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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Make Ahead Freezer Meals For Work -- Low Carb, Paleo, Budget Friendly, Allergy Friendly



Since I started working out of the house on a regular basis, I realized I was having trouble with everything regarding eating. My eating habits or not eating habits were hurting me. I'd be in a rush in the morning and not have time to make food to bring with me, so I'd either end up eating nothing all day, or going out to the store and buying something to eat while I was out, or I'd get cheap takeout. Or if I really was on top of things and ready early enough, I'd pack a lunch, usually a few gluten free sandwiches and a fruit or two.
This meant that I was either unnourished, which wasn't good for my energy levels, let alone mental well being, or spending too much (because even cheap takeout, or ready made food from the grocery store is pricier than homemade food).
And in addition to all that, I really noticed how many carbs I was eating, how much of my meals were based on gluten free grains or other starches, and that I was definitely not eating enough vegetables. My weight has been creeping up, in part because of the meds I've been on, but I'm sure my less than stellar eating habits have not helped.

So I decided that I wanted to make a change. I wanted to make meals in advance that were healthy, vegetable rich, and low in carbohydrates. Add to that the fact that I wanted things that were freezer friendly, because I didn't want to have to worry about them spoiling in my fridge.
I was trying to come up with ideas, but I was really thrown for a loop because in addition to trying to not eat grains, I also don't eat eggs, most dairy, or cruciferous vegetables, which means that the standard "freeze ahead meals" were mostly out for me, because they tended to rely heavily on broccoli and cauliflower which I don't eat, or egg based things like mini quiches.


In the end, I got ideas for what to make by looking at what was sold already frozen, and then cooking them up and refreezing to have ready to go meals. The end result was 11 ready to eat meals that were freezer friendly, completely gluten free, Paleo, grain free, egg free and dairy free, and some of the meals were AIP (auto immune paleo) friendly as well.


Total cost was $36.14, or $3.28 on average for each of the 11 meals.
At first, looking at my prices, I was a little shocked, because that seemed like a lot. But my friend reminded me that even compared to cheap takeout, this is cheaper. And it is all healthy meals! Ready to eat Paleo meals, especially with all my restrictions, at less than $5 a pop was no small deal. I saw her point, and now am even more excited to share.

The vegetables sold in our local grocery store's freezer section consist of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, corn, green beans, edamame, yellow string beans, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and okra, plus a few mixed veggies options. I'm also not eating legumes, and because of trying to avoid grains, the only vegetables left in the freezer section were carrots, yellow string beans, green beans, artichoke hearts, and okra.
The two cheapest proteins that I can eat that are also easy to prepare and easy to eat while out (meaning no bones, because it's not easy to debone fish or meat while out and about) are white fish and chicken breast.

I had a little time available yesterday afternoon, and in about 2 hours (while also doing other things) I made these different foods for my "homemade takeout" meals.

My base ingredients were:
Sole fish (a type of white fish)
Chicken breast, which I cut into thin cutlets
Artichoke hearts
Yellow string beans
Bell peppers
Mushrooms
Carrots
Eggplant
Tomatoes
Onions

I baked the chicken breast, some with paprika, garlic, and salt on them, and the others with zaatar spice mix on them.
The fish was simply baked with salt and onion flakes.

I cooked up the string beans simply with onions, garlic powder, and salt.
Okra was cooked up with some onion, some tomatoes, salt, garlic, and a little tomato paste. (I am going to write up this post in a recipe.)
Artichoke hearts were chopped up, cooked with onions and mushrooms and garlic and salt and a little thyme. Since they already had some citric acid in them, I didn't add any lemon juice, but otherwise would have added a drop. (I'm going to make a post with a precise recipe for this since it's become one of my favorite dishes.
I stir fried a bit of onion, mushrooms, carrots, and bell peppers, added some cashews, and ginger and garlic and seasoned it with a bit of coconut aminos (a legume free soy sauce replacement).
I baked eggplant with a bit of oil and salt.

I then divided them into different freezer friendly containers I had, some having only one vegetable, and some a mix of two different vegetable dishes. I added chicken or fish to each one. And then I realized that if I am not going to have many carbs in the meal, I need something with fat to keep me satiated, so I added some tahini paste mixed with lemon, salt, garlic, and water onto the containers with eggplant, and added olives to many others. The ones with stir fry already had fat in the form of cashews, but I added some sesame seeds as well.



I'm really excited about these meals and to have healthy food to take with me to work every day. My goal is to also make some chicken and fish and freeze it with parchment paper separating it, so I can take as many as needed out of the freezer at a time, and have some long lasting fresh salads in my refrigerator ready to go, so I can back fresh meals as needed and don't need to only take them from the freezer. Things I plan on keeping in the fridge are Korean cucumber salad, fennel salad, raw beet and carrot salad, and I'll try to think of some more.

If someone is on an auto immune paleo diet, most of what I made can be easily adapted. Okra instead of with tomatoes can be made into Surinamese okra salad, stir fry can be made with green beans instead of peppers and leave out the cashews, and chicken can be baked with just garlic and onion and salt and no zaatar or paprika. And obviously leave out the eggplant. Also just use avocado or olives as the fat, leaving out the nuts and tahini and sesame seeds.

I'm so glad that I figured out a way to have freezable healthy meals that fit my really strict dietary needs, and don't cost too much money. I am happy to be able to share these ideas with you.

Do you do any meal prep? What kind of freezer friendly meals would you suggest I add to my repertoire for future times? What vegetables that I didn't mention actually freeze well? What do you usually bring with you for lunch when you work out of the house? Any tips to streamline the process?

11 comments:

  1. This is amazing! So inspiring!

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  2. Our freezer staples include: stew, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, stirfry, meatballs, taco meat, plain chicken, Thai peanut chicken, and rice. (We have Celiac so I use ground oats in my meatloaf & meatballs instead of bread crumbs). Any cream/milk based sauce might not do too well and cornstarch sauces are iffy, but a lot of other foods freeze just fine. You can experiment for a while by taking a tiny scoop of dinner & popping it in the freezer to test it! My husband usually takes tefrigerated leftovers for his work lunch inside an insulated lunchbag with an ice block. It stays quite cold.

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    Replies
    1. The "freezing a scoop of dinner" idea is brilliant. Thanks! An easy way to find out what freezes and what doesn't.

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  3. Whenever I cook a meal, I always cook extras. They are my meals for the next day to take with me, or to go into the freezer to grab when I am in a hurry. If I am cooking dinner, it is just as easy to cook extras as not. Then I don't have the work of cooking separately for go food.

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  4. Not freezer friendly, but I basically eat salad for lunch every day. Raw veggies, nuts, olives, and homemade olive oil based dressing.

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  5. Good for you! I don't have the dietary restrictions that you have -- and I don't have four children -- and the best I manage to stock in my freezer is homemade chicken stock, prepared brown rice, lentils, browned ground beef, and pre-portioned thin raw chicken breasts (which cook in literally minutes). I also love making soup in the cooler weather, which I freeze in various size portions. And, I tend to prepare extra portions of most main meals, which I then freeze in individual zipper bags (they stack like books in my freezer); those become lunch another day. They are frozen enough to last until lunchtime, then a few minutes in the microwave at work, and "lunch is served." (It also avoids the pesky complaint of, "Ah, didn't we have this last night?")

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  6. Your freezer meals all sound delicious! I make large batches of soup for my lunches, then freeze them. My favorites are tomato soup and "green" soup, which is basically a base of onions and garlic, leftover broccoli stems and/or turnips, and Swiss chard. I boil this all up in homemade bone broth, and then puree it. I often add a bunch of cilantro to this as well.

    Then I just grab a container, along with a protein and a couple slices of sprouted grain bread with butter, and that's my lunch. I don't mind eating the same thing regularly, as it saves me time.

    Tina

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  7. A work colleague brought a big container of salad to work on Mondays, stored it in the fridge and took out what she needed each day to have with a protein. She said she did the same at home for the family. It helped her to cut down meal prep time in the evenings when the kids were hungry and she was tired after a full day at work. I love your meal ideas!

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  8. Very effective! I never have good result microwaving any kind of meat, ie chicken, beef and never fish. Curious, how do you microwave? just put the how thing in ? How do you prevent the meat/chicken no come out rubbery or dry..?
    I do what cheryl jane's friend do. :)

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  9. Hi Penny! I love your blog and for the past few days have been binge-reading older ones I'd missed. I didn't know a sun oven was even possible! Your fascinating fish-head cooking experiment made me think---our neighbor is from St. Lucia and dropped by one time when I'd made fish and saw I was going to throw away the cooked fishheads (I'd made 6 little trout for the family) and my boys raptly watched him eating the fishheads and calling them "the best part"--gets you thinking about cultural conditioning. I was touched that you shared a tour of your pretty kitchen, and the beautiful Thanksgiving you guys did for your Mom's birthday had me crying. Great job with the organized meal planning! I also have a bunch of food intolerances and sensitivities that make it necessary to cook from scratch, and boy it can be a chore to always be cooking, even though I love to cook when I'm in the mood. So, planning ahead, yes indeed. I don't know if my suggestions will be helpful or not but here goes. My household occasionally makes something I can't eat, so (like several others above have done) when I make something I can eat, I always put one portion aside for later (freezing it, often, when it's not next day's lunch, and once I have several different choices in the freezer I can start rotating them). A fast favorite of mine is roast veg on a cookie sheet, and it always surprises me that with just olive oil, salt and black pepper and so many deepened and sweetened varieties of flavor with different vegetables. Sometimes I roast chicken, meat or fish along with it and add fresh herbs or squeeze of citrus at the end, or whatever hits me. I always roast extra for later, it's quick, it's flexible. I Roast extra potatoes, and can fry and serve with a bold tomato sauce or chipotle (egg-free) mayo or something in a meal for the household the next day. I roast extra winter squash and like having already cooked winter squash warmed for breakfast, or it's easy to make a creamy warming winter squash soup out of it. (continued...)

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  10. (I hope both parts of this get sent :) (...continued) I make extras of sauces and broths as inspirations of quick meals later and put in the fridge or freezer.(Broth in a ziplock plastic bag laid on a cookie sheet in the freezer packs and stores nicely). Since I can't have sugar cane, I have to make my own spice rub, sausage spice mix, BBQ spice mix, dairy free "cheese" mix, and so on, so I make enough for a few meals and store them. Chipotle in adobo is a flavor powerhouse (when I find it cane sugar free I buy several containers) and many a meal has been kicked up a notch with just a little of it added to build flavor. The rare times I make wheat, dairy, egg, cane sugar, yeast free cornbread or quickbread I save some in the freezer for easy fast dressing or breading later. So I guess because I'm kind of lazy I just do a bit extra quantity, so I can cook less later. It does accumulate quickly but the supply of course always goes up and down. Oh, I have a suggestion about salads: I learned from a chef that storing prepared salad greens in the salad spinner keeps it much nicer than being kept in the crisper, and it really does! Who knew. My greens look great for days; I've gone as long as a week and still enjoy them. Maybe that will help expand your salad choice dilemma. One last thing: like you, I also do not tolerate more than very small quantities of grains and legumes, but do very well with modest portions of oats, rice, or buckwheat paired with meat/veg. I've loved the taste of buckwheat since I was little and was sad when they phased out buckwheat pancakes at IHOP back then. So, I was REALLY jazzed to see your innovative buckwheat recipes to try next!!! That's the most I've found anywhere, woo hoo! Thank you for all the wonderfulness. By the way, once you graciously tracked down your delightful dairy-free Swedish meatball recipe for me when I asked you because it was my favorite and I couldn't find it! That is a 5-star gem, always a big hit here, and that one I've NEVER been able to save a bit from for later! I especially appreciate the flavors from around the world you offer that expands your collection above the usual fare and gets my juices flowing to try them. Russian Venegret will be made here in the near future. Just, huge compliments on your big heart and your creativity all round! If you lived by me I would give you a section of my organic garden for your family's use, and wish I could.

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