Make ahead meals for maternity leave
I'm going on maternity leave next week (baby due in 2 weeks) and part of my plan is to make meals ahead of time and freeze them in 1-or-2-person portions so that we can still eat homemade food while we adjust to becoming parents (first child!). I have some braised beef & chicken recipes and a BBQ pork that I know freeze and reheat well, and I plan to make a lasagna and some soups too. Beyond that, when I research make ahead meals, I keep coming across casseroles full of "cream of something" soup. We're not really into that kind of food, so I'm looking for other ideas on foods that I can make in advance, freeze in individual portions, and then reheat as needed over the course of a month. It could be as simple as making taco meat that can be used in burritos, tacos or nachos as needed, or a big dish I can divide for multiple meals. I'd especially love ideas for vegetables and side dishes - those seem to be the hardest to find make ahead options for. Thanks in advance for the help!
Freeze things that don't require anything but reheating. You will be exhausted initially - trust me!
A few thoughts for freezable dinners:
- mini quiches in muffin tins (you can unfreeze and warm as many as you want at a time for a meal or snack)
- stuffed crepes (meat/potatoes/veggies)
- meatballs in sauce (you can use these for subs, pasta, over mashed potatoes)
- dumplings/pierogi/pelmeni (again stuffed with whatever you want)
- stuffed chicken (stuff, brown, then cool and freeze; bake to doneness when reheating)
- kugels (potato, potato/zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkin, broccoli, mixed veg, basically anything!)
- burritos (construct with cooked fillings, freeze for quick micro reheating)
Don't forget to bake some of your favorite homemade sweets and throw them in the freezer in one-serving storage for when you have a craving for sweets but no strength to bake!
Many veggies reheat to a soupy/mushy mess when defrosted. That said, before our baby was born, I did cook up and freeze some Indian style veggies and daal (we're from India). The ones that worked were green beans, cabbage, thinly sliced fried potatoes, spinach. Another category of handy freezer food is cooked grains - brown rice, quinoa, cracked wheat, polenta etc. I found that in the first few weeks after baby's birth, I wanted stuff that needed only one hand to eat (while breastfeeding). So things in the sandwich/wrap/pancake/pizza domain worked well. Hard to freeze sandwiches or wraps, but perhaps fixings for these - such as spreads or fillings? Pancakes and pizza freeze well and reheat well in a toaster oven. Oh and in the hospital I began to appreciate the nutritive value and zero-prep of cottage cheese, though I never liked it much before. Went through scores of tubs. Congratulations and good luck!
Someone just had a post on this, which includes a reply linking to about a dozen relevant threads: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/682624. I pulled it b/c I'll be in your shoes in a few months. A few highly freezable favorites of ours:
--white bean/kale/sausage soup: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Kale-and-White-Bean-Soup-106153
--turkey/tomatillo chili (works great w/ 1/2 the meat recommended): http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Turkey-Chipotle-Chili-11339
we also keep a stash of 2 c. servings of seasoned black beans frozen--they're great w/ just a poached/fried egg over them, especially w/ salsa, or as a side w/ a roasted chicken: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/health/nutrition/09recipehealth.html?emc=eta1
it turns out that tomatillo salsa also freezes surprisingly well, since I'd never do such a thing to a tomato based salsa: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo....
As for veggies specifically, roasted root veggie (parsnip, celeriac, etc) purees freeze well. Other than that, I don't think I've frozen many, and you may do best w/ storebought bags.
Make a big vat of your favorite Marinara Recipe and freeze in quart baggies for servings of one and two. Make up meatloaf, shape using custard cups, bake and wrap and freeze individually. We eat ground turkey but one of the most helpful things you can do is sautee up about 5 lbs of ground whatever along with 3-4 diced onions and bag, tag and freeze. If you use 5 lbs, they plan on ending up with 5 bags. Or you can do what I do and get 6 or 7 bags out. We don't notice the missing meat. Then you've always got ground meat to add to spaghetti sauce, easy stroganoff, chili, tacos and burritos, soup etc. Same for cubed chicken, but I usually leve out the onion.
Alternately, you can make up the spaghetti sauce, stroganoff, chili and taco meat then bag and tag and freeze and you can pull them out as needed. FYI for stroganoff do not add the sour cream prior to freezing, this goes in as you are reheating. We also make up and freeze chicken or beef and veggie soup, red beans and rice, "something" creole base (add in chicken, shrimp, whatever at the last 10-15 minutes when re-heating)
Some good cassroles that don't depnd on cream of whatever:
1. ham and swiss cheese strata
2. assorted frittatas (these freeze and reheeat remarkably well, use a pan and cut up or use muffin tins)
3. quiche (high in fat but if you breastfeed you will need fat)
4. chicken enchiladas (go mild green chili and let your hubby spice it up if he likes, gradually ease spicy food into your diet once you have breastfeeding well established)
5. Curry anything, see notes on spicyness above
6. lasagna and mannicotti made up and ready to go in the oven.
7. swiss steak
Also, you can make up rice and noodles; cook all dente, portion and freeze. They aren't as good as fresh but they beat the socks off of instant and then you typcially are adding them into some other dish not serving on the side.
When our little one was born we also did a lot of steamed shrimp. Our grocery store, and pretty much everyone with a decent fish counter will steam your shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster etc. for you with your choice of seasoning (cajun, old bay, lemon pepper etc) so you have baby in tow, you stop at the fish counter first order enough shrimp for you and spouse, go do the rest of the shopping and pick up the shrimp on the way to the register. Get home and eat cold with favorite sauce and a salad, or quickly warm up with lemon, garlic and butter and serve over pasta, or dump into the hot creole base, whatever. Also, never turn up your nose at the rotisserie chicke. That's at least 2 meals for 2 people and probably a lunch ofr you as well. Yumm cold chicken.
Whatever you do, don't make yourself crazy trying to eat less or go no-fat and try to get back to your post baby weight while you breastfeed. You are going to be exhausted, if you're breastfeeding you NEED plenty of carbs, fat and calcium, and even if you mainline peanutbutter and toast sandwiches you will probably still lose weight. Lord knows I did.
My lactation consulatant said that it was a good idea to start the milk flow and really get breastfeeding going strongly before you start adding lots of very spice foods back into your diet. If you were like me, that last month my heartbutn was so bad I ate very little spicy food and wanted hot wings in the hospital after delivery. But I waited until we had a good feeding schedule going and I knew I was making milk and he was drinking it before I started adding spicy foods back in. Enchiladas, curry, cajun you name it. Once I did that gradually all went well and I could eat food as spicy as I could tolerate it with no problems for baby who will still (7 years leater) eat pretty much anything that isn't nailed down and way too spicy.
Your milage may vary and my idea of spicy may be your idea of bland or the other way round. Oh and the same lactation consultant recommended fennugreek to help improve milk production and darned if it didn't work. Plus it made me smell like anise. Which I happen to like. Kept nursing until 6 months and then once he started on real food he was done with mom (sob!)
Enjoy the blur of the first few weeks. They are alternately terrifying and delightful. Live in the momen, order take out or delivery and let anyone who offers to bring you a meal do just that. Good luck and have fun parenthood is wonderful!