It’s Wednesday evening and you’re just getting home from work. You’re tired and hungry, and so is everyone else in your house. The thought of having to prep and cook dinner is exhausting. You could order a pizza (again), or you could use your freezer to make midweek, healthy dinners a LOT easier. Here are 6 things that you should always have on hand in your freezer to make cooking a breeze.
PRO TIP: For anything you freeze, try portioning it out before you freeze it and then putting it all in a bag together. Trust me, it will save you time and a headache when you are trying to get one chicken breast free from the frozen chunk of meat.
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Pretty much every type of meat can be frozen raw. If frozen properly, it will keep for months. You will always have it on hand without having to worry about forgetting the raw meat in the fridge for days until it all goes bad (or is that just me?). In our freezer we typically have chicken, fish, shrimp, bacon, and sausage. You can learn more from the USDA about the proper way to freeze raw meat here.
You can also freeze cooked meat! However, keep in mind that it may not have the same consistency as it did before it was cooked.
I love marinades. I can use the exact same components (chicken, rice, vegetable) but make it an ENTIRELY different meal just by switching up the marinade. Marinades typically consist of an oil, an acid (like vinegar or citrus), and spices, all of which freeze well. Throw your meat (or vegetables) and marinade into a freezer bag and toss it in the freezer. All that you will have to decide is which delicious flavor you want to go with.
Check out this post over at The Lemon Bowl for a round-up of some great marinade recipes.
PRO TIP: For all frozen meat, marinated or not, it is safest to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. You’ll have to do a little bit of thinking ahead, but you will avoid bacteria growth this way.
I am not a professional chef (no matter how many I watch on TV). Professional chefs are able to chop and prep all of their vegetable in what seems like 2 minutes flat. Me, it takes a bit longer than that, and can end up being one of the most time-consuming parts of cooking. If I’m really on the ball with meal planning for the week, I sometimes have all of my vegetables chopped and in containers in the fridge by Sunday.
However, it is always helpful to have some in the freezer, especially for those vegetables that we only use occasionally and can go from perfect to “there’s no way I’m eating that” overnight (bell peppers come to mind here). Freeze the chopped veggies on a baking tray before throwing them in a bag and they won’t stick together, meaning that you can take out only what you need. Before freezing vegetables, it is best to blanch them to help maintain their color, texture, and flavor. To blanch:
- Cook briefly (1-3 minutes) in boiling, salted water.
- Immediately put them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
Keep in mind that the flavor and consistency of thawed vegetables will vary depending on the vegetable and they are best when cooked (please don’t freeze anything you intend to use in a salad!). Fresh is always better, but I don’t always have time for fresh.
I have always been a user of canned sauces (pasta sauces, stir fry sauces, condiments) but I have recently discovered how easy it can be to make your own sauces! It’s cheaper, you can make the amount you need, and you control what goes in it. Plus, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I create a sauce from nothing, especially when the man loves it (like this super simple stir fry sauce)! However, because homemade sauces won’t have the same preservatives as pre-made, they won’t last as long. Portion them out, put them in a freezer bag and lay them flat in the freezer. Easy.
Certain canned items
When was the last time you used an entire can of tomato paste? Yeah, me neither. A recipe usually calls for a tablespoon, maybe two, and then you’re left with ⅔ of a can of tomato paste and nothing to do with it. Plop tablespoon-sized portions on parchment paper, freeze individually and then put them in a freezer bag. I also do this for chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and green chilies.
This is my favorite way to use the freezer. You can freeze an entire meal and simply thaw and eat! Once a month I will plan a weekend day to prep, cook, and freeze a variety of meals. This is a great way to use your slow cooker too. Don’t have the time to cook all day? You can add to your freezer over time by making double or triple batches of a recipe and freezing the extra. Some fully-cooked meals that I like to freeze:
- Turkey chili (the man’s favorite!)
- Burritos – we cook rice, chop veggies, open a can of beans, cook up a bunch of meat with taco seasoning and some chipotle peppers and the man and I both assemble our own burritos and freeze them individually. Cheese freezes well too, but I do not include toppings like lettuce, salsa or avocado. Those are best fresh and I put those on when I plan to eat it. To make it even easier, you can use precooked rotisserie chicken in your burritos. Gluten free wraps can be tough, but we’ve had success with the LiveGFree brand.
- Soups like Kale, White Bean, and Chicken Soup
- Slow cooker meals like Basil Chicken Curry or Tuscan Garlic Chicken.
You can also prep and freeze uncooked meals, then throw them in the oven or the slow cooker on the day that you want to eat them. Freeze the components of a meal (with raw meat in a separate bag) together and make sure to label them with cooking instructions.
A few general freezing tips:
- Freeze in the portion size that you want to eat. Freezing a pack of chicken breasts all together means you would have to thaw the entire thing just to remove one piece. Freezing in smaller batches also helps it freeze more quickly.
- Make sure whatever you freeze is cooled completely before it goes in the freezer. Freezing food while it is hot means that it won’t freeze evenly, and it can also raise the temperature around it which could partially thaw other foods.
- Remove as much air as you can from the freezer bags. Too much air will increase the likelihood of freezer burn. If you are using containers, fill close to the top but do leave space for the contents to expand.
- If using bags, lay them flat to freeze. They will take up less room this way and are easily stacked.
- Label! Label everything that you put it the freezer with the contents and the date. Nothing is worse than having to toss something because you don’t know how long it’s been in there. Add cooking instructions if it is an uncooked meal.
What else do you freeze? Tell me in the comments.