Plan ahead with freezer meals

Be safe and save with self-prepared meals.

With the school year here, everyone is starting to get busier. A great way to control what we eat during these busy times is to plan your meals ahead to avoid eating out and snacking on junk food. Freezer meals can help make this feat much easier as they can be made in bulk, and then reheated quickly as a snack or a full meal.

To prepare freezer meals, you will need the proper materials. Reusable freezer bags (quart of gallon size), disposable foil baking pans (casserole size or individual), plastic wrap, and tin foil can all be purchased at your local grocery store and will help immensely with the freezing process.

Having a nutritious breakfast will start your day in the right direction. With freezer meals, this can easily be accomplished. Some breakfast items that can be frozen are muffins, pancakes and waffles, breakfast wraps, and breakfast sandwiches. Freezer meals can cover lunch too! Some great lunch options are burritos, chicken strips, and pizza pockets. For dinner you can make meals such as baked ziti, lasagna, or enchiladas, using the disposable foil baking pans. Other dinner options include pizza and chili.

If you are looking to make these recipes healthier, there a few simple steps you can take. Try substituting whole wheat flour for all purpose flour, or use whole wheat pasta or tortillas to increase your whole grain consumption. You can also add fresh fruit or vegetables to the recipes. For example, you could top the pancakes or waffles with fresh strawberries or blackberries, or top the enchiladas, breakfast wraps, or burritos with fresh salsa, avocado, and plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.

Many of these freezer meals will last 2 to 3 months, if sealed correctly. When freezing in bags, make sure to get as much air out of the bag as possible and seal it tightly. Keeping your freezer under 0 degrees Fahrenheit and making sure that the temperature does not fluctuate will prevent your foods from becoming freezer burnt and ensure that they are safe to eat. The USDA has more food safety information regarding a safe freezer temperature.

Michigan State University Extension recommends thawing your meals in these ways:, in the refrigerator, cold water or microwave. It is not safe to thaw foods in warm water or at room temperature, because they will fall into the danger zone temperature (40˚F-140˚F), in which bacteria is more likely to grow. Foods can also be fully cooked from their frozen state and safely be consumed. Freezing and thawing meals safely can lead to a healthier and savvier lifestyle.

If you would like more information about food safety, contact your local MSU Extension office, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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