We traditionally know the muffin tin as a vehicle to bake birthday cupcakes and morning glory muffins, but this common kitchen appliance’s limitless versatility opens the door to a myriad of healthy opportunities. Here are a few simple muffin tin kitchen hacks worth incorporating into your regular meal prepping routine that are guaranteed to make healthy eating easy-breezy!
1. Whole Grains
We all know that whole grains boast fiber, antioxidants, and an array of vitamins and minerals that their refined counterparts lack, but with their hearty, fibrous bran still in tact, these healthy whole grains tend to require a much longer cooking time. The solution? A marriage between batch cooking + muffin tin freezing!
At the beginning of the week, prepare a large batch of whole grains. Allow to cool, and then spoon individual servings into the muffin tin. Place in the freezer for 1-2 hours, then use a butter knife to pop out each serving. Store them in a freezer bag, and now you have pre-cooked, portion-controlled servings of cooked whole grains ready to be added to soups, chilies, stir-fries, and bowls all week long. To serve, simply thaw in the microwave or on the stove top with a few Tbs of water and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Voila! Whole grains in a flash! To get started, try using this strategy for your morning oats!
Eggs can be a quick and easy way to add a boost of protein to any dish, but sometimes even cracking an egg on the stovetop can be too time consuming during chaotic mornings. The solution? Make a week's worth of breakfasts in one night using one of these muffin tin egg recipes: Mini Frittatas, Hard-baked eggs, and Oven-poached eggs.
3. Frozen Entrees
Most of the ready-to-heat frozen entrees found in your grocery store are loaded with excess salt, sugar and highly processed oils, as well as a plethora of preservatives and artificial ingredients. The solution? Make your own version of your favorite frozen items, and use a muffin tin to freeze individual servings to keep on hand for when you’re in a pinch! A simple place to start? Veggie Burgers, Falafel, or, these DIY Pizza Bites: Mix water with chickpea flour for a simple gluten-free crust (socca), and pour the batter into an oiled muffin tin for mini pizza crusts. Top with tomato sauce, veggies, and basil. Place the muffin tin in the freezer for 3-4 hours, and then transfer the mini pizzas to a freezer bag. To reheat, toast in the toaster oven for a healthier version of a pizza bagel!
4. Soups, Sauces, and Sauté Starters
Soups: Get into the habit of always making a double batch of soup to freeze for later. Simply ladle spoonful’s into the bottom of a muffin tin, freeze, then use a butter knife to pop out and transfer to a freezer bag. To reheat, thaw on the stovetop or zap in the microwave and you have yourself a warm bowl of homemade soup in a flash. *Space-saving tip: Condensed soup… Sauté or roast up a bunch of veggies with onions and garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Allow to cool, then puree in a blender (add a can of beans for a dose of protein). To save freezer space, hold off on adding the broth. This will keep the consistency thick and the flavor super concentrated. Pour the concentrate soup into the muffin tin, freeze, then pop out and store in a freezer bag. To serve, thaw on the stovetop or zap in the microwave, adding broth to dilute the soup to your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Sauces, Sauté Starters: Sauces and sauté starters are what transform a plain batch of veggies, protein, and grains into unique and flavorful meals every night of the week. I like to sauté an absurd amount of garlic and shallots with olive oil, lemon zest and juice, crushed red pepper, and some chopped herbs. Then I add broth and/or white wine, and simmer until I have a very strong and flavorful pan sauce. I pour the sauce into muffin tins, freeze, then transfer them to a freezer bag. The next time I need a kick of flavor, simply drop a sauté starter in the pan and boom, the work is done. The same concept applies to marinara sauce, pesto, puttanesca sauce, coconut Thai curry sauce, peanut sauce, the options are endless. I always have a variety of these “cubes-of-flavor” stocked in my freezer ready to instantaneously transport my dish to a new cuisine from around the globe.
5. Preserving Herbs
Herbs bring a bright and fresh flavor that can magically elevate any dish, but sometimes it’s hard to go through them before they start to wilt. The solution: Preserve your herbs! Drop some fresh herbs in the bottom of the muffin tin, pour a few Tbs of olive oil, freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag for later.
6. Smoothie Kits
Smoothies are a quick and easy solution to getting your dose of fruits and veggies first thing in the morning or when you’re on-the-go, but gathering all of your smoothie ingredients can be a time consuming hassle. The Solution: Frozen Smoothie Kits. Mix fruit, veggies, ginger, greens, avocado or nuts butters, chia, hemp or flax seeds together in a bowl and spoon into the muffin tin. Freeze, then use a butter knife to pop our and transfer to a freezer bag. When morning comes, drop a few smoothie cubes into a blender with some almond milk or water for a quicker, more convenient smoothie.
Use these simple muffin tin tricks and you’ll be hacking your way healthy! What’s your favorite kitchen hack? Tell us in the comments.
This article was originally published on Philly.com's Goal Getter column.