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.