GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The New Year has begun, the time when many set resolutions to be healthier in one way or another. 

For today's On the Menu segment, Registered Dietitian Tara Martin from Mercy Health shares some easy ways to prepare and save healthy meals for the upcoming new year.

Busy weeknights and days tend to make it difficult for many to prepare healthy, homemade meals for themselves or their families. Having a freezer allows you to plan and make meals ahead of time and save them for later. This technique can also save you money on eating out or wasting unused groceries. 

There are a few different ways that you can prepare and save your meals in the freezer. One tip that is always important is to date and label all of your items so that you can keep track of when you first prepared it. The best way to thaw your frozen meals is also in the refrigerator overnight – you shouldn’t put frozen meat directly into a slow cooker or crockpot. 

These first few examples demonstrate “batch cooking” which can come in handy if you are preparing meals for yourself or a smaller group of people. You can even portion the meal out into individual servings. 

Fruit Smoothies

Here I have portioned out some smoothie ingredients that will make an easy breakfast on a workday. Cutting up a large amount of fruit and preparing different combinations that are ready to use. You can just throw them in the blender with whatever other ingredients you desire. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 container blueberries
  • 1 container raspberries
  • 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and diced
  • 6 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter
  • Unsweet vanilla almond milk (for when you're ready to blend)

Egg Muffins

These individual egg muffins are also a perfect example of a quick grab-and-go healthy breakfast. You can basically add any ingredient you want added to the eggs, cook and cool completely, then freeze. You can heat them in the microwave for about 30 seconds and enjoy. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pound ground breakfast sausage
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups bell peppers (diced)
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 cups spinach (chopped)
  • 12 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (shredded)

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and prepare a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Ground and cook sausage in a skillet until fully cooked. Add garlic, peppers, and onions to the skillet and sauté with sausage for 2 minutes. Place this in your prepared muffin. Add chopped spinach into each muffin tin.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk eggs with salt and pepper. Pour egg into each muffin tin filling about 3/4 the way full. Top each one with cheese and bake for 20 minutes or until a fork can come out clean and eggs are cooked all the way through.

Vegetable Lasagna 

This vegetable lasagna is another simple example of a lunch or dinner that is pre-portioned and has been precooked and frozen. I have wrapped the individual portions in plastic wrap to help protect from freezer burn. Take one out of the freezer when you are ready to use it or depending on how many people you are serving. You can pop this directly into the microwave for a few minutes when you are ready to eat. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 can Pasta Sauce (you can prepare homemade)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion (any type), chopped (175 -200g)
  • 2 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped (100g)
  • 200 g button Mushrooms, diced
  • 1 medium Zucchini, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3.5 oz blanched Spinach, chopped
  • 0.5 lb Ricotta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon each Salt and Pepper
  • 12 lasagna noodles 

Directions: 

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté onions and garlic. Add salt and once the onions are translucent, add bell peppers, mushrooms and zucchini. Cook on high heat for 8-10 minutes.
  2. In a bowl mix together blanched spinach, ricotta, parmesan. Refrigerate till ready to use.
  3. Preheat oven to 350F.
  4. Brush the base of a large baking dish (12.5 inch by 8 inch) with olive oil. Spoon a ladleful of the sauce at the base and spread it out. Cover the base with lasagna sheets overlapping/tearing as required.
  5. Add all the spinach ricotta mixture and spread it out. Cover with lasagna sheets.
  6. Add the roasted vegetables and spread them out. Add 2-3 ladles of and spread it over the veggies. Sprinkle a cup of cheese.
  7. Layer with lasagna sheets. Add 2 cups sauce on top and spread it out. Sprinkle with remaining cheese
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the lasagna is baked through 

Chicken Chili

Another technique that may work well if you are serving a larger family is this white chicken chili recipe. Essentially you can add all the ingredients besides the water to the bag so that it will be ready to put in the crockpot when ready to use. It is not uncommon for meat to cost less when bought in bulk, so if you have extra chicken or beef from another recipe, add some to a bag with these other ingredients and you have a meal for another night. 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 15.5oz cans of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 8oz can of chopped mild green chilies 
  • 1 and 2/3 cups of frozen corn 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about one cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, mince
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1-pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 cups water* (not needed until day of cooking)

Directions: 

Thaw in fridge the night before. Add to crockpot with 4 cups of water. Cook on low for 6 hours or until chicken is cooked through.

Courtesy: Tara Martin, RD

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