Make Your Own Freezer Meal Kits

Italian Chicken and Pasta

Have you ever purchased one of those frozen meal kits from the store? They sure are fast and easy…just toss the contents in a large skillet with some water, bring to a boil and then simmer, and dinner is done in about 20 minutes. Couldn’t be easier right? But there are also drawbacks to these convenient kits. They’re fairly expensive when you consider how much you’re getting, they’re typically high in sodium, and the ones that include meat are so skimpy with it, you wonder why they even bothered. In addition, most of these kits claim to feed four people, but the portions would have to be mighty small at best, so unless you buy two kits, chances are good that someone is going to be hungry later.
Given the drawbacks of store-bought meal kits, it’s understandable why you might be tempted to avoid them altogether. But why miss out on the ease and convenience? Instead of buying your meal kits already assembled by a machine in a factory, why not make your own meal kits at home instead? It’s easy, and you’ll have the added comfort of knowing that you're in control over the ingredients.
To help you get started developing your own meal kit ideas, here’s an easy meal kit recipe that I came up with recently. This Italian Chicken and Pasta Dinner Kit is super-easy and my family loved it. By prepping your noodles and chicken ahead, and by making use of frozen veggies from the store, this yummy kit is a cinch to make.
For a printable PDF version of this post and accompanying recipes, please click on the post title to open in a new window and look for the "Print-Friendly" button at the bottom of the recipe.

Italian Chicken and Pasta Dinner Kit

2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning 
1 lb. Penne pasta
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (16 oz.) bag frozen broccoli
1 (14 oz.) bag bell pepper and onion blend (such as Fajita blend)
1 frozen crushed garlic cube
1 frozen chopped Basil cube
In a small bowl, combine tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Spoon tomato paste mixture into ice-cube tray sections; place in freezer and freeze until firm. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and let cool. Meanwhile, brown chicken in a large skillet; reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Remove from skillet and let cool on a paper towel-lined plate. In a large bowl, combine frozen broccoli and onion/pepper blend. Divide vegetable mixture between two gallon-size freezer bags. Add 1 frozen crushed garlic cube, 1 frozen chopped Basil cube, and half the frozen tomato paste cubes (about three) to each bag. Divide cooled pasta between two gallon-size freezer bags, making sure to remove as much air as possible and seal. Divide cooled cooked chicken between two quart-size freezer bags, making sure to remove as much air as possible and seal. Add one bag of cooked chicken and one bag of cooked noodles to the bag with the frozen vegetables (you may have to fold the tops of the bags down a bit to make everything fit). Makes 2 kits @ about $5.19 per kit. Each kit makes 4 generous portions @ about $1.30 per serving. Cook’s note: Frozen crushed garlic cubes and frozen chopped Basil cubes can be found in your grocer’s frozen vegetable section.

To prepare Italian Chicken and Pasta Dinner Kit:

Remove noodle bag and chicken bag from the vegetable bag. In a large skillet, combine contents of vegetable bag with 1 ½ cups of water over medium heat. When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat and add noodles and chicken. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until mixture is heated through, about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 @ about $1.30 per serving. Cook’s note: you may need to add a bit more water if it boils off too quickly. Mixture should be well-sauced but not “soupy” or too dry. For added richness, substitute chicken stock for the water.

Protected by Copyscape Plagiarism Check


Save money and time with these double-duty recipes

When the mornings start to get cooler and autumn is right around the corner, don’t you find your thoughts turning towards comfort food? You know… dishes like soups, chili, meatloaf and pot roast? Here at $2 Dinners we love a good pot roast, but let’s face it, roast beef is delicious, but it’s not exactly the most budget-friendly meal in the recipe box is it? Even though it may not be an affordable option for just one meal, if you split one roast between two recipes, it suddenly becomes a frugal cook’s new secret weapon.

Using one roast for two meals doesn’t have to be boring either. We love leftover roast beef sandwiches as much as anyone, but we also know that there is so much more you can do with your leftover beef. Our Italian-style pulled beef sandwiches and Vegetable Beef Soup with a Kick are perfectly delicious examples of what you can create from just one roast and they couldn’t be easier. Make the sandwiches for lunch or dinner one day, use the leftover beef for a delicious soup later in the week, and you’ve got two great meals for one budget-friendly price.

For a printable PDF version of this post and accompanying recipes, please click on the post title to open in a new window and look for the "Print-Friendly" button at the bottom of the recipe.

Italian-Style Pulled Beef Sandwiches

4 ½ - 5 lb. beef roast
1 (14 oz.) can beef broth
¼ cup water
3 tbsp. salt-free Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 (16 oz.) jar Pepperoncini (whole or slices) with juice
Sub or hoagie rolls, if desired
Cheddar or Mozzarella cheese, if desired

Combine broth, water, Italian seasoning, salt, and juice from ½ jar Pepperoncini in a slow cooker. Add beef. Scatter ½ jar Pepperoncini over and around beef. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or until beef is tender. When beef is cooked, remove to a cutting board and let rest for 10- 15 minutes. Then, using two forks, gently pull and shred beef apart. To make sandwiches, toast rolls or buns, top with shredded beef, a drizzle of juice, peppers and cheese. Store beef and peppers, almost covered in juice, in a container in refrigerator. Serves 10 for approx $1.36 per serving.
Vegetable Beef Soup with a Kick

Leftover Italian-Style shredded beef (include juices and peppers)
1 (10 oz.) bag frozen mixed vegetables
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 (30 oz.) carton beef broth
2 cups water
¾ cup barley or small pasta

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer until vegetables are cooked through and flavors are combined. Serves 6-8 for approx. $1.00 per serving.

Protected by Copyscape Plagiarism Check


Muffins Make Back-To-School Mornings Delicious

While some kids in our area have already started back-to-school, for most families the countdown to the end of summer vacation has just begun. And while kids may be sad about the end of summer, many parents view the approach of back-to-school time with equal amounts of anticipation and dread. Why? Because while it means settling back into a comfortable routine, it also means the return of the school day morning stress and all that goes with it. With the rush to gather scattered homework, lunches, book bags, etc., it can be a challenge to make sure your kids have some sort of (hopefully healthy) breakfast in their tummies before they go out the door.
So how can you make sure your kids get a healthy breakfast before school? Bake them some delicious and healthy muffins. They’re easy to make, yummy, portable, and endlessly adaptable to taste and nutrition preferences. Here are some tasty recipes to get you started.
For a printable PDF version of this post and accompanying recipes, please click on the post title to open in a new window.
Tropical Morning Muffins

2 ½ cups white whole wheat flour (or a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup honey (or maple syrup)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed (or dark brown sugar)
1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 2 large very ripe bananas)
1/4 cup nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt (or any yogurt)
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup milk (almond milk, soymilk, cow's milk, rice milk)
zest from 1 orange
1 ¼ cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned)
1 thinly sliced banana for topping
1/4 cup shredded coconut, optional

Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Spray 15 muffin tins with nonstick spray (do not use cupcake liners- muffins will stick to the liners). Set muffin tin aside. In a large bowl, gently toss the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together until combined. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the honey and brown sugar together, using a fork to break up as many lumps as you can. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, and beaten egg. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Gently begin to fold it all together. It will be very thick. Add the milk slowly and continue to gently mix the ingredients together. The milk will thin everything out, but the batter will still remain thick. Fold in the orange zest and pineapple. Do not over-mix the batter, which will lend tough, dense-textured muffins. Divide the batter between 15 muffin tins. Fill all the way to the top. Top with 2-3 thin slices of the sliced banana and a sprinkle of coconut. Bake the first 12, then the last three in another batch. Fill the empty muffin tins halfway with water in the 2nd batch to ensure even baking. Bake for 17-18 minutes until very lightly browned on the edges. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Allow the muffins to cool completely.

Cook’s note: Muffins taste even better the next day, like most banana bread recipes.  Muffins remain fresh and moist stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.  Muffins freeze well, up to 3 months. Makes 15 muffins @ about .67 cents per muffin.

Blueberry-Applesauce Muffins

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cups rolled oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 heaping cup unsweetened natural applesauce
1 tsp. oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 ¼ cups blueberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
For topping:
3 Tbsp. oats
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 12-cup muffin tin with liners and coat the inside of them with cooking spray In a large bowl combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl combine applesauce, oil, brown sugar, egg, and almond milk. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined. Don't over-mix! The batter will be slightly lumpy, but that’s ok. Gently fold in the walnuts and blueberries. To make the topping: In a small bowl combine oats, walnuts, flour, butter, and cinnamon. Sprinkle 1 heaping teaspoon over each muffin. Bake muffins for 15-19 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached. Makes 12 muffins @ about $1.20 per muffin.

Chocolate Chip Muffins

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
2  large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/3 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 1/4-cup muffin tin lightly with cooking spray (do not use paper cupcake liners). Mix the flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Place the cheese in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Whisk in the milk and vanilla until blended. Fold the cheese mixture and oil into the flour mixture until just blended. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, and bake 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pans immediately, and cool on a wire rack. Makes 18 muffins @ about .44 cents per muffin.

Protected by Copyscape Plagiarism Check