Make-ahead meals and cooking for the freezer, once relegated to suburban supermoms who had it more together than the rest of us, are now trendy with the healthy-eating crowd.
Sure, we call it "meal prep," but it’s pretty much the same thing: Make good food in advance so that we can eat it sometime in the future. In the past, this was primarily to save meal-planning stress, dish-washing time and money. Now, we are recognizing another implicit benefit: We are more likely to make healthy food choices if something tasty and nutritious is already prepared.
Cook once but eat twice has long been the battle cry of the make-ahead meal, with Italian comfort foods such as lasagna and eggplant Parmesan perhaps being the poster children of this eat-one-freeze-one movement. So I overhauled these Italian casseroles into my Eggplant and Spinach Parmesan, a healthier veggie-filled version that is easy to pull together and freezes beautifully.
To make my healthy tweaks, I focused on an eggplant Parmesan dish, simply because I felt the pasta would be missed less. The eggplant, usually breaded and fried, was simply seasoned and roasted, and no one in my family missed the extra bread crumbs or oil. I added in baby spinach, which contributed nutrients but also a nice layered lasagnalike element to the dish.
Without actual pasta, though, I knew I needed to keep some serious cheese. Using part-skim ricotta as the main component worked well, and I boosted the flavor with a little bit of nutty Parmesan and a reasonable quantity of mozzarella for melty-stretchy goodness. Luckily, marinara needs no makeover, as long as you buy or make one without extra sugar or preservatives. My version is vegetarian, but feel free to add a pound of lean browned ground turkey or beef if you want.
The recipe makes enough for eight, so a small family can freeze half for a second meal or divide leftovers into individual servings for DIY single-serving frozen meals. You can also double the recipe and really load up that freezer. I buy a bunch of foil baking pans at a warehouse store, because just seeing a stack of those pans in my cupboard inspires me to cook double and stock up the freezer.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."