Today we are talking about the easiest way to meal plan / meal prep. Whether you’re busy with kids or work or college classes or your side hustle, you can fit in the 10-30 minutes (weekly) required for this prep method.
We’re learning how to make homemade frozen dinners!
This post isn’t about chopping and prepping foods to add to a freezer bag and toss in the oven or slow cooker sometime in the future. We’re not doing things from scratch today.
Instead, this is about taking advantage of the amazing variety of frozen vegetables and starches, cooked meats, and quality fats and sauces already available in your local grocery store to create a weeks’ worth of meals you can feel good about.
I like to think about these meals as alternatives to takeout or frozen dinners on those nights when you just can’t. They’re cheaper than ordering out, and healthier than most convenient options.
I’ve been making some form of homemade frozen meals on and off since my first job out of college.
It wasn’t quite so planned out as this – I would usually keep Trader Joe’s frozen edamame, frozen mixed vegetables and frozen brown rice in my freezer, and pour out a portion into a lunch container at 6:45 am, topping it all with their famous Soyaki dressing.
Today we’re going to get a little more organized with our frozen meals.
Let’s dig into how to make homemade frozen dinners.
How to Prep for Homemade Frozen Meals
1) Containers: I highly recommend glass, but I understand that some people find them cost prohibitive or too heavy. Over time, leak-proof rubber seals can become damaged by the freezer so sometimes reusable plastic makes more sense. Large wide-mouth jars can be a good option as well.
If you do choose plastic, take appropriate measures to avoid microwaving in plastic. Stash a plate at your office, or get yourself some paper plates for the microwave.
I use reusable plastic containers from dining out or from Territory Foods, but here are other options.
- People tend to like these Ziploc plastic containers. They make several sizes so you can find your favorite. I had these and they lasted about 1-2 years.
- As for glass containers, these glass pyrex containers with leakproof lids are my favorite! I’ve had them for almost 4 years and they all still seal perfectly, but I don’t usually put them in the freezer.
- And as always, feel free to use a large glass jar and stack the food to make more of a “bowl.” I think 24 oz and larger would work best.
2) Starch: There are so many great options available! Trader Joe’s has frozen mashed sweet potatoes, but you can also find frozen butternut squash, or go for pre-cooked brown rice or quinoa.
3) Vegetables: get ’em already prepped, blanched, and frozen! I like riced veggies, chopped spinach, organic bell peppers, and broccoli florets.
4) Protein: the easiest option here is probably organic frozen pre-cooked chicken (with nothing added), but that isn’t available everywhere, so find what works for you. There are some decent quality pre-cooked sausage brands (Aidell’s, True Story Foods, Pederson’s, Applegate), canned wild fish, pre-cooked chicken, and even deli meats available at most grocery stores. Trader Joe’s has “Simple Roast Chicken” pre-cooked chicken breasts ($6.99) in the fridge section, which I used here.
I also like grass-fed beef burgers, which only take like 8 minutes to cook ahead of time so you can cook them quickly and then toss them in the container.
Vegetarian Protein: you can totally do canned beans or whatever real food vegetarian option works for you. For me, beans that aren’t soaked and cooked with kombu are significantly harder to digest, so I usually save beans for when I can make them from scratch. However, Eden Organic actually soaks their beans and cooks them with kombu, so that’s a great option for making vegetarian homemade frozen meals! Organic edamame is another decent choice if you’re able to eat soy.
Here I used some organic canned beans from Trader Joe’s in moderate amounts.
5) Sauce: you can keep it super simple with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, you can make homemade sauces, or you can just grab some store bought sauces you like, such as salsa, marinara, hummus, pesto, harissa, etc.
How to Make Homemade Frozen Meals
→ Select frozen produce – this produce has already been flash-frozen, which makes it more resistant to freezer burn.
→ Cook your meat or choose pre-cooked protein options. This doesn’t have to be frozen. Meat handles the freezer well so it doesn’t need to be flash frozen.
→ Pair with a starch. Most people do well with real-food complex carbohydrates (though not all), so if this works for you, definitely toss some in there.
→ Think about your flavors! I personally love Italian sausage with white beans and tomato sauce (one of my favorite recipes here), so you’ll see that reflected in one of the meals I chose. See what’s available to you and pair it with your favorite sauce!
How Much Do Homemade Frozen Meals Cost?
These are certainly not the cheapest things on my blog, but they’re much much healthier than other frozen food options, and they’re cheaper than most of them too!
I chose to get all of my ingredients from Trader Joe’s this time around. This Trader Joe’s haul came to about $55.00! And I had plenty of leftover starches and sauces after making these 4 dishes.
Each of the meals are about $2.90-$3.50, and the recipes are hitting the blog this week!
- Carnitas & Sweet Potato Bowl $2.92 per meal
- Quinoa Marinara With Sausage & White Beans – $3.31 per meal
- Pesto Veggie Noodles – $3.45 per meal
- Harissa & Hummus Chicken Rice Bowl – $2.95 per meal