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Fresh from the Freezer

Convenience foods won’t compromise your family’s health when you use our smart, make-ahead meal plan.

 

Who says that food from the freezer has to taste less than delicious? Freezing ingredients at their peak freshness means that you can have nutritious, homemade meals every night of the week—even during the busy, back-to-school season.

Freezer meals have been saving families time and pleasing palates for years. These make-ahead meals will last a whole week—freeing up your evenings and keeping you out of the kitchen—while leaving your children begging for more. The meals we’ve chosen are simple to make and store and can be frozen days or even months ahead of time. Meals are then thawed and finished off for an easy-to-serve dinner every night of the week.

 

PRODUCE

2 green bell peppers

1 red bell pepper

1 bunch broccoli, optional

4 cloves garlic

1 medium lemon (2 Tablespoons fresh juice)

1 head lettuce

3 medium onions

1 pineapple

2 cups (1⁄3 lb.) spinach

3 medium tomatoes

 

DAIRY

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese

4 ounces reduced-fat feta cheese

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

2 (15-ounce tubs) fat-free ricotta cheese

½ cup reduced fat sour cream, optional

 

Meat/Poultry/Seafood

2 lbs. ground beef, 85% lean or ground turkey breast

1 (14-ounce) bag pre-cooked meatballs

¾ lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined

 

Bread/Pasta

2 packages refrigerated crescent rolls or biscuit dough

8 ounces egg noodles

1 cup orzo pasta

24 jumbo pasta shells

 

Prepared Foods

4 ounces low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

24 ounces marinara sauce

2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 cup sweet and sour sauce

1 package taco seasoning mix

1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can garbanzo beans, optional

1 beef bouillon cube

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon dried chives

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 ¼ teaspoons garlic powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Non-stick cooking spray

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

12 skewers

 

For freezing tips and safe thawing methods, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu.

 

Monday – Seashell Supper Night

 

 

I love to have these stuffed shells in my freezer ready to go; you can flash-freeze them individually and later fix any serving size you want (instructions follow). This is also one of my favorite  budget-friendly recipes.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

 

Serve with steamed broccoli or a green salad.

Serves 12

Prep time: Approximately 15 minutes

Cook time: 10-12 minutes

24 jumbo pasta shells

Non-stick cooking spray

24 ounces marinara sauce

2 (15-ounce tubs) fat-free ricotta cheese

2 cups (1⁄3 lb.) spinach, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ cup shredded low-fat (2%) mozzarella cheese

 

Heat oven to 400°F.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

Spread marinara sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish coated with non-stick cooking spray.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, garlic powder, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the shells and place them on top of the sauce. Drizzle some of the sauce over the shells and sprinkle mozzarella on top.

Bake until heated through, 10-12 minutes.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells:

Nutrition Facts per serving (2 stuffed shells):  375 calories, 10g fat, 5g saturated fat, 480mg sodium, 51g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 6g sugar, 19g protein, 30% vitamin A, 4% vitamin C, 30% calcium, 15% iron

 

TUESDAY – Supper-on-a-Stick Night

 

 

It’s impossible to please everyone at every meal but presentation can go a long way. Food on a stick is every child’s vision of a fun meal! Threading a protein with their favorite vegetables (or even new ones) and covering them in a tangy sauce make these sweet-and-sour-meatball skewers a hit.

 

Sweet-and-Sour-Meatball Skewers

 

Makes 12 servings

Prep time: 30 minutes • Cook time: 15 minutes

Notes: Opt for lean turkey in place of beef to save up to 20 grams of fat per serving. Also, you can substitute chunks of chicken, beef or pork for the meatballs.

12 skewers

14 ounces lean turkey meatballs, precooked (alternatively,

use 1, 14-ounce, bag pre-cooked beef meatballs)

1 red bell pepper, cut into large chunks

1 green bell pepper, cut into large chunks

1 onion, cut into large chunks

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks

1 cup sweet and sour sauce (plus more for dipping, if desired)

 

On each skewer, alternately thread meatballs, peppers, onions and pineapple.

Coat with sweet and sour sauce.

Grill or broil until all sides are lightly caramelized. Serve with additional sauce, if desired.

 

How to Freeze

When threading skewers, place the last chunk on the sharp tip of the skewer so it doesn’t poke through the freezer bag. Place kabobs in freezer bag(s). Pour sweet and sour sauce over all and gently shake to coat. Remove air, seal and freeze. To serve: thaw in refrigerator. Remove from sauce and cook as directed.

 

Sweet-and-Sour-Meatball Skewers:

Nutrition Facts per serving (1 skewer,  lean turkey meatballs): 90 calories, 1.5g fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 210mg sodium, 17g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 14g sugar, 2g protein, 15% vitamin A, 90% vitamin C, 2% calcium, 4% iron

 

 

WEDNESDAY – Sassy Seafood Night

Using seafood helps keep meals lower in calories and fat, and combined with orzo, large rice-shaped pasta, makes this a light, easy-to-assemble dish.  A small amount of feta cheese adds great flavor. It even looks fancy enough to serve for a special occasion.

 

Shrimp and Orzo Bake

 

 

Makes 4 servings

Prep Time: Approximately 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

1 cup orzo pasta

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ cup white wine or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 Tablespoon dried chives

¾ lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinsed and drained

4 ounces reduced-fat feta cheese

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

 

Cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a large pan, add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds. Add wine or broth, tomatoes, oregano and chives. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer, cooking for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine shrimp, cooked orzo and tomato mixture. Divide among serving-sized baking dishes. Sprinkle feta and lemon juice over top.

Follow freezing directions or bake immediately at 425°F for 15-20 minutes until shrimp are thoroughly cooked.

 

To Freeze

Prepare baking dishes through step 3, cover tightly and freeze. To serve, thaw and follow baking instructions, step 4.

 

Shrimp and Orzo Bake:

Nutrition Facts per serving (1 cup):

400 calories, 9g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 500mg sodium, 42g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 6.5g sugar, 29g protein, 25% vitamin A, 35% vitamin C, 15% calcium, 15% iron

 

 

THURSDAY – Noodle Night

This recipe is a family favorite and I have it in my freezer at all times. The ingredient combination might seem an odd one as you prepare it, but the salty, sweet flavor from the meat sauce colliding with the cheddar cheese noodles is one that will have your kids begging for more.

 

 

Johnny Marzetti with Cheesy Noodles

 

8 ounces egg noodles

1 lb. ground beef, 85% lean

½ cup chopped onion

1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 medium green pepper, cut in strips

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1 beef bouillon cube

1 (16-ounce) can garbanzo beans, optional

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup (4 ounces) reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese

 

Boil water for the egg noodles and cook according to package directions as you prepare the rest of the dish.

To make the Johnny Marzetti (beef mixture): Brown the ground beef and onion. Drain off the fat. Add in the diced tomatoes, green peppers, garlic powder and bouillon cube. Simmer a few minutes. Add drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, if using.

In a small bowl, mix together the water, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch. Add the liquid mixture to the skillet. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes.

Drain cooked noodles and place them in large serving bowl or pot. Mix in cheddar cheese.

Serve Johnny Marzetti sauce over the cheesy noodles.

 

How to Freeze

Follow directions through step 3. Let cool then place Johnny Marzetti sauce in a gallon-size freezer bag, seal and freeze. Place cheesy noodles in a separate gallon-size freezer bag, seal and freeze. To serve: Thaw both bags in refrigerator. Reheat noodles in microwave until heated through. Reheat beef mixture on stove or in microwave until heated through. Serve Johnny Marzetti sauce over the cheesy noodles.

 

 Johnny Marzetti with Cheesy Noodles:

1) Nutrition facts per serving (1⁄6 of the recipe) with garbanzo beans: 415 calories, 16g fat, 7g saturated fat, 900mg sodium, 39g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 4g sugar, 29g protein, 8% vitamin A, 30% vitamin C, 25% calcium, 15% iron

 

2) Nutrition Facts per serving (1⁄6 of the recipe) without garbanzo beans:  345 calories, 15g fat, 7g saturated fat, 700mg sodium, 26g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 4g sugar, 25g protein, 6% vitamin A, 30% vitamin C, 20% calcium, 10% iron

 

 

FRIDAY – Sleepy Tacos Night

Traditional tacos are a family favorite, but they can be a very messy dinner for kids. They love having their own tacos just like the adults, so wrapping those family favorites into a nice little package both intrigues the kids and makes mom happy because there is less mess! I especially love the convenience of freezing a batch to have on hand for quick lunches.

 

 

Tacos in a Sleeping Bag

Makes 16 rolls

Prep time: Approximately 20 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

 

1 lb. (85% lean) ground beef or ground turkey breast

1 package taco seasoning mix

2 packages refrigerated crescent rolls or biscuit dough

½ cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Toppings such as shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and sour cream, if desired

 

Preheat oven to 375°F. Brown the ground beef or turkey in a skillet.

Drain the meat in a colander and rinse well in hot water to remove grease.

Return meat to skillet. Add taco seasoning and mix well.

Unroll crescent rolls or biscuits. Top each piece of dough with approximately 2 Tablespoons of taco meat and a sprinkling of cheese.

Roll crescent roll around filling (fold over and pinch edges to seal if using biscuit dough).

Place each roll on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F for

12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with toppings, if desired.

 

To Freeze

After baking, allow tacos to cool completely then place on a cool cookie sheet in the freezer to flash freeze. When frozen, remove from sheet and place in a gallon-size freezer bag. To reheat: Place frozen tacos in microwave for about a minute or in a conventional oven at 375°F until heated through.

 

Tacos in a Sleeping Bag:

Nutrition Facts per serving (1 each, toppings not included): 130 calories, 5g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 290mg sodium, 12g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 1g sugar, 8g protein, 2% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C,

4% calcium, 8% iron

 

Bio: Tricia Callahan hosts Once a Month Mom, a website dedicated to creating monthly menus using seasonal ingredients as well as recipes for special diets. The site provides menus to families who wish to do a majority of their monthly cooking on one day. The menus come out on the first day of every month and are complete with recipe cards, grocery list, instructions, labels and more. For more information, visit www.onceamonthmom.com.

 

Written by Tricia Callahan • Photography by Kristen Doyle

 

 

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