My “Free” Homemade TV Dinners

posted by Andrea | 07/3/2012

Remember TV dinners?

I know they still sell them at  most grocery stores — however, now they’re called “frozen meals”.

I still like calling them TV dinners!

Anyway… several months ago, I was at my grandparent’s house and my grandma offered to make me lunch. I accepted because I was hungry and she’s a good cook… but to my surprise she opened her freezer, pulled out a plate covered with plastic wrap, and popped it in the microwave.

Five minutes later, I was eating delicious leftovers from a dinner she had made the week before.

It was like a homemade TV dinner — and it was delicious!

I know leftovers can be somewhat of a debate — but we happen to LOVE leftovers in the Dekker house. We pack leftovers in our lunches, we use leftover meats and veggies to make new recipes, and I often put “leftovers” on our weekly menu plan for one meal each week.

However, since a massive amount of leftovers can be a bit boring (think lasagna every night for a week!) I’ve started to create “homemade TV dinners” in our house as well.

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Here are some of my favorites:

Portion out leftover meat, potatoes, and veggies directly onto paper plates for busy weeknight meals when the whole family can’t eat together.

Freeze a pan of leftover lasagna until it’s ALMOST frozen. Then cut into pieces and put in zip-top bags for lunches. (Freezing it before cutting allows nice even pieces and prevents sauce from getting everywhere).

Use old yogurt, sour cream, or other similar-size contains to divide soups, stews, and casseroles into portion-size servings.

Freeze extra bars, brownies, breads, and cakes AFTER you slice/cut them so you don’t need to defrost the entire batch to get one serving.

Of course, the list could go on… but my point is, there’s no need to pay top dollar for overly processed frozen meals when you can make your own {for free} at home using leftovers you already have on hand.

Just make sure you seal the food well to prevent freezer-burn and mark the contents / date on the outside of the package so you know what you’re grabbing!

When you don’t feel like cooking or baking, let everyone choose their favorite frozen meal or snack and pop them in the microwave.

What are your favorite ways to use up leftovers?

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18 comments

  1. Beth

    07/03/2012

    I usually try to plan to have leftovers from dinner so I can take them for lunch the next day. I don’t really like most of the traditional lunch foods – sandwiches, salads, “frozen entrees” – and I would much prefer to have last night’s dinner a second time than to have one of those options! I try to package up the leftovers in portioned out containers so it is easy to grab them out of the fridge and put them in my lunch bag in the morning. Little to no prep – perfect for busy mornings! Plus, I am more likely to take my lunch this way – if I have to make a sandwich, I often talk myself into skipping it and then buy lunch.

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  2. Melissa

    07/03/2012

    Agreed! I love leftovers and always try to reinvent them for the next meal with other ingredients I have in the fridge or cabinets. For example…my absolute favorite is turning a roast chicken or turkey into tetrazzini casserole. Having the ability to freeze foods is such a life saver.

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  3. Patty@homemakersdaily.com

    07/03/2012

    We LOVE leftovers, too. And I freeze mine similar to the way you freeze yours – individual servings whenever possible.

    I freeze brownies in a taller freezer container with wax paper between each brownie. Then my husband can get one out at a time. Sometimes he just eats them as a snack and sometimes he uses them for a smoothie or in ice cream.

    I just put about 2 servings of leftover taco meat in a zip lock. I have a tendency to crave taco salads on a regular basis so now the next time a craving hits, I’ll be able to have one!

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  4. Sherri

    07/04/2012

    What a brilliant idea! We do freeze leftovers, but always in a family meal size quantity. I absolutely LOVE this idea and it will solve a lot of “quick” meal/snack dilemmas. We have 4 kids left in the home, and due to school/work/sport schedules, our teens are hungry at different times and not always here for meals. I’m going to look for some extra plates at the thrift store so that I don’t have to use paper ones (very $ here and although they can be composted, I’m thinking that dishes would be more stable). Thanks for this great tip!

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    Enya Reply:

    I heard microwave cooking is bad for our health. What about steaming our leftover?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Honestly Enya — they say everything is “bad for our health” — so I take that information with a grain of salt! We don’t live off microwaved food — but it’s just a nice option for days when we’re a bit rushed for dinner.

    Also, I can’t imagine steaming your leftovers could be bad for your health… but of course, I’m not trained in that area!

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  5. jerilyn

    07/04/2012

    I love leftovers but I need to now double recipes in order to actually get leftovers. My boys are growing like crazy and eating a ton. I try to get 1 serving leftover for my husbands lunch the next day.

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  6. Nora@ The Dollar Holllering Homemaker

    07/04/2012

    We always make meatloaf in a muffin tin and you can do the same thing with other side dishes. Great for portion control and easy when hubby is working late.

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  7. Hope

    07/04/2012

    One thing I always have more than we can eat at one sitting is pancakes, so I freeze single servings in individual bags and freeze them. It’s always nice to be able to grab pancakes on a weekday morning for a sweet beginning to the day.

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  8. KimH

    07/04/2012

    I do this too. I portion out meals into single servings in the smaller storage size containers, write the contents on a slip of paper & put tape over it & tape it to the lid so I always know what it is. Before I did this, sometimes I’d have no clue what that frozen blob was.. Most of the time, I take them to work for lunch.

    I also make huge pots of stews, chili, and soups and ladle them into plastic storage bowls for single serv portions and freeze labeled as above. I have a handy little shelf in my big freezer where they fit just perfectly, so they dont get lost in the freezer since its so big.

    I almost always find ways to use up leftovers.. even if its just make a new soup from it. ;)

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  9. Rachel

    07/10/2012

    My parents did the “21 Day Challenge” from My Fit Foods, and we kept ALL of their nifty little containers (they make GREAT tubberware). I was always in a rush before work and never had time for breakfast, so I started buying lots of fresh fruit and dividing them out enough for 5 days and putting them in the containers. They stack easily in the fridge and make for easy, on-the-go breakfast. You can also use muffin tins to make grab-and-go breakfast omlets. Add eggs and your favorite toppings, pop in the oven, freeze and thaw when you’re ready!

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  10. Debra

    07/16/2012

    FANtastic idea.

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  11. Monica

    06/28/2014

    I am new to freezing meals so I do have a question: I have washed and saved actual “TV dinner” trays and would love to create my own meals. But how would I package/wrap/cover it to best prevent freezer burn?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Monica, I’m guessing those trays would work fine, but you’d probably want to wrap each meal in plastic wrap AND aluminum foil — either that, or put each tray in a freezer bag. Hope this helps!

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  12. Ramona

    06/29/2014

    Hello love your web page. On the black tv trays been trying to find them any idea where to buy.
    thank you
    Ramona

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  13. Denise L

    09/10/2014

    Andrea– this is a great idea! with two teenagers and their many activities, this would solve the problem of everyone eating dinner at a different time on some nights. I would like to be able to stack them in the freezer, though. I wouldn’t think paper plates would stack well. Any thoughts or recommendations? Thanks!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, definitely! Paper plates would be just fine. My only “tip” would be to let each meal FULLY freeze before you stack them. Otherwise, you’ll have a mess of food stuck to the top of the bag or plastic wrap) and your meals will be squashed :)

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  14. Georgia

    09/10/2014

    We also love leftovers however freezing is also good for watching what you eat. We are no longer youngsters and the pounds creep up quickly. Freezing small portions keeps us from over eating. I am also diabetic so when I make cookies or cake or something of the sort I also freeze a small portion. This way I can have a treat and I am not as tempted to go back and eat “too” much more. With the cookies I freeze them first on a tray and then I can but as many as I want in the bags or containers separated by wax paper or parchment and they do not stick together.

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