Food Q&A: 5 Make-Ahead Meals

I'm looking for quick and easy freezable meals.

Need ideas for coping with restaurant buffets? Want some good snack ideas? In our Q&A series, nutritionist and food editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD, answers questions about food,

nutrition and weight loss.

Q: Make-ahead meals fit easily into my busy lifestyle. Do you have any menu suggestions, in addition to burritos or chicken breasts, that can be made ahead and frozen for quick weekday dinners?

A: Having a well-stocked freezer can be a lifesaver on too-busy-to-cook days or ones when you're just feeling plain lazy.

I recommend looking for saucy dishes to prevent frozen items from drying out. Opt for recipes that make eight-plus servings or double (or even triple!) recipes that serve four. For easy portion control, divide leftovers into individual portions and store in microwave-safe containers so all you have to do is defrost, reheat and enjoy.

For easy access, clearly label your storage containers with both the food item and the preparation date since even frozen foods have an expiration date. The Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping frozen cooked poultry and fish dishes for no more than four to six months and cooked meat dishes and vegetable- or meat-based soups and stews for no more than two to three months.

Five Fabulous Freezer Meals
Lasagna—meat, vegetable or traditional. Hint: Place a little extra sauce in each container to prevent the bottom noodles from drying out.

Chili—experiment with different varieties. Go white with lean ground turkey and cannellini beans. Or opt for the more traditional beef, tomato and kidney-bean type. And don't forget about vegetarian options. Veggie chili makes a great meal on its own (top with shredded low-fat cheddar and serve with light cornbread) or a filling vegetable side dish to a burger or chicken-based meal.

Casseroles—tuna, chicken, beef, vegetable. The options are endless, and freezing is simple. Bake a pan or two, allow to cool, store in your desired serving sizes and freeze. You can easily lighten up most full-fat casseroles by swapping light or low-fat mayonnaise and sour cream for regular, substituting vegetables for some of the meat filling and using grated low-fat cheese instead of regular.

Ethnic Favorites—chicken curry, chicken and broccoli with garlic sauce, or beef with snow peas to name a few. Make these saucy restaurant-type meals at home, freeze, reheat and serve with instant rice. Or, "make" your own meals from Asian take-out: Order steamed chicken and mixed vegetables with the sauce on the side and then divide your order into several dinner-sized frozen meals.

Lean Poultry or Beef Burgers—serve on a light roll or in a light pita and pair up with vegetable soup. I prefer to freeze the patties uncooked to retain their juiciness (you can freeze them cooked if you want, though). To defrost: Remove burgers from the freezer the night before you want to eat them, place them on a plate in the fridge on the lowest shelf to defrost. When you're ready for dinner, cook in a stovetop skillet. Try out many different flavors such as turkey-black bean burgers; beef burgers made with chopped onions, salsa and taco seasoning mix; or our popular feta-stuffed chicken burgers.

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