Meal prep has gained in popularity in the health and fitness community and it’s no surprise why.
Having healthy meals to hand all week means we are more likely to eat well and not end up reaching for a takeaway or fast but unhealthy meal options. Cooking in bulk is also money saving as you buy bigger quantities or foods on offer. Plus making double doesn’t take twice the amount of time once you get going and you will save on fuel costs too.
Some people like to meal prep the same meal for the whole week, which can be necessary if using salad veggies which don’t freeze. But freezing meals means you will eat a greater variety of foods as you can simply grab a meal you made for example, four weeks ago while making something completely different that week and freezing some portions of those.
“I like to cook double of most meals so I have four portions on day for the family and another four for packed lunches or quick dinners later on,” says Caroline Hartley from The Happy Food Kitchen (www.thehappyfoodkitchen.com). “It means some busy weeks we can have a homemade meal every night with no need to cook. It also allows me to ‘shop my freezer’ and buy minimal food at the supermarket that week. Another time and stress saver!”
The key to becoming one of those meal prep gurus who flood Instagram on a Sunday night with their neatly lined up boxes ready for the fridge or freezer is prep. Yes, meal prep prep! Here we give you all you need to know to make sure you succeed.
If you have the right tools you are more likely to make a success of your prep. So have the correct containers and coverings ready. Here’s some suggestions:
Enamel pie dishes in individual or larger sizes for pies so they can go straight in the oven. Cover the tops with foil before freezing.
Pyrex dishes with removable lids for lasagnas, pies, one-pot roasts or foil containers.
Tupperware style boxes for foods which can be microwaved or decanted and pan reheated.
Plastic freezer bags are great for dry items or sauces. In order to keep bags of sauces neat place the bag into a freezable cup and fill with the sauce, tie the top and freeze in the cup. When hard you can pop the bag and sauce out of the cup and in it’s neat form into the freezer – it’s easier to label this way too.
Foil is great for wrapping drier items in portions like portions of baked oats, pancakes, waffles, bread etc.
A silicon ice cube tray is brilliant for freezing small amounts of for example, chopped herbs or puree for babies. Then pop them out and into a ziplock bag for easy access. “I always froze fruit and vegetables purees in ice cube trays so I could mix a different combination of foods daily with no hassle for my kids,” says Caroline.
Invest in a permanent marker or some stickers because although you are sure now that when you see that bag of red frozen liquid you will know its tomato soup – it can get confusing!
“I once defrosted an unmarked box of what I thought was fish pie white sauce – with my mash and fish at the ready – only to discover it was actually pancake batter which looks basically the same when it’s in a lump!” laughs Caroline.
“Now I use a thin permeant marker on all bags and boxes as after freezing and a round in the dishwasher the marker tends to pretty much rub off anyway.”
If you are using foil containers with lids then you can write the contents and even cooking instructions on in biro before freezing. It can also be helpful to add the date you froze the meal.
Part of the joy of meal prep is it’s easy to make a meal – that’s not true if you have to hack lumps off a frozen block of food! So when it comes to freezing make sure your savvy about how you do your initial freeze.
If you have items which you will need to remain separate like fritters, mini tarts or filled pasta it’s best to freeze them on a baking sheet, not touching before placing them into a bag or box.
Then you can just take what you need when you want it without defrosting the whole lot.
This is also useful when freezing fruits and vegetables so you can create your own frozen veg/fruit bag! There’s no need to defrost the vegetables before cooking, and use frozen fruit straight from the freezer to make ‘nice-cream’ or amazingly thick smoothies.
Where you can it makes sense to both saving space in your freezer and also making life easier, to add whole meals to a container. So if you are prepping a curry, include the rice too.
If you don’t have time to add the sides at the time you are ready to freeze don’t panic! Simply freeze say the curry and do a batch of rice the next day.
As long as it’s cold when you add it to the frozen curry you can pop it straight back into the freezer.
Sadly there are some things which just don’t freeze well, unwhipped cream, custard, iced cake, cream cheese, and mayonnaise are a terrible texture when they are defrosted so there’s little point attempting to freeze them. The good news is that they’re not particularly good for you so if they’re not hanging around the house then you risk less temptation.