cook until pasta is slightly undercooked (al dente).
Melt butter in a large skillet. Sauté onion on a low heat for 2 minutes. Add flour and cook for a minute (until flour is golden and well combined).
Add milk and chicken broth to skillet and whisk until mixture comes to a boil.
Cook for 5 minutes until sauce is thick and smooth. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to taste.
Remove skillet from heat, add cheese and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Combine cooked macaroni and broccoli and mix.
Pour into baking dish and top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs.
Spritz some cooking spray on top.
Bake for 15-20 minutes then broil for a few minutes until breadcrumbs are crispy and golden.
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman, this delicious vegetarian chili recipe boasts a long list of hearty ingredients. Since you will be tackling an extended shopping list followed by lots and slicing and dicing, this would be a great recipe to double or make for dinner and make an additional batch for freezing. Of course, making a batch for yourself and one for someone else is always a great option as well! Chili is a great comfort food that can be served in many ways, making it a perfect freezer friendly meal. Use it to top off some cornbread, nachos, or a salad. You can use it to make enchiladas or stuffed peppers. The possibilities are endless.
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 minced garlic cloves
1 large onion (diced)
1 red bell pepper (seeded and diced)
1 yellow bell pepper (seeded and diced)
1 green bell pepper (seeded and diced)
2 whole carrots (peeled and diced)
2 stalks celery (diced)
1 whole Jalapeno (seeded and finely diced)
3 cups vegetable broth
1 can (12 To 14 Ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (10 Ounce) Rotel (diced tomatoes and chili peppers)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 can kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can pinto beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 large zucchini (diced)
1/4 cup masa (corn flour) or regular cornmeal
1/2 cup warm water
In a large pot, warm oil over medium heat.
Add garlic, onion, bell peppers, carrots, celery, and jalapenos. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened.
Stir in oregano, cumin, chili powder, and salt until combined and cook for a few minutes.
Add broth, tomato sauce, and Rotel diced tomatoes.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the beans and zucchini to pot. Stir, cover, and simmer for 30 more minutes.
Mix the masa with the warm water and stir it into the pot. Simmer for 15 more minutes and adjust seasonings to taste.
Mini Chicken Pot Pies
This recipe from Betty Crocker is a great option if you want to freeze single servings. A single pie could easily be popped into the oven or microwave in a pinch for lunch or dinner. Also, this is a great recipe for getting kids involved in the kitchen. Kids can spoon the mixture into the muffin tins and you can even put them to work grating the cheese.
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground thyme
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
½ cup Original Bisquick mix
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.
In large skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in oil 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink in center.
Add onion and chicken broth and heat to simmering.
Add frozen vegetables and seasonings.
Heat, stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid is absorbed.
Cool 5 minutes and then stir in cheese.
In a medium bowl, whisk Bisquick, milk, and eggs until blended.
Spoon 1 tablespoon baking mixture into each muffin cup. Top with about 1/4 cup chicken mixture. Spoon 1 tablespoon baking mixture onto chicken mixture in each muffin cup.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick is clean after inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool 5 minutes. Remove from pan and place on cooling rack.
Whether you are looking to relieve dinner stress on busy days or provide a meal for someone you care about, taking time to prepare freezer friendly meals for later will save time and benefit the entire family. Having dinners on hand will help to avoid unhealthy grab-and-go options and encourage your family to spend quality time together at the dinner table. Enjoy!