MYO Freezer Lunch Entrees!

Feb
2

Post by community member:

I don’t know about you, but I have bought hundreds of Lean Cuisines, Smart Ones and Healthy Choice meals over the last 10 years. I shudder to think about the amount of money that I’ve spent on them. And, while they are generally okay, they are also generally lacking in both flavor and quantity. The biggest selling point for me is that they are quick to prepare and come in a lot of varieties.

I recently decided to try my hand at making my own freezer lunches to see if it would save money. The biggest bonus to me is that I know what’s in my food when I make it myself, but if I can save money too? Jackpot!

One of my favorite Lean Cuisine dishes is the Santa Fe Beans & Rice. My main issue with this particular entrée is that it just doesn’t keep me satisfied long enough. It needs more protein.

I decided to make my own version of this dish, but I needed to know what was in it so I could copy it. Here is the list of ingredients, copied from the Lean Cuisine website:

“BLANCHED ENRICHED LONG GRAIN PARBOILED RICE (WATER, RICE, IRON, NIACIN, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, FOLIC ACID), SKIM MILK, TOMATILLOS, WATER, ONIONS, BLACK BEANS, CORN, PINTO BEANS WITH WATER, ROASTED RED PEPPER PUREE, CHEDDAR CHEESE (CULTURED MILK, SALT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO COLOR), 2% OR LESS OF BUTTERMILK POWDER, GREEN CHILES AND CITRIC ACID, CHILE PEPPERS, DEHYDRATED SOUR CREAM (SOUR CREAM (CULTURED CREAM, NONFAT MILK)), MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, CILANTRO, SOYBEAN OIL, GARLIC PUREE, CULTURED WHEY, SALT, SPICES, JALAPENO PUREE (JALAPENO PEPPERS, SALT, ACETIC ACID AND CALCIUM CHLORIDE), BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE”

This isn’t the worst ingredient list I’ve ever seen. Almost every item on there is recognizable. However, I thought I could do a better job with much fewer ingredients.

ingredients

How to make Santa Fe Chicken, Beans & Rice: Printable

Chicken (extra protein!)
Salsa
Low-Fat Cream Cheese
Black Beans
Corn
Brown Rice

I started by putting my rice in the oven.

rice-water

Yes! I bake my rice (Alton Brown’s method). It turns out beautifully every time, it doesn’t boil over, and I don’t have to watch it.



While the rice was baking, I boiled the chicken in some water and gathered the rest of my ingredients and the reusable containers that I would need for freezing everything.

Once the chicken was done, I shredded it. This is done very easily by putting it in my stand mixer.

shred

What? The Kitchen Aid? What do you mean?

I read on Pinterest that putting hot chicken into a stand mixer with the paddle blade, then turning it on low for about 20 seconds would yield perfectly shredded chicken. This turned out to be completely true! No more cutting, dicing, or shredding with two forks!

shred-3

With all my ingredients in place, it’s very easy to open and drain the corn and beans. You must also rinse those beans or you’ll end up with a very ugly finished product. The juice from black beans discolors everything!

rinse

Put the corn, beans,

add-corn

salsa, cream cheese,

add-salsa-cream-cheese

and chicken into a medium pan.

add-chicken

Turn the heat on the lowest setting and allow the cream cheese to get soft enough to stir everything together. Make sure you have all the ingredients mixed thoroughly.

After the rice bakes for an hour, it’s ready to pull out of the oven. Fluff it with a fork and it’s ready to use…or eat!

I placed 1/2 cup of the rice and 3/4 cup of the chicken mixture into each of my freezer containers and had a little bit of the chicken mixture left over. I ended up with 7 complete meals. Sometimes I’ll add some additional vegetables to the container for variety.

into-container


It’s time for the math:

If you can find frozen meals on sale, you’ll pay about $2 – $2.25 each. That $14 – $15.75 for 7 meals.

I paid $12.22 for all the ingredients for my version. That’s $1.75 each.

BUT WAIT! There’s more!

For your $1.75, you also get chicken in your homemade version! If I removed the chicken, my total for 7 meals reduces to $6.24, or .89 each. In addition, I weighed the containers and found I get about 12 oz. of food per serving–so that is 7 cents per ounce. A typical frozen entrée from the grocery has 9 – 10.5 oz–21 cents per ounce.

This MYO is a win because:

Lower cost
Fewer ingredients
Better taste
Bigger quantity

They heat the same way as any other frozen entrée. I take off the lid and nuke for 3:30, stir and nuke for an additional minute. It turns out perfectly.

Right now, I do not know how long these meals will keep in the freezer. They are not air-tight or vacuum-sealed, so the freezer shelf-life will be considerably shorter. I would not advise making 50 of these at a time.

Canner Joann blogs at
The Skinny on Like with Bypass, Band or Sleeve.

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Comments

  1. bonita says:

    CJ: Love that baked rice, I’ve been making rice that way for decades—it was the first thing I ever cooked by myself.
    thanks for the down low on the lunches–shredding with the KA, Who Knew?
    I’ve started to do something similar to imitate commercial products, but I add a serving of kale, chard, spinach or other leafy green just to get those leafy greens to the table.

  2. bonsters says:

    Thanks for this recipe! I will definitely make it and now you’ve also got me thinking about getting a mixer; I do not have one and must resort to the 2 forks method…

  3. Leah's Mom says:

    Good idea – thanks! I’m also glad to get the baked rice method…I’m going to try that today!

  4. TeaCup says:

    Sounds great! I’ll have to try this, and soon, my freezer is pretty FULL though right now.

    Judi.

  5. mbpartlow says:

    I hope you’ll post more of these MYO lunch ideas! I’ve been using Alton’s baked rice for a while–it’s hard to cook brown rice at high altitude (and have it come out well) the traditional way. And I can’t WAIT to try the chicken shredding trick!

    mb

  6. Laura davis says:

    The baked rice reminded me of a pilaf my mom used to make all the time when I was growing up. I have asked her for the recipe and directions to which she repied “what pilaf, what rice I cooked in the oven?”. My recollection is a can of mushrooms, some Lipton onion soup mix and of course rice, water and the oven. I think I can wing it now.
    Love the idea of the do ahead lunches too. I wonder if the flat sandwich size containers would help with freezer life. Less head room for air?

  7. Jaztastic says:

    LOVE this! I always eat the Santa Fe Beans and Rice, now I can make it myself! Healthier and cheaper!!! This is GREAT!

  8. Blyss says:

    Great post Joann! Can you do more, please? I am always looking for lunch ideas.

  9. YvonneM says:

    Making your own should contain a lot less sodium as well. Those freezer entrees are loaded with it!

  10. Canner Joann says:

    I will be doing more of these! They have worked out so well and taste just as good or better than the store-bought versions!

  11. yellojellobelly says:

    I made it tonight, was about to lose a brick of cream cheese and this fit perfectly :). I didn’t have everything on hand, but close enough and it was very good. I’ve got 6 of these in the freezer now, and used some of the rice to freeze an entree of teriyaki chicken. Thank you for the recipe and inspiration!

  12. Alanna says:

    loved your article-you taught me a trick to shredd the chicken! I’m a rescent widow so I sometimes don’t want to cook everday but I’m trying to eat healthier and with half of my income now it is challenging sometimes. Post some more of these recipes, especially soups that freeze well if you have any. Thanks-Alanna

  13. Sarah says:

    Great idea, AND I have a new way to shred chicken in a flash. Thanks!

  14. carpergirl says:

    I tried this tonight. My rice didn’t turn out that great to me, so I used the mix as a wrap filling! Yummy.

  15. stephaniebostic says:

    Fun! One of my Christmas gifts was making freezer meals. You spend 3-4 hours hours in the kitchen and can come out with 15-20 meals, depending on what you make.

    I’ve started playing with dehydrated soup mixes… so far, lentil has been the best, but I think I’ll get a good black bean one soon. They’re nice to stash at work because it doesn’t need to be frozen.

  16. Canner Joann says:

    I love the idea of soup mixes, too. I’m going to be doing a support group for work about freezer cooking in a few months, so I miht have more to share here!

  17. princessvanessa says:

    I bet using the KA to “pull” cooked pork would work just as well as it does for chicken!
    Thank you for the KA tip, the Alton Brown baked rice tip and the great lunch recipe.
    Please do share any more MYO lunch recipes. I’m a brown-bagger and hate to admit that I fall for the store bought freezer lunches all too often.

  18. Dede ~ wvhomecanner says:

    Nice and YUM! I know I will also be watching for more recipes from you – great tip on the chicken too!

    dede

  19. Shabbysewer says:

    Thank you so much Joann! For the recipe, and for the KA tip! I cannot wait to try this recipe. I am trying to make my own diet meal plan, and this will definitely fit in. I can tell by the pix that it will be delicious! I hope you have more recipes for us!

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