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Freezer meals are quick choice for busy families

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Family and consumer sciences agent Olivia Jones instructs a class at Currituck Extension Center last year.

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By Olivia Jones Extension
Currituck Cooperative Extension

Sunday, September 3, 2017

School has started back and everyone is busy running from one activity to the next. Often it is hard to find time for a family to sit down to a meal let alone prepare and eat together. But there is an answer to every busy person’s dinner problem, and it does not include a drive through window. It is freezer meals. I know it sounds like one more thing you have to on your only day off, but let me put it to you like this: “Prep once, clean once.” Doesn’t that sound nice? When it is time to cook the meal, all that’s left is to dump it in and turn it on. It really is that easy and can be simple to fit into your schedule.

Freezer meals are any meal you have prepared or even cooked ahead of time. The meals are prepared usually all at once, labeled and then frozen. In the end, you will have meals aplenty when you need them. These meals have tons of benefits like saving money by reducing food waste, eating out less and preparing inexpensive meals. They also save time by combining shopping and preparation tasks. And they can improve nutrition by eating meals prepared at home.

You can prepare freezer meals in a variety of ways. The easiest way to start might be to prepare double batches of favorite casseroles, soups or other recipes that will freeze well. Another way is to set aside a day every month or so and prepare several meals all at once. Bloggers all over the internet have great freezer meal recipes, grocery lists, and even directions. A quick browse through Pinterest will have you overwhelmed with your meal options.

There are a few tips to making sure that your food stays safe. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, states you can freeze almost any food at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will stay safe. There are a few exceptions, such as eggs, that cannot be frozen for later use. Other foods including mayonnaise, cream sauce, and lettuce, do not freeze well. Recommended storing times for frozen foods vary and are based on food quality only. Most casseroles should be frozen before baking, especially if all the ingredients are already cooked. The exception to this rule are dishes that contain uncooked rice, raw vegetables, or uncooked meat that has been frozen and thawed. Under-cooking starchy ingredients such as potatoes, beans, rice, and noodles will keep them from becoming mushy. Do not freeze baked pastry, instead, add the unbaked pastry during reheating.

Prepare your meal, raw or cooked, then place it in an airtight ziplock bag, or Tupperware container. Using an index card, label or just a marker, label the contents of the dish, the date frozen, and the number of servings. Also, include baking instructions or where to find the recipe with cooking information. For best quality, they should be used within 3 months. I often put that date on my index card as well.

Freezer meals are most commonly made in the slow cooker, electric pressure cooker or the oven. When preparing meals in the electric pressure cooker there is no need to thaw. For the oven or crockpot, pull the meal you would like to use out of the freezer the day before. It should thaw overnight prior to reheating or cooking as directed. When reheating, use a food thermometer to make certain the internal temperature of your meal reaches 165℉.

Freezer meals are fun and have tons of benefits. You can even turn your meal prep into a social gathering by inviting friends and family. So gather your ingredients and fill your freezer. For more information about freezer meals contact Olivia Jones at NC Cooperative Extension, Currituck County Center by emailing olivia_jones@ncsu.edu or calling 252-232-2261. If you would like to join in on the fun at Extension’s next freezer meal class, sign up for our Families on the Fly series. The next session will be held on September 21st. For more information and to register visit currituck.ces.ncsu.edu.

Olivia Jones is family and consumer sciences agent at the Currituck Center for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

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