A freezer for your thoughts.
September 25, 2010 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I want to start batch cooking my lunches for the month. I want to create delicious, HEALTHY individually-portioned frozen meals that I can pop in the microwave. Other catch: they have to be relatively cheap to make. Suggestions for recipes that fit the bill?
posted by corn_bread to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
Rice and beans, either by themselves or in a burrito. Here's what I made and brought for lunch last week: Brown rice, black beans, chickpeas - optional: add in corn, cheese. Top with adobo sauce=YUM.
posted by cestmoi15 at 3:49 PM on September 25, 2010

You want to google around for "once a month cooking" or OAMC. Many of these sites do a pretty good job of holding your hand through beginner stages. (Disclaimer: I've never done any of this.)

You can get pretty far with lasagne, which can be made really cheaply. There's always chili or huge portions of soup. Soups that are bean based are loaded in fiber. Aim for cans of low-sodium broth or make your own stock. If you're into meats, find a good deal on a pork butt or shoulder and make a LOT of pulled pork, but maybe that doesn't meet your "healthy" criterion.
posted by knile at 4:00 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should clarify my "healthy" criteria:

I am just fine eating lots of lean meats. I mostly want to avoid a lot of carb-laden fare, and I don't want to add processed crap to my meals. Ideally, many vegetables will be involved with these dishes.

posted by corn_bread at 4:03 PM on September 25, 2010

I'd recommend making a huge pot of turkey/veggie chili. It is pretty healthy (lean turkey, full of veg), cheap, quick to warm up/easy to freeze, easy to make and suuuper tasty. I'd be happy to share my recipe if you are interested. I make this chili every month and never get sick of it.
posted by muxnaw at 4:50 PM on September 25, 2010

Response by poster: Muxnaw, please do share! Recipes are very much appreciated. :D
posted by corn_bread at 4:55 PM on September 25, 2010

I wrote this for my friends-circle blog, but I am pasting the whole thing in case you are amused by it. You could use rice noodles to get a low glycemic index, or whole wheat udon noodles perhaps. Caveat: This might not be possible in the microwave, though I suspect that it is.

So, you want to have delicious food, but you don't have a whole lot of money for eating out, right? And you are not some filthy undergraduate -- you absolutely cannot eat any more ramen or instant mashed potatoes. Put down that ketchup sandwich! You need to make you some real person food!

Naruto-kun Ramen with Pork Slices

Yeah, whatever, I'm in grad school and I'm watching a lot of Naruto. You gotta talk yourself into doing all this hard training with little immediate reward somehow! In 2 years, you might achieve Chunin rank-- maybe another 5 till Jonin.

Soup base* - Enough to make 2 quarts
1/2 lb pork in < 1/2" pieces. (Or, meat of choice - chicken, beef, salad shrimp?, or tofu)
1 bunch scallions
1 shallot or small onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 c. finely chopped cabbage (any kind you like)
1/3 c. soy sauce
~1/2 c. red wine (the cheap stuff that you know you're drinking anyway)
olive oil, sesame oil, or some other, inferior oil, but not that wesson crap.
Noodles Of Choice - udon? ramen? chow mein? whatevs!

Large pot - like a stock pot (large enough for >2 quarts liquid)
4 ct. 32 oz. storage ware (gladware or ziploc disposables are best)

* I strongly recommend "Better Than Bullion"-type soup base. It's a bit pricey for one jar, maybe, but it makes much better soup and there's usually enough for like 10 quarts in one jar.

Heat some oil in a big pot and throw your meat in there to brown it (medium-high heat). Chop the scallions starting at the roots and about halfway up the bunch, about 1/2 inch wide. Throw them in the pot, along with the garlic and onion, and let it all wilt and sort of talk to each other about their individual flavors, so they can share. Pour the soy sauce over it once it starts sizzling really nicely. Stir it around in the oil and soy sauce for a few minutes, and then deglaze with the red wine.

Pour in two quarts of water. Add your soup base (8 tsp of "Better Than Bullion"). Let this stuff all get hotted up good, till it's like boiling or what. Then throw in the rest of your veggies - one cup of chopped cabbage, and the tops of the scallions, all chopped up. Allow the soup to sit and contemplate itself. It needs perhaps ten minutes to fully meld its different flavors into a delicious, delicious noodle soup broth for you.

Remove about 3 cups from the stock pot, putting them in a smaller sauce pan. Be sure you get plenty of the meat and veggie goodies in there. Set that on the stove at medium heat and toss in a handful of the noodles you like.

While the noodles for tonight are cooking, divide the remaining soup into your four disposable storage containers. These go in the fridge. The next time you must have delicious noodle soup, you take one out, melt it down, and use it to cook your noodles with. Noodles really are best fresh cooked and will not freeze well, but the rest of the soup will freeze and reheat just fine.

Congratulate yourself as you are eating tonight's soup! You have just made five really good meals for a little less than $4 each.

Now go work on more jutsus.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:06 PM on September 25, 2010 [12 favorites]

I've tried to start doing this too. You said you want things with vegetables, but I have to second what cestmoi15 said about the whole rice and beans thing. I make a huge batch of burritos and freeze them, which is something I learned here on MeFi. It is awesome! They are easy to make and save (though they taste best when heated up in a toaster oven or regular oven vs microwave).

Another thing to try is slow cooking a bunch of food at once and freezing it. The book I use collects all the recipes found on this blog: Make it Fast, Cook it Slow (use the labels on the side to find specific categories). You might have to kind of figure out which ones would be best for freezing and eating later, but in general you can do it with all the soups. I use one of the bean recipes to make the base for the burritos.

I'll be interested to see what other things people make!
posted by wundermint at 5:08 PM on September 25, 2010

Curry is a really good choice -- it's cheap, it's a one-pot dish, it freezes well, and you can supplement it by throwing in whatever veggies you like. Some of my favorite recipes for freezing curry are Saag Murgh (spinach chicken), Pork Vindaloo, Keema Matar (ground meat with peas, you can make it with ground turkey if you want it to be healthier), Murgh Makhani (butter chicken, not real healthy but utterly delicious), and Madhur Jaffrey's Lemon Chicken with Fresh Coriander (make this with small pieces of chicken rather than whole breasts, and it'll freeze better). Any sauce-y curry will freeze well, so check out that recipe site for more ideas. If you want more veggies, don't hesitate to add 'em: potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, chickpeas, squash, and/or peas would go well in any of these. You could even substitute them for the meat if you wanted to.

The way I do it is to cook a massive amount of curry in a big pan, eat it for dinner and lunch the next day, and then freeze the rest. All of these curries can be frozen in individual ziploc-bag servings, and will defrost and then warm up perfectly in the microwave.
posted by vorfeed at 5:28 PM on September 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

Eggplant canneloni freezes and reheats beautifully. It's kinda like lasagna without the noodles, using eggplant instead. It is a TIME CONSUMING recipe, I shant lie. When I make it, I make two lasagna pans worth, portion it off into little containers and run them through the vacuum sealer.

To make one pan of this, you will need:

Butter or Lard
Olive Oil (Pomace is fine)
4 eggplants
~ one quart of marinara sauce, maybe a little more
fresh, washed spinach leaves, about a bread bag's worth
a pound of ricotta cheese
a pound of mozzarella cheese
a chunk of parmesan cheese
black pepper
kosher salt

On day one, go shopping, and, if you roll DIY, make your marinara and cheeses. (Sometimes I make mozzarella, sometimes I buy, but I always make ricotta, because it's easy and really cheap. If you want to know how to make it, ask, and I will explain in a separate post.)

Turn your oven on 350. Slice your eggplants LONGWAYS as thin as possible. Brush your eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle them with kosher salt. Butter some cookie sheets. Lay your eggplant slices on the cookie sheets, and bake them for about 5-7 minutes.

Butter your lasagna pan(s). Add the herbs and pepper to your ricotta, just to taste. (Sauteed onions cooked in fat and red wine are good in the ricotta, too.) Slice about half of the mozzarella thin, in pieces that are about the width of your eggplant slices. If you haven't bought prewashed bagged baby spinach, wash, spin, and blot your spinach and tear it into pieces about the size of a basil leaf (~half a playing card).

Using a butter knife or similar tool, schmear the herbed ricotta on an eggplant slice. Lay a piece of spinach on the ricotta, and a piece of mozzarella on the spinach. Roll up into a canneloni, and set it the corner of the buttered lasagna pan. Keep doing this until the whole pan is full of neat little canneloni. It will look like a serial killer's sock drawer if you are doing it right.

Once your pan is full, pour the marinara over the canneloni. Top with the rest of the mozzarella (which you have shredded, of course) and dust with grated parmesan.

Bake on 350 for about 40 minutes. Allow to cool fully before packaging and freezing.

One pan of this feeds about eight hungry adults. It's rich and very filling.
posted by Leta at 7:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

I immediately thought of chili as well - this chili recipe is my favourite, I just made it last night!
posted by ukdanae at 2:29 AM on September 26, 2010

If you want to eat lean meats and not many carbs, cooking ahead and freezing isn't going to be the best solution. Reheated meat doesn't do much for me. If you're able to cook up a bunch of chicken or turkey on the weekend, you should be able to eat the meat during the week in a variety of different ways. Hardboiled eggs, good canned tuna in olive oil make a good change.

YMMV, but meat in microwave isn't swell.

You could make a biggish batch of ratatouille, roasted cabbage, etc., once a week and use those sorts of things for sides.

(Rice and beans = carb fest.)

Nancy Silverton's cookbook A Twist of the Wrist, which is about cooking with (gasp!) canned/jarred/bottled foods might inspire you, but some of the ingredients aren't cheap or easy to find. Nothing is "processed".

Rather than try to make your own lean cuisine, I'd investigate dishes that are pretty fast to make and lend themselves to reheating. Can you cook at night for the next day?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:57 AM on September 26, 2010

Here's an impromptu tomato-white bean stew I just made yesterday:

-Saute sliced garlic and chopped onion in a large soup pot
-add a large can of whole peeled tomatoes and their juice
-add a slew of white beans (either pre-cooked from a can or pre-soaked dried variety)
-salt liberally
-spice (I added cayenne and a wee bit of cumin, but anything you like will work)
-glug in a little delicious olive oil
-add a small teaspoon of fish sauce for the umami factor (you absolutely will not taste fish in the soup; it simply deepens the existing flavors)
-simmer until the flavors combine and the beans are soft.
-serve with a topping of grated Grana Padano or any other tasty cheese.

Easy, cheap, wonderful.
posted by cymru_j at 6:06 AM on September 26, 2010

Split-pea soup is stupid easy and delicious (I'm making a batch right now). Get a big pot (saucepan) and sauté some onion, garlic, carrots, celery and possibly chorizo or some yummy meat. Caramelize. Then add water or vegetable or chicken stock. When you've got a boil going, add split peas. Stir, bring to boil, then simmer for 30min-1hr, depending on how much you're making. Add liquid as needed. You'll know when it's done. Add salt and pepper. Eat some and freeze the rest.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:31 AM on September 26, 2010

Tricks of freezing food:
* Use yellow potatoes, not brown -- brown potatoes get grainy
* Spice everything way too much, spices lose a lot of their taste
* For salty dishes, don't add all the salt before freezing -- it will stay mushy
* For individual items like burritos: wrap in plastic wrap and freeze separately on a baking pan, then put them in a zip-lock once they're already frozen. Freezing faster is always better.
* Before freezing soups and sauces, you need to cool them down to room temperature so they don't melt other things in the freezer. Easiest way is to put the pot in the sink with running cold water.
* I freeze soups and sauces in 2-cup "disposable" tupperwares that I reuse many times. Microwave for 30 seconds to loosen the food from the tupperware, then put it in a ceramic bowl and microwave to reheat it. If you reheat in the tupperware, the plastic will get melty.
* You can freeze sauces in an ice cube tray to have nice little cubes of sauce to add to other things.

My frozen lunch staples are chicken soup, potato and beef soup, pasta sauce with meat, and bean, cheese, and rice burritos. I'll definitely try some of the others from this thread!
posted by miyabo at 8:19 PM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

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