Eco-Saturday: Make your own TV dinners

TV dinners are a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re quick, cheaper than fast food, portion-controlled, and easier than hitting a drive-through when I don’t have the time or energy to cook. Some of them actually taste good, and some taste fairly awful but conjure up fond memories, which makes them pretty good comfort food. But all of them have three major drawbacks:

1. Most of them are high in salt, fat and starch and low in fiber — not a great nutritional choice.
2. Even the cheap ones are expensive relative to the amount and quality of food you get.
3. You’re basically paying for convenient packaging — and most of that packaging can’t be recycled for one reason or another (cardboard is too dirty, paper is coated with plastic, plastic is a type nobody accepts, etc.)

A couple of friends who have embarked on fairly elaborate fitness programs solved all of the above problems by purchasing reusable plastic trays and creating their own pre-portioned meals to keep in the freezer and warm up as needed. They were so pleased with the results that I cribbed their idea and had Ron order a bunch of the little trays with translucent snap-on lids from Amazon.

These aren’t gourmet meals I’m preparing. If I have some leftovers that will freeze well, I divvy them up into trays. Sometimes I dress them up a little bit — for instance, leftover diced potatoes today became loaded mashed potatoes, which teamed up with prefabbed veggie burgers to make a couple of quick freezer meals.

This isn't haute cuisine, but TV dinners never are.
This isn’t haute cuisine, but TV dinners never are. As my late grandmother used to say, “It’ll make a turd.” Good enough.

While I was in the kitchen, I cooked a pound of capellini, divided it among six trays, and topped each serving with a little marinara sauce from Viviano’s and a handful of shredded mozzarella. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s nutritionally similar to a Weight Watchers meal and costs about 50 cents a serving to throw together.

It took me about 15 minutes to throw together eight quick, single-serving freezer meals.
It took me about 15 minutes to throw together eight quick, single-serving freezer meals.

Other meals that freeze well in small portions: curry; red beans and rice; spaghetti with browned butter; chili mac; and chicken with gravy (which I warm up and serve over toaster waffles). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, those freezer containers will pay for themselves fast. Vegetarian convenience food is unconscionably expensive.

If you’re concerned about microwaving in plastic, you might want to invest in Pyrex freezer containers. I use the plastic trays because they’re lighter, cheaper, and take up less space in the freezer, but if I ever jump on the no-plastic bandwagon, I’ll upgrade my containers. Right now, my focus is reducing waste and improving the nutritional content of the meal. Baby steps.