Preparing Your Own Skillet Meals In Advance

Many busy familes (even on occasion, our own busy family) often resort to prepackaged skillet meals in order to get a hot, prepared meal on the table quickly at dinnertime. With both parents getting home at five or later and a desire to get a meal on the table early enough so that there is some semblance of a family evening, it’s not surprising that the ease of preparation, the speed, and the relative healthiness of prepackaged skillet meals have become popular.

There are a few problems here, though:

Prepackaged skillet meals are often very expensive for what you get. Skillet meals are almost always at least $6 and often cost significantly more than that. Pick up five of them at once and you’re talking a bill of $35 or so. The food in the bag often adds up to less than a pound in total weight.

Such meals are often laden with preservatives and “industrial” ingredients. As a rule of thumb, if I don’t know what that ingredient is, I don’t like to eat it. Using that rule, pick up pretty much any prepackaged meal you can find and read that ingredient list. My stomach is flopping.

Such meals are often not very healthy in terms of fat, sodium, etc. These meals are designed to be tasty, not to be healthy. Based on the nutrition facts on these items, I’d have to say that most of them don’t worry about healthy too much at all.

I generally like most of the prepackaged skillet meal offerings, I just wish they were healthier – and preferably cheaper. As a frugal parent, I’d like to find a better solution to this situation. I’d like to have a healthy and tasty meal that I could prepare quickly.

My solution? Make a whole bunch of them in advance.

All you have to do is find a good skillet meal recipe, quadruple the recipe, prepare all of the ingredients, then fill four freezer bags with the meal. Then, when you’re ready to eat them, get that bag out of the freezer, thaw it, and then cook it in the skillet until it’s nice and warm. Done!

You can find countless skillet recipes online. My usual technique is to cook the meat in advance, then add all of the needed ingredients to the ziploc bags. Here’s an example:

Trent’s Beef and Vegetable Skillet Meal

The normal recipe involves the following:

3/4 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
3 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 cup peas (frozen ones are okay)
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup uncooked rice
1 1/2 cups water

I add everything but the ground beef to each bag. Then, I cook up three pounds of ground beef and drain it, then add a quarter of that beef to each ziploc bag. On the outside I write “beef and vegetable skillet – simmer 40 minutes” on masking tape (so I can reuse the bag for another meal later) and I toss the bags in the freezer.

When I come home, I get out a bag, run it under hot water for a bit so that I can easily get the contents out, then I put it in a skillet on high until it’s just barely boiling, then I drop the heat until it stays just barely boiling. I cook it for about forty minutes or so, then it’s ready to serve.

A similar philosophy applies for pretty much any skillet meal you might prepare. They all work pretty well.

Making skillet meals in advance actually makes for a great weekend afternoon project that saves money and helps you to eat healthier. The meal above is really healthy – it’s loaded with vegetables and, if you cook lean ground beef and properly drain it, it’s very low fat, too.

Plus, the ingredients all together cost only a bit more than one ordinary skillet meal. Compared to the cost of four typical skillet meals, the needed ingredients save about $15, and you can have the bags ready to go into the freezer in less than an hour. That’s $15 saved (compared to prepackaged skillet meals) even without considering the positive health effects – quite a bargain in my eyes.

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67 thoughts on “Preparing Your Own Skillet Meals In Advance

  1. KellyKelly says:

    Um, language nerd here.

    You write:
    ” the relative healthiness of prepackaged skillet meals”
    “… helps you to eat healthier”

    Shouldn’t that be healthFULness? Eat more healthFULLY?

    Sorry. Pet peeve!!

  2. Nate says:

    To increase the flavor of your skillet meals, be careful about what you combine in the bags. If you combine pasta/rice with anything saucy, it will come out a goopy mess. On the other hand, freezing the sauce with the meat essentially marinades it.

  3. Money Management and You says:

    I truly hate buying prepackaged food, though I still occasionally do. Making the meals yourself is a lot healthier and I find they taste better too (at least if you have a good recipe). Spending that weekend afternoon preparing meals is definitely the way to go!

  4. Jeremy says:

    Also, it might take a little extra time, but its a great idea to separately freeze each item and then mix them together in a bag. Additionally, if you plan on using a sauce, make the sauce and pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze that. When frozen, pop a few cubes and add that to your bag. By freezing everything separately and using “cubed” sauce, you get a more even re-heat after you dump the bag out. You also do not need to run the bag under hot water to thaw, it can go right into the skillet.

  5. CreoleIvy08 says:

    Great idea, Trent!

    I’ve been reading your blog for months but this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to post.

    There’s an important caveat to making your own skillet meal (which I learned on episode 6 of Top Chef Miami): do not freeze the contents of your meal together! You’ll have a giant frozen block of food in your skillet that will not cook evenly and you will be underwhelmed with the results.

    If you examine the frozen contents of any store-bought skillet meal you will notice that everything in the bag is cooked and then frozen separately; it’s individually quick-frozen. There are separate chunks of frozen sauce, separate chunks of frozen vegetables, frozen meat, etc.

    To accomplish this at home you can put pasta sauce in a thin pan to spread it out then freeze it so it can be cut up into chunks. Then use various muffin tins to freeze “nests” of pasta, vegetables, meats, etc. of roughly the same size. Once these individual components are completely frozen you can re-distribute them into separate freezer bags or plastic containers to create skillet meals for future use.

  6. I’ve always thought the cooking advice here was not really my “thing” because I’m kind of a food snob…but I might actually give this a try. Now that I’m watching the budget a bit closer, I bet you could get creative with this idea and make some tasty stuff. Personally, I’d use lean ground turkey and a LOT more spice.

    But I’m very interested to see your cooking blog, Trent!! I hope it’s aimed for the frugal folks.

  7. Aryn says:

    They did something similar to this on Top Chef for one of their competitions. Like Jeremy suggested, the winners quick froze the ingredients separately. They also undercooked everything slightly so that it could finish cooking when it was unpackaged. Their meals only took a few minutes to warm and finish cooking when removed from the container.

  8. Becky says:

    How long will this stuff stay good in your freezer?

  9. Trent says:

    Corey: I agree. Don’t defrost with hot water. I run it under hot water just long enough to get the food out, usually as a solid piece.

    Becky: I’ve had meals after four months.

    I’ve also never had any need to keep the items separate – it’s always been just fine for me to freeze it all together, then pop it out into a skillet.

  10. Laura says:

    I love the concept of having frozen meals ready to go but I’m not sure where this comes out as a time saver. “simmer 40 minutes”??? Even Rachel Ray does a from-scratch meal in 30. I’m curious if there is a way to get the reheating time down to 15-20 minutes. Perhaps using a microwave? I think then it might fit better into busy lifestyles.

  11. In Debt says:

    I’ve been planning on doing this for a while now. Maybe sometime next week I can actually find that time to cook more ahead of time.

    For right now, though, I’m figuring out how many recipes I can cook with beans and rice. :-)

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the recipe… I agree this is a great thing to do, have done it sporadically myself and know quite a few who do it often (which is not to take away from your post at all, just to say that it is a good idea, thanks for putting it out there again.) My struggle is to find meals that my dh and girls will eat, I think this one would be appealing to my whole family. :) It isn’t frugal if I make a meal, put 2-3 servings of it in the freezer, then find out my dh hates it, lol.

  13. That One Caveman says:

    Wow, thanks for this. My wife has recently gotten into the whole “Cook for 1 day, eat for a month” idea. I think this would be an excellent addition to her recipe list!

  14. Mel says:

    I always like your cooking posts Trent, I was inspired to make bread because you posted a recipe here and turns out I’m pretty good at it :) This is similar to a recipe my husband likes to make (I call it Argentinian Beef Stew!) adn I bet that would freeze really well. I don’t think 40 minutes is too long to simmer something, just like I didn’t think 2 hours was too long to make really good bread. Thanks for the tasty and money-saving ideas.

  15. Allison says:

    @Laura: I think the time saving element comes in because you don’t have to do anything for the 40 minutes it is simmering…you can use that time to play with your kids, catch up on email or bill paying, watch the news, etc.

    Rather than having to spend the entire evening doing active cooking, you can have a good chunk of quality “you time” and use passive cooking to result in a tasty meal and a less stressful weeknight.

  16. SJean says:

    Any other skillet recipes?? Not that this doesn’t sound tasty, it just sounds like a great idea. :)

  17. Lurker Carl says:

    Where is the actual savings? I don’t see it except in nutritional value.

    You’re spending time to cook each meal twice and package them for storage. You’re spending money to package, freeze and reheat to serving temperature. Instead of using 40 minutes each day to reheat a frozen block of food, use that 40 minutes to prepare and cook a fresh meal.

  18. StaceyB says:

    I actually work for a company that makes a “skillet” type meal. And though I totally agree with you about cost (it’s always cheaper to make your own), I’ll respectfully and gently disagree to some extent about nutritional value, especially when it comes to sodium levels. It’s actually a very hot button topic (along with trans fats, total fats and whole grains) in the industry. I’m not saying every food company is concerned, but most, if not all the major brands are concerned with nutritional value and are working to improve it.

    I also had to laugh about “I don’t know what that ingredient is, I don’t like to eat it”. I’m a food scientist, so I know what they all are :) But there are some I still avoid. I’m also a classically trained chef, so I tend to make most of my meals from scratch too.

  19. Anna says:

    @kellykelly: You are correct.

    Healthy = in a condition of good health

    Healthful = promoting good health

  20. turbogeek says:

    Trent –

    Great post. Similar to some things my wife and I have tried.

    Have you considered doing a book review on “Once a Month Cooking” by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg?

    Your incisive book reviews coupled with your competent cooking advice (to my lay perspective) could make for some nice reading.

  21. Frugal Dad says:

    Sounds like a great recipe. My grandfather used to make something called “glop.” Your recipe reminded me of it, although his usually included about 1/4 cup of Tabasco sauce!

  22. KellyKelly says:

    Lurker Carl,

    When I do these cook-ahead meals, I think the savings in time is the cutting and slicing and dicing and cleanup.

    I am not very good at cooking. I get distracted a lot. So to have one or two steps — 1) put frozen stuff in skillet, 2) wash skillet — instead of all the others would be a HUGE time savings for me. I could do other things (catch up on phone calls, do the breakfast dishes, sort mail, etc.) while I keep an eye on the skillet. I can’t do that if I’m washing and cutting vegetables, etc.

  23. sara says:

    I’m really surprised that some commentors don’t see value in a ready to go meal! On days where I come home from work with a headache, or days when I have lots to do around the house, its SO nice to have a meal that doesn’t require preparation or clean up afterwards! This recipe looks like a great one, that I’ll definitely be trying and experimenting with. I’m all in favor of doing prep work when its convenient for me.

  24. Kat says:

    I am curious, do you cool the meat before adding it to the bag?
    Also, you really freeze the rice? How well does the rice work out when you cook it? What about defrosting the meal in the fridge while at work and then cooking it?

  25. Anne says:

    More recipes!
    The first one sounds good, but I’d really like to see the others you’ve had success with.

  26. Laura says:

    @ Allison: I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think I would feel comfortable being out of the room much while something was simmering in a skillet. I think that passive cooking like you mention works better with soups, stews, or crockpot cooking, something more stable…

  27. leslie says:

    May I recommend a fantastic cookbook that will help out with all this? It is called “Desperation Dinners”. I can’t remember the names of the authors off hand but that is the exact name so you can look it up online if you want. The entire premise is that the recipes take 20 minutes to make start to finish (although I have to admit you have to be moving that entire 20 minutes). I LOVE this cookbook and the bonus for me is that each recipe makes a HUGE amount of food so there is always enough left over to freeze for another meal. In fact, tonight I made one of their skillet meals – Heartland Beef and Rice. Four of us ate it (2 of them were little kids) and there is more than enough for another dinner.

    Check this cookbook out. Everyone I know that has looked at it loves it.

  28. fandd says:

    I agree with Anne, more recipes! This one looks yummy and easy to prepare. Plus, reading through the comments have given me more ideas about freezing food.

    As a single person, I always have more food then I’m able to eat at one setting when I cook from scratch. I’m going to try what CreoleIvy08 suggested – freezing certain contents separately.

  29. asdfasdfasfd says:

    HOLY Awesome tip!

    —- Also, it might take a little extra time, but its a great idea to separately freeze each item and then mix them together in a bag. Additionally, if you plan on using a sauce, make the sauce and pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze that. When frozen, pop a few cubes and add that to your bag. By freezing everything separately and using “cubed” sauce, you get a more even re-heat after you dump the bag out. You also do not need to run the bag under hot water to thaw, it can go right into the skillet.

  30. Frugaljane says:

    Try Robin Miller’s “Quick Fix Meals” – or her show or recipes on Food Network. She has a few strategies for easy weeknight meals like this that are great. Her recipes are easy to follow and use ordinary inexpensive ingredients.

  31. kazari says:

    ok,
    excuse my australian ignorance, but what’s a skillet meal?
    anything you cook in a frying pna on the stove?

  32. dave says:

    Great article. Absolutely correct. I am amazed how much you can save by making your meals ahead of time. Just tonight I finished making and freezing my lunches for the next 2 weeks. It doesn’t take that much time, the food is nutritious (cause I know what goes into it), low fat, low sodium. The best part is it is easy to reheat in the microwave. Every time I make it I think of all the $$$ I save instead of buying my lunch in the cafeteria or going out to eat. Now I have time to workout at lunch and then bring my prepared meal back to my desk to eat.

  33. DJ says:

    A pressure cooker would speed this up considerably! I understand that pressure cookers are quite popular in some countries, but are underused in America.

    Prices vary considerably between brands. I’ve never tried an expensive cooker because my cheep one works so well.

  34. 1stopmom says:

    This sounds like a really good idea. I would love to do make ahead meals. I am going to give it a try.

  35. annab says:

    THANK YOU!!! I’m looking for quick, economical meals (I live off of cereal and pb&j).

  36. JT says:

    LOL kazari…I guess it might not be a term that used down under…here in the US some food manufacturers sell a “convenience” pre-packaged meal usually with some meat or seafood, some type of pasta, and some veggies that are pre-cooked and frozen. So when you buy it the store, you take it home and keep it in the freezer, than pull it out when you need a quick, no-fuss meal, dump the contents into a skillet to warm it through. Since its pre-cooked, you’re mostly just heating it in the skillet, but because its a skillet it makes you feel like you cooked :)

  37. Lisa Spinelli says:

    Other good make aheads that freeze quite nicely are lasagna and muffins. When I am being really efficient I try to date everything so I am always rotating the inventory.

    Lisamarie
    http://greenerpastures-lisamarie.blogspot.com/

  38. Renee says:

    Good Morning Trent and all,
    Love your emails everymorning by the way.
    I have the same problem also with buy prepackaged meals. They are just way to expensive. This is another even quicker and healthier option..possibly. I use this one at least once or twice a week if I get in late and we love it. I make it for two but it can easily be adapted to more. For this, all you have to keep on hand or the bags of frozen deboned chicken breast and frozen bag of oriental veggies..or whatever kind of mixed veggies you like.
    This can be done in less than 30 minutes if not sooner if you thaw using a microwave.
    1 frozen deboned chicken breats.
    Put in skillet with EVOO and let cook. After it thaws some..cut into small pieces. After fully cooked, add the frozen veggies sprinkle some seasonings and a little soy sauce or not…depends on taste and let it cook together and serve..Very healthy and very good.
    If you have a bigger group, add another chicken breast…usually one feeds 2 people they are so big, and cook some rotini pasta and drain and mix with veggies and chicken. Really makes it go further. No precooking in advance. If your in a hurry, thaw out the ckn breast in the micro and while you cutting it up, thaw the veggies in the micro then cook chicken and add veggies in skillet and you can go from frozen to serving in 30 min.
    PS..sorry this was such a long post, but I love these quick cook ideas that don’t make me have to stand around in the kitchen for an hour!

  39. LC says:

    I precook and freeze chicken or beef slices and save in a single bag, then I mix up stir fry veggies and freeze in a separate bag. Then I can pull as much out as I want (depending on how many people are home) and cook it up. I usually make the rice or pasta that day rather than freezing ahead since it is fresher and doesn’t take too long. I also dont’ freeze the sauce – I just add it at the time of cooking.

    Using hot water or a microwave to thaw is ok as long as you cook it right away, and the meat in this case isn’t raw either.

  40. LC says:

    I should add that it helps to freeze the veggies and meat separately on a cookie sheet and then put into a bag so they don’t freeze together. this would help with getting it out of the bag, and is essential if you are like me and don’t cook the whole bag at once.

  41. JReed says:

    Here’s our standard “skillet meal”…
    1 onion cut thin and long.
    2 carrots cut thin and long
    2 sticks celery cut thin across the diagonal
    Saute in 1 tbsp olive oil
    Add 4 ounces thinly sliced chicken breast or turkey or shrimp or pork or beef.
    Saute until cooked.
    Add the contents of 1 pack of ramen noodles and ONE cup of water. break up and stir and put a lid on it until the noodles are soft. Serves 4 for lunch or two for dinner. We sometmes add leftover other veggies (peas, broccoli, spinach etc.)

  42. M Lubbers says:

    I like the idea of frozen, nearly-ready meals. Some people say that it’s not a convenience food if it takes over a half-hour to cook. But even if it takes 40 minutes to cook, a big part of why I’m terrible at cooking is that I HATE doing the dishes. So if I just have to wash a skillet and a few dinner plates after work, instead of all of the prep dishes too, it will help me eat at home more.

  43. Michele says:

    Instead of preparing meals ahead of time (i’m going to have to try that), I sit down and write out a menu for the week, go shopping for the items on the list ONLY. Have the menu posted on the fridge with the book/page # or attach magazine instructions. Each day I put out the ingredients. This way my two teenagers can start to prepare it after school for me. It’s saved me time, money and headaches. I never have to walk in from a long day and be asked “what’s for dinner”.

  44. Melissa says:

    My favorite quick meal:

    2 cups rice
    4 cups water
    1 can of beans

    Cook rice according to directions; add beans. Eat.

    If you want to make it in advance (and get a little more fancy) saute a bit of garlic and onion along with some cumin, and then mix in the beans. You could then warm that up while the rice is cooking.

    I’ll add whatever vegs I have around, as well. It’s a pretty flexible recipe.

  45. Storms says:

    Can’t wait to try it. I’d love to get some more recipies in the comments section.

  46. BigRed says:

    One that used to keep us fed in grad school:

    –1 lb short cut pasta (ie. not the long skinnies, like spaghetti, fettucine, etc.–short cut is penne, rotini, wheels, farfalle, etc.)
    –1 jar spaghetti sauce–any kind
    –chopped onion, pepper, zucchini, etc.–you can throw almost anything in to boost the vegetable content, including stuff that’s getting a little dried out or limp in the fridge

    Put pasta, veggies, and sauce in a deep skillet. Add a half jar of water, or use V-8, toss in a little red wine if you like, maybe garlic or a couple of sprinkles of dried or fresh herbs (totally optional), bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer and cover. Let it cook for 20-25 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it’s not too dry–add liquid if needed, maybe 1/4 cup more.

    When it’s done to your taste, turn off the heat, throw on a little parmesan, shredded mozzarella if you like, cover again for 5 minutes while you set the table and light the candles, then serve. We always accompanied this with rolls or a loaf of Italian bread and a nice big salad.

    Costs can vary, depending on the brand of pasta and sauce, and whether you use additional ingredients. We used generic/store brand pasta (less than $1) and el cheapo jarred sauce (less than $2), and the bread and salad were less than $2 combined, so $5 would feed us for dinner and leftovers.

    Now, with teenagers, this is 1 dinner, but still cheap and easy.

  47. Amy K. says:

    For those willing to branch out, I found a nice mix-an-match variation on this at the Washington State University site. Here’s their Brochure listing, and the “Getting Started” PDF has as skillet meal template on page 2.

  48. Dana says:

    Bulk cooking is now a fad, and it cracks me up. Look up the “Dinner By Design” company and you’ll see what I mean. It’s cute when yuppies think they’re saving money with this sort of thing.

  49. Nikki W says:

    Something I’m a pro at – almost. Search on “once a month cooking.” You don’t have to do all the cooking at once – start small.

    As mentioned above, 2x your current recipes, cooking up, and freezing half is a good way to start.

    As an alternative – I do this even when I’m working 80 hours a week – I do the bulk meat cook, because then 1/2 of your dinner is done.

    I buy my meat in bulk (warehouse club), and just cook that up the minute I get home.

    For burger – I’ll make the “meat base” for different recipes at once, often starting as I unpack the groceries and get settled in. (the meat is freshest then).

    Think about how many of your recipes start with “brown hamburger,” like tacos, spaghetti, pizza topping, and even casserole bases.

    While the first round of browning happens in each skillet, I’ll dice onions (food processors make a lot more sense when you are doing a big lot). I drain the burger, add the onion, and mix in the garlic (as needed), and cook that in w/ the drained hamburger until the onion is clear.

    After that,I’ll also take one skillet and add the taco seasoning, one with my italian seasoning, etc…

    Then, measure the ziplocks (x-cups per bag, depending on household size and recipes), and freeze FLAT on cookie sheets (as soon as they are “set up” I can store them on end, labeled, in a shoebox/organizer box so I can thumb through in my freezer). Label them… (cooked meat – you can wash & reuse zip locks, raw meat never).

    To use, if I remember, before I leave for work, I’ll yank out the ziplock for that night, and put in the frig… head start for supper. If not, a quick low-power defrost works, while I boil the water for the pasta and heat the sauce in a saucepan. (In the summer, I grill up the bulk pack of chicken thighs and then dice and freeze for salads).

    Of course, lots of sites have good recipes… I like the cookbook mentioned above and there are some other formal sites.

    And don’t forget my very favorite “easy” way – the crockpot/slowcooker. Absolutely fabulous (especially if you freeze up the leftovers)… We loved corned beef, and bbq beef, and great soups (homemade chicken, for example). I can no longer comprehend paying $2 a can for soup, when I can easily make wonderful ones. I couple that with hearty breads (rye, for example) from my Good-will purchased breadmaker… yum.

    Planning ahead is the key, though!

  50. Thea says:

    If you lightly pre-cook and then freeze your veggies, starch and meat on cookie sheet (with wax paper) and prepare your sauces in an ice cube tray, your 40 minute meal will be done in 10 minutes or less.

    No water from the tap and reduced cooking time, energy in the end.

  51. WendyB says:

    My mom has always told me not to freeze fresh vegetables. She says that they have to be “flash-frozen”, which I assume is the same as quick-frozen like some of the other posters said was done on Top Chef. Or that you could cook them first.

    What’s the deal?

  52. Jen says:

    I think I’ll have to try this one. I normally cook every night and I do enjoy it. However, I’m a SAHM mom to a 2 year old son and my second child is due in about 7 weeks. I think I could easily makes something like this up and keep it in the freezer for after the baby comes! I bet my DH could probably heat this up without messing up….and that’s a big deal around here! :) I made some meals ahead and froze them before my first son was born and it helped a ton (both with our budget and hectic nights), so it will be nice to add something new to that rotation. Thanks!

  53. Michelle says:

    Love this idea, have you ever tried substituting ground turkey for beef? I’ve found that it’s less than half the price, not so hard on the environment and the taste difference is negligible. In fact, we use turkey for everything including (especially) chili and tacos.

  54. BigRed says:

    Jen–that’s a great idea, esp as people will be bringing you food (as an excuse to see the baby, of course!) and/or asking you if you need anything. We got a lot of “complete meals”–usually a pasta based entree, which you can freeze, and a salad (gotta eat that now) and dessert–from friends. We had a teeny freezer when we were new parents, or having a reserve would have been a great idea.

    Congrats, by the way–my two are 18 months apart, so I know what’s it like having them close together.

  55. Schizohedron says:

    Thanks to this post, I have a pint of my frozen chili thawing on the counter. Chili is one of my two go-to make-a-bunch-and-freeze meals (the other being a meaty pasta sauce). My lunch needs are now secure. Much obliged for the reminder, Trent!

  56. Rob in Madrid says:

    Just a note on frozen veggies, in my humble opinion they are better than fresh for the simple reason they are frozen when ripe where as fresh are picked green (think tomatoes) and aloud to ripen in the store. Fresh veggies picked when rippened wouldn’t last the long trip to the store or all the handling they get.

  57. MT says:

    This casserole recipe has been in my family for years. It only takes about 30 mins.

    1 pound Beef
    1 can Mushroom Soup
    1 can Mixed Vegtables Or 1 bag frozen vegtables
    1 Bag of Tater Tots

    Brown ground beef and drain. Stir in Mushroom Soup and Mixed Vegtables. Let simmer for a minute or two. Place Tater Tots on top of mixure. Bake according to the directions on the Tator Tot bag.

    This is fast and simple and uses only one skillet. My boys love it.

  58. Mandi says:

    @ WendyB. I garden and attend livestock autions (at which I can be surplus veggies and fruits for really cheap), so I can at home, but I also freeze the excess veggies with no problems. I too believed that you had to “flash freeze” vegetables, but I thought I’d experiment. turns out, there isn’t too much difference, just make sure you blanche them first. I make stirfry and freeze it all the time with little trouble. Hope that helps you.

  59. Mandi says:

    Oh, but don’t forget to freeze them on a cookie sheet, then bag them! Otherwise, you’ll have a frozen broccoli brick.

  60. Paula says:

    Wow Nikki W! some great tips, thank-you.

    Thanks everyone for the inspiration and ideas, I have been meaning to get my act together in this way for a long, long time. I’m off to the grocery store, with a list!!(has to be the first time ever).

    Wish me luck, I’m hoping this week ahead will be a little less insane as a result of the prep I do today.

  61. AnKa says:

    Honestly, I think you would be better off putting those ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning (I guess you would chop the night before). I think it would likely taste better.
    I am all for prep-ahead meals though, but I don’t eat frozen veggies (with a few exceptions)…

  62. Becca says:

    Here is another tip. If you cook the rice ahead of time (or mostly cook it) and then freeze it with your skillet, you don’t have to wait for it to cook. I am assuming that the rice is what is taking 40 minutes to cook.
    My husband and I recently switched to brown rice instead of white rice, which takes about an hour to cook, compared to 20 minutes. So I either cook it when I have time to wait for it (on the weekend or some night when I am cooking anyway but it is not an ingredient) and then refrigerate or freeze it depending on how long it will be until we need it, or you can cook it in a slow-cooker that day. This strategy works well if you plan your meals out in advance. We plan 2 weeks worth of meals because we go shopping every other week, and so I can tell if I am going to need rice ahead of time. I find this strategy also helps save me time and money, since I know what we are going to eat, and when, and I can plan faster meals on nights we have other stuff to do. Plus, I dont have to rush out to the grocery store because I want fish tacos and we have no mangos for the salsa. (This has happened. It didnt end well. No mangoes that week at the store.)

  63. Wyntyr says:

    Ok Trent,
    We hear how much you love to cook all the time. We also know how much you love to be frugal. Why not come up with a cookbook that you could sell on this site? I would love to buy a cookbook with ideas like these.
    We would need tips on how to freeze various dishes. (veggies, rice, etc.) What would be some great meals that don’t cost an arm & a leg? Maybe you could get a collection of recipes from your readers? Maybe family recipes? Just an idea! :)
    Thanks for the time you put into this site. I’ve learned a lot, and I appreciate it.

  64. J Luther says:

    Cook’s Illustrated’s skillet lasagna is pretty awesome.

    http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipe.asp?name=&recipeids=2575

    (Membership required but they have a 14-day free trial.)

  65. Organic Baby Food says:

    Wow… thanks for the great recipe! I will definitely be making that as soon as I write this comment, and then I’ll be having it first thing tomorrow! Thanks a bunch!

  66. michael bash says:

    I’m happy to say I’m not even sure that a “skillet meal” is. Why would I want one/buy one? Trent says they’re more expensive and contain “industrial” products. 2 reasons not to buy. What attracts people to them? Advertising or convenience (read laziness/ignorance). Maybe it’s my age – 64; maybe because I am a serious amateur cook and Child & Hazan & Roden don’t think that way. I don’t know; we have more ingredients than ever before, and still I’m worried. RSVP

  67. Tara says:

    Thanks for the tips… been trying to figure out how to freeze skillet meals (we like to cook up curries/thai for weeknight meals).

    Just wanted to add that if you’ve got a big stewpot or crockpot another great way to cook in advance is to make up a huge pot, then freeze directly into large canning jars. The big jars are great for two people. Just pop into the refrigerator the night before or defrost enough to get it out of the can before you warm it up. I do this with corn chowder, chili, bean soup, minestrone (w/o the pasta), and a bunch of other soups. If you’ve got a big freezer its nice to have a variety. Soup, bread, and a fresh salad is an easy weeknight meal for us.

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