Make-Ahead Meals to Save Money
By Shannon M. Medisky
I’ll be the first to admit that eating out is nice. Not only can you savor yummy food, you can sit back and enjoy not doing a thing, including not cleaning up! Problem is, though, that eating out rather than in can leave a real dent in your budget. Let’s face it, eating out is often the epitome of convenience and, as such, you’ll pay for it. There is a way, though, to have your cake (or entrée) and keep your cash, too. Make ahead meals enable you to harness the convenience of eating out while savoring the money-saving power of creating the meals yourself and dining in.
If you’re new to the idea, start simple. Each time you make a homemade soup (sans noodles, pasta or rice as they don’t freeze well) or casserole, make extra and throw it in the freezer. Before long, you’ll quickly build up a freezer full of ready to heat-and-eat homemade meals with very minimal effort. If you’re sold on the concept, however, and the idea of a bit of extra upfront effort doesn’t scare you off, consider maximizing your savings by purchasing ingredients in bulk and prepping and packaging multiple meals at the same time to stash in the freezer for a later date. A bit more work and extra planning required, but you’ll immediately reap added savings now and invest in substantial convenience you can take advantage of later.
Worried about draining your cupboard of all your baking dishes? You needn’t unnecessarily employ the use of all your casserole and baking dishes and relegate them to the deep-freeze. Instead, carefully line a dish with aluminum foil, place the casserole inside and then place it in the freezer overnight. Once fully frozen, carefully lift the casserole from the dish. Return the dish to the cupboard and the casserole to freezer shelf, sans baking dish. (A silicone or thin plastic spatula can help make lifting out the frozen casserole easier without damaging the aluminum wrapping.) When it’s time to heat and enjoy, simply place the casserole back into the original dish prior to thawing and cooking.
Shelf space is often at a premium the freezer, especially in fridges of the side-by-side variety. Take advantage of the make-ahead concept despite minimal space by employing the use of resealable freezer bags. Quart and gallon sized freezer bags can be filled with everything from homemade soups to pasta sauces to stocks, laid out flat until completely frozen and then stood up on their sides and stored like books on a shelf thereby maximizing horizontal storage space.
The make-ahead concept doesn’t just apply to meals, either. Consider creating your own convenience snacks and small meals as well. Burritos, for example, can be a snap to quickly make in bulk, assembly-line style and wrap in foil to freezer for later enjoyment. Another great way to make your own meal convenience in advance is to consider prepping and freezing meal components. Brown, season and freeze your own taco meat for immediate use later on in a multitude of meals is just one key example. To get your own creative culinary juices flowing, take a walk down the frozen food aisle to get an idea of what specific ingredients freeze well. If food manufacturers can make money off making it in advance and freezing it for your future use, chances are so can you!
Photo credit: grasscow
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