Do you cook with ground beef (or any ground meat)? How do you use it? If you can identify things that you do over and over, you can find a way to make them easier.
There are several ways that I meal prep with ground beef or turkey, such as: taco meat, Italian meat, burgers, meatloaf, & meatballs. As I mentioned in my first Meal Prep post, one of the biggest obstacles to healthy eating is time. I like convenience! If you are in a hurry, you can jump to the end of this post to read about the benefits of doing some meal prep with your meat and how to keep a good freezer inventory.
I used to eat lots of fast food and take out. When I started trying to change my eating habits, I found myself buying things that were pre-cooked to save time. The problem is that many of the pre-cooked or pre-portioned things are more expensive! So how can you make your meals quicker & easier without breaking the bank? You can pre-cook things yourself! It sounds challenging, but it really isn’t! When you take the time to prep things in advance, your actual meal time goes much quicker and smoother.
One of the first things I started making in advance was ground beef for tacos. I realized that cooking the meat was the thing that took the most time, so I decided to try to make that in advance. I make a pound or two of meat at once. I cook and season it just like I always have, but then I separate it into individual portions and freeze those portions. When I am ready to use it, I simply pull it out of the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator or defrost it in the microwave. I then use the meat just like I always have for tacos, burritos, or even taco salad!
Recently I decided to try the same process with ground turkey and it worked fantastic too! I didn’t really notice a difference in the taste between the beef and turkey once the meat was seasoned and loaded up with my other taco toppings. It only saves me 1 point per serving to use turkey, but some days that might be important. 😉
Since the taco meat worked so well, I decided to make Italian ground beef too. My husband likes to use this on his homemade pizza, and we also use it when making Four Cheese Wonton Lasagna (recipe coming soon). I use 3 teaspoons of Italian seasoning for every pound of meat. After the meat is cooked, I separate it into individual portions and freeze those portions. All I have to do is thaw it and it’s ready to use!
** IMPORTANT NOTE ON GROUND MEAT **
The portion & nutrition stats on the package are based on raw meat, but the weight changes as it is cooked and loses moisture.
For example, ground beef lists a serving size of 4 ounces. This means that I should get 4 servings out of 1 pound of meat (1 pound = 16 ounces). If I try to weigh 4 ounce servings after it is cooked, I will not have enough for 4 servings because each cooked portion is no longer 4 ounces.
However, there is a simple solution. I simply weigh the entire cooked batch and divide it by the number of servings I want. If I cook 1 pound of ground meat and want 4 servings, I just divide the total weight by 4. That tells me the weight per serving. Then I can weigh out each serving before putting it in the freezer.
Making hamburger patties seems pretty quick and easy, but it still takes extra time at meal time that’s not necessary! I’ve seen pre-made patties more and more often at the store because it makes it more convenient! Most of the pre-frozen burgers I see at the store are super high in points. I like to make my own burgers in order to make them more affordable for my points budget.
My husband is very particular about his burgers. It has taken a long time to figure out exactly what to do to get him to be happy with the homemade burger patties, but we finally did. I usually buy 96/4 or 93/7 ground beef. He is okay with that for most things, but for burgers her prefers 90/10 or 85/15. I also use a burger press to avoid handling the meat too much. I weigh out 4 oz servings and freeze them individually. They can be cooked from frozen, but we usually thaw them overnight so they cook faster.
Making meatloaf in advance might take meal prep a step further into “freezer cooking,” but it’s still worth mentioning. I have started making my meatloaf in jumbo muffin tins so I actually make 6 mini meatloaves (or meatloaf “cupcakes”) instead of one large meatloaf.
This helps with portion control and also reduces waste because I only thaw out what I’m going to use. My husband doesn’t really care for meatloaf, so I typically have it for lunch at work. I used to love Lean Cuisine meatloaf until I started making my homemade meatloaf in advance. Taking a homemade meatloaf for lunch is SO much better than the store-bought meals!
Even if this is a meal that your entire family will eat, having it made in advance means you could have this on a busy weeknight. Although meatloaf isn’t complicated, it is time consuming. Most of us just don’t have time or energy to make this after working all day!
The two recipes I make the most are my Mom’s meatloaf and a Mexican meatloaf. I have another recipe I’m still playing with that I’ll post once it’s finalized. I usually thaw my meatloaf overnight and reheat it in the microwave. I also usually cut the meatloaf up so it heats quicker AND because it looks like more food all spread out than it does compacted into a cupcake shape. 😉
Frozen meatballs are everywhere in the store these days. I’ve seen traditional meatballs, turkey meatballs, and even chicken teriyaki meatballs! If you use like meatball subs, meatballs in your spaghetti, or even meatball appetizers, this is another great time saver. I made a huge batch of these before I realized that my husband isn’t a big fan of meatballs either. While I don’t make these very often anymore, I still appreciate the convenience of having them pre-made in freezer when I do want them.
I plan to experiment with new types of meatballs when I find the time! 😀 For now, my go to recipe is a beef version of the turkey meatball recipe from Organize Yourself Skinny. She shares right in her recipe how to freeze them, but there’s nothing to it!
Allow the meatballs to cool and then freeze them! As with everything else, I split mine in individual portions (usually 3 or 4 meatballs per serving) first. Then I put the individual servings into a large (gallon size) freezer bag before putting them in the freezer.
Once you have all these things in your freezer, you may be wondering how to keep track of it all. I have personally struggled with remembering what I have without digging through the entire freezer. I am NOT a fan of the cold, so standing in the cold breezeway sorting through an even colder freezer just won’t work for me. There are two options I use and recommend.
OUT OF MILK
Out of Milk is a FREE website and mobile app (for iPhone & Android) that I use to keep track of my inventory. You can create multiple categories (beef, turkey, veggies, etc.) and locations (pantry, freezer, chest freezer, etc.). You can also use this as a to-do list and shopping list. There’s even a barcode scanner and a place to include prices of store-bought items if you want to get really specific with your inventory.
Right now I only use it to keep track of things that I have portioned out or made myself, but it can do so much more. Another great feature is that it will sync across devices so you can view it on your phone, tablet, or computer in a web browser.
PLAN TO EAT
Plan to Eat is an amazing website that offers recipe organization and storage as well as meal planning, shopping lists, and even tracking of freezer cooking! I signed up for this service with the Black Friday sale, and I haven’t dedicated the time to fully utilize all the tools available to me, but I really WANT to!
The service is web based, and they have a mobile version of the site that makes it easy to use anywhere, anytime, on any device. You can easily access your recipes and shopping lists from your phone, tablet, or computer!
There is an awesome feature that allows you to input your freezer meals. When you use one of those meals on a meal plan, it will automatically deduct that item from your freezer inventory. It’s GENIUS! The meal planning options really sold me on this site. I just KNOW that it will make my meal planning process easier. I just need to finish putting in my recipes! 😉
I think both options are fantastic, so you might just need to play around and see which one works best for you. Out of Milk is free for the basic version, and Plan to Eat has a free trial. The great thing with Plan To Eat is being able to create shopping lists from your recipes and easily sharing recipes with friends and community members.
If you want just an inventory/shopping list of kitchen ingredients, Out of Milk might work better. If you want to create an inventory/shopping list from the recipes you plan to cook, Plan to Eat might work better. If you try them out, let me know your thoughts!
If you have a skillet full of meat, perhaps you will be tempted not to figure out what your “portion” should be. Perhaps you will go back for seconds because it’s sitting right there. If you have only thawed out your individual servings, you can’t go back for seconds without going through the process of pulling it out of the freezer and defrosting another serving. Typically those extra steps dissuade me from having seconds because I realize that I don’t really “need” any more food and I don’t want to put the effort to get another serving ready. 🙂
It may seem like extra work to divide the meat into portions before you freeze it, but it can save you money! If you cook and freeze an entire pound of meat in one container, you will most likely have to thaw the entire pound of meat before you use it. Will you then take the time to figure out what your portion is? What if you are only feeding 1 or 2? Once the meat is thawed, it is not recommended to re-freeze it. What will you do with the leftovers then? I absolutely LOVE being able to thaw out just what I need.
I hope this glimpse into my meal prep process has been helpful. I plan to post more meal prep ideas in the coming weeks, so let me know if there is anything you want to learn about! My Meal Prep Mania post will have links to all the different meal prep posts as they are finished. If you do any meal prep with ground meat, please share it in the comments. I know that my ideas are probably just the tip of the iceberg!!