With our fast-paced lifestyle, more and more dual-income families are eating out at hawker centres and fast food restaurants rather than cooking at home. While these dining options may be fuss-free, they are probably not the healthiest, especially for children.
Most hawker dishes contain high levels of MSG, fats, salt, and too little fibre. Even opting for the more “wholesome” options such as ‘yong tau foo’ and soup noodles may not be as healthy you think.
For instance, a bowl of sliced fish soup contains 70 per cent of the daily recommended salt intake while ‘bee hoon soto’ contains around 90 per cent. So what can a busy mother do to keep her family fed and happy?
Freezer Meals for Health and Convenience
Enter the American trend of homemade freezer meals. In the United States where domestic help is scarce and dining out can burn a hole in your pocket, many Americans have resorted to frozen meals to save time and money. You can even find freezer-friendly meals by Martha Stewart on her website!
Trendy cookbooks on this subject can be found in bookstores, and online websites like this and this have helped anyone from stay-at-home mums and working parents perfect their methodology. For a fee, some websites even provide you with a monthly meal plan, shopping list, and recipes.
Making freezer meals can be as simple as cooking an extra portion of food every time you cook and then freezing them for future consumption. Alternatively, you can designate a cooking day where you create a meal plan, do some bulk shopping, cooking and then freezing your food.
How to Prep your Homemade Freezer Meals
There are basically two ways to prepare freezer meals. The first is to cook and freeze; the second is to prepare your ingredients (chopping and marinating your raw meat) and freezing them so that all you need to do at mealtime is to cook or bake them.
Most cooked food can be frozen and reheated without a compromise in taste. When frozen properly, most dishes will not only retain their flavour but they will remain fresh even for a few months.
Soups, stews, curries and noodles do especially well even after being frozen for a long time. Some ingredients, such as tofu, however, tend to resemble fish flakes after being frozen.
In general, most meals start to lose their texture and flavour after three to six months in the freezer. Although they may still be safe to eat, they may not be as tasty as when you first prepared them.
How Long will Freezer Meals Keep?
Soups & stews
2 – 3 months
Cooked meat & meat dishes
2 – 4 months
Cooked poultry dishes
4 – 6 months
4 – 6 months
2 – 3 months
3 – 4 months
1 – 3 months
Storing your Freezer Meals
To maximise space, package meals according to your family size before storing them in freezer bags (not storage bags). These bags, if not used to store uncooked meat, can be reused.
Another alternative is to store your meals in freezer-safe glass containers such as those from Pyrex, Rubbermaid and CorningWare. Although this takes up more space in the fridge, they can be easily and safely heated up in the oven or the microwave. By using the same serving container, your washing up load is also reduced.
Baked goods should be treated slightly differently. To ensure that they stay fresh and tasty, always double wrap them—first with plastic wrap, and then in a plastic bag. Before serving, baked breads and muffins should be brought to room temperature or defrosted in a microwave.
Remember to date and label your meals. This is important not only because it helps you to keep track of your arsenal of home-cooked meals, but because nobody likes a “mystery” meal! And do have a constant rotation of meals going in and out of your freezer, with enough variety to keep everyone happy. Chicken curry may be your family’s favourite dish, but having this three days in a row is guaranteed to cause a mutiny. Trust me, I tried it.