ideas for frozen (microwaveable) lunches? preferable somewhat healthy?

I’m looking for help creating make-ahead lunches that can be frozen, and then taken to work to pop in the microwave at lunchtime. While I’m aware that things like soups and stews freeze well, I’m looking more for ideas to create sort of “frozen TV dinner” meals with a protein and a side veg (or two) rather than one-pot style foods. Googling variations of “freezer make-ahead lunches” brings umpteen bazillion variations of butternut squash soup and beef stew, yanno?

General ideas or guidelines as well as specific recipes are welcome.

The only requirements are that they need nothing more than a microwave to reheat** and that they fall into a general semblance of being somewhat healthy-ish. No dietary restrictions for me here in this case, although please feel free to add your non-dairy or gluten-free or whatever contributions for the benefit of others. :slight_smile:
** So, I’m specifically NOT looking for make-ahead frozen ravioli, for example, that are prepped in advance and then baked for dinnertime.

How far in advance are you looking to make things? I ask because I generally make 4-5 lunches of the type you’re describing on Sunday, then just refrigerate them. Usually I have chicken (either pieces from a whole roasted chicken, or breasts/thighs that I marinated and then cooked), broccoli, some other veg, and sometimes some rice or something.

If you’re looking to go longer than a week, I can see why you’d want to freeze them.

The idea is to be able to make them on a weekend as idle time allows, and then pull out of the freezer at the last minute (“Oh, the team lunch was cancelled?”) so I suppose the primary objective is to remove planning ahead from the lunchtime meal equation, beyond remembering to snag it out of the freezer before leaving for work.

Besides, I already “make” the kinds of lunches you’re describing anyway. They’re called “dinner leftovers.” :smiley:
Full disclosure: I’ve been asked to help make these by - and primarily for - someone else who normally eats absolutely nothing mid-day, as part of an overall effort to eat and live more healthily.

I assume you know you can buy ready-made frozen microwavable meals from the grocery store. :slight_smile:

See final answer to previous response:

Shit, man. I’m just askin’ for recipes or meal ideas here.

ETA: store-bought options are just that - an option - but they’re also way more expensive than from-scratch homemade, and even without the need for preservatives tend to be very high in salt.

And you can probably buy the meal at a restaurant, but that isn’t the point of the thread, now is it?

To actually try to answer the question, how about meatloaf? Maybe some corn or peas/carrots. Could probably throw a previously buttered dinner roll/slice of bread in a plastic bag/container to bring along separately.

For vegetables, there are good options for one- to two-serving steam-in-the-bag microwaveable vegetables which don’t have salt added. On sale it’s a dollar or so per bag.

I’ve done OK with whole-wheat pasta plus mushrooms, onion, etc., fried in olive oil and mixed into the pasta. You could add ground turkey, or chicken, and low fat shredded cheese. It freezes OK and microwaves from there.

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas. If you can buy plates that have partitions in them, even better. For the most, all of these items will cook in similar times, and meatloaf is very forgiving about reheated in the microwave. Cuts of meat like a steak or sliced turkey breast have a tendency to get dry and tough.

Enchiladas, rice and beans. (and you can substitute just about any Mexican entree that doesn’t have ingredients you want to eat raw/cold. Heck, rice and beans are a tasty meal by themselves.

Fish sticks reheat fine in a microwave, but probably won’t be crunchy. You can pair those with just about any vegetable or starch you like. Real cuts of fish are a lot less forgiving, though.

Golabki (sorry for the butchered anglicized spelling) are practically a complete meal unto themselves (cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat and covered in tomato sauce, so you’ve got all your food groups covered). They reheat well from frozen and if you want to pair them with a side dish, just about anything will work. In true Polish fashion, it would normally be potatoes because every meal needs potatoes and cabbage, right? :slight_smile:

When you’re picking the side dishes, aim for things that are equal thickness or equal weight so that they cook evenly. Lasagna, for example, can reheat just fine by itself, but it’s so thick that you wouldn’t want it on a TV-dinner style tray because you’d kill your side dishes before the lasagna is hot all the way through.

Avoid creamy/butter-based sauces because there’s the potential for them to break. Still edible, but not the consistency you were hoping for.

Meatloaf is an *excellent *suggestion - thank you! :slight_smile: The enchiladas, though: do tortillas freeze/thaw OK? Does corn handle it better than flour, or vice versa?

On a related note, I’ve heard mixed reviews of frozen/thawed food involving cheese. Would shredded cheese mixed in with, say, some refried beans be OK, or would the cheese pieces wind up irredeemably grainy etc?

Oh, very good advice. Thanks again. :slight_smile:

I don’t have anything specific, but my tip for you is: ice cube trays are a good way to portion things like sauces and other liquid-type foodstuffs.

It does beg the question: Why would you make your own when you can just buy a Lean Cuisine for under $3 a pop?
Tasty, cheap, and hassle free.

As mentioned, frozen dinners are high in sodium. This may be part of what she is trying to avoid with “somewhat healthy”.

My wife and I have just the two of us to cook for, but there are a lot of things that are easier to cook in large batches, so we will routinely do a whole pan of things like enchiladas, then freeze the leftovers to get another couple of meals out of our work.

So I know for sure that enchiladas will come out just fine. The tortillas are covered in sauce anyway, and you’re not picking them up like a burrito or taco. Doesn’t seem to matter which type of tortilla you use.

Cheese is sometimes questionable on how it comes out, but my experience is that a little bit sprinkled over refried beans would be no problem. If you do want to avoid it, you could always freeze the item without cheese, then add it just before you microwave it.

I’m fighting the OP a little, and I apologize for that, but I think a difficulty is the veggie part for me. Yes, TV dinners come with a veggie that is frozen alongside the main dish. But I don’t think that’s an ideal situation, since it’s hard to keep things compartmentalized that way without a tray with slots. And it requires more expertise in heating up properly. So, if you drop the veggies out of the equation, you’re looking at a frozen main course and then can supplement with either separate frozen veggies or canned or fresh veggies/fruit.

I swear I’m not trying to make this more complicated! I guess I’m just thinking that if you have canned corn, for example, why take it out of the can and freeze it? If you have frozen corn, why not leave it frozen? But if you buy fresh and want to freeze it, that does make more sense. I dunno! Spitballing here.

For me, stews and the like are good frozen because their textures handle it. Other suggestions are chilis, curries like chicken tikka masala/vindaloo, pot roasts, and meatloaf/meatballs/patties. I think rice freezes better than either potatoes or noodles. Quiche freezes well, but can be fiddly to heat up again.

Corn does much better than flour in a tortilla if you freeze it, but still not necessarily brilliant.

Some recipes. I haven’t tried freezing these, but I think they would all work frozen:

Chicken shwarma. Use thighs, not breasts: http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2012/08/chicken-shawarma/

Chicken breasts. Cut WAY back on the mayo from the recipe. Just use a coating: http://www.food.com/recipe/melt-in-your-mouth-chicken-breasts-37336

More chicken. I use breasts but thighs are even better. This is delicious. I don’t make the sauce: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/12/serious-eats-halal-cart-style-chicken-and-rice-white-sauce-recipe.html

Brussels sprouts. Won’t be as good reheated, but still really good: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30815-roasted-brussels-sprouts-with-almonds-and-pecorino

Chicken dumpling patties. Pretty salty as written: http://cooklisacook.blogspot.com/2013/01/chicken-dumpling-patties.html

Lentil soup with sage and bacon: http://www.marthastewart.com/342138/red-lentil-soup-with-sage-and-bacon

Pupusas. I think the masa will hold up to freezing and thawing. They definitely do well with refrigeration and reheating. Can be stuffed with anything. Just cheese and jalapeno is my favorite: http://herbivoracious.com/2010/03/pupusas-de-queso-salvadoran-cheese-filled-tortillas-recipe.html

Excellent pork chile verde enchiladas: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pork-chili-verde-enchiladas-103134

purps, I can’t vouch for this because I’ve never tried it (I tend to avoid making food that involves lengthy preparation time such as peanut butter sandwiches, bowls of cereal, etc. ;)) but I would think something like pot roast and gravy, mashed potatoes and some corn/similar vegetable that you could get frozen then portion into the plate might work. Assuming you like pot roast. And gravy. Always have to have gravy.

Meatballs would work too, I would think - I make mine kind of like meatloaf, and serve them with gravy and flat egg noodles or mashed potatoes - they aren’t Italian tasting in any way, shape or form.

Pepper steak/swiss steak seems like it would work as well - you could use rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes as a side I would hin. Or some type of Oriental stir fry with steak in it and a sauce. I would think chicken based stuff would dry out - but then again, I don’t have a good relationship with chicken, so that could be clouding my vision.

Is that more along the lines of what you’re thinking? Or am I, as usual, on my own planet in my own little world throwing out completely useless suggestions? I do that, I’m told. :wink:

Husband said “Cabbage Rolls” (Golumpki) and then followed that up with “Stuffed Green Peppers.” I don’t know if he’s making a suggestion for you or he’s asking in a roundabout way for me to make some for dinner this week so weigh his suggestions with the appropriate degree of eye-rolling.

Not to mention all sorts of other artificial additives.

A vegetarian bean chili works really well for the types of lunches you’re describing. Actually, one with meat works just as well - with either one, you can bulk it up with lots of veggies so you’re slipping in more fiber.

Indian food reheats well, too. Sometimes I’ll make a double recipe of navratan korma and freeze half to reheat later. My rule of thumb is that stuff in sauce or soups tend to work really well; chunks of plain meat that are precooked can turn out tough. So, enchiladas, chili, other “smothered” meat dishes will work well, but I’d move away from plain chicken breast or other non-saucy dishes.

Another thing I do, too, is if I’m not able to get to some fruits or veggies that are about a day or so away from turning bad, I toss them in the freezer so I won’t waste them. I do that especially with bananas and strawberries. They’re great for smoothies and that way I don’t need to add ice cubes. You could probably blend the smoothie in advance, then let it melt a little and shake it up if you wanted to bring one to work, or use them as ice pops.

Salisbury Steak would be a good one.

Tater Tot Hot Dish might be another.

You could use the low sodium/low fat versions of the canned/packaged ingredients for those.

Thought of one more - you could do a turkey breast and gravy and stuffing or potatoes and some kind of vegetable.

I would think casseroles that have all the stuff - gravy/sauce, starch and vegetables - already combined could work too.