7 Whole-Food products and recipes that your freezer should never be without. A step-by-step guide on how to stock your freezer for healthy eating.
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(NOTE: CLICK HERE to download your FREE Stock the Freezer Resource Guide. It contains all recipes and links mentioned int his post!)
I can only speak for myself, but in my opinion, there is NO BETTER secret weapon for making a whole-food lifestyle work for my family than my freezer. Meal prepping and feeding my family healthy nutritious foods is important to me, so I make the time to get it done.
With that said, since I had Cooper 6 years ago, my time is no longer my own. Gone are the days where I can sit down with my calendar, washi-tape, fancy pens and determine exactly what I will be doing each day and when. Don't get me wrong, I try! Each week I faithfully go through the process of writing down our schedule, making plans and ensuring everyone gets where they need to be, buuuuuut then someone throws up, school is cancelled for snow, or Campbell gets a screw stuck in his nose and we have an impromptu doctors visit (true story).
Enter the freezer. I love it because I can prep food and recipes when I have time, energy and motivation. Then, on days that I don't... the work is done and I can reap the benefits.
Obviously, on those hard, energy-depleting days I would ideally reach into the freezer and pull out a fully assembled meal and pop it in the oven (and sometimes I do). But today, I want to share a few things that you can prep and/or purchase to store in your freezer to make cooking easier on super busy nights. I'm also sharing a FREE downloadable 1-page PDF with every recipe and link mentioned that you can print for reference. You can grab it at the bottom of this post.
So here we go.. 7 whole-food products and recipes that your freezer should never be without!
Let's start with things you can purchase.. why prep it yourself when there are economical whole-food options hanging out in your grocer's freezer???
THINGS TO PURCHASE:
1. Frozen Fruits and Veggies
Ok, let's talk frozen fruits and veggies. Poor guys get a really bad rap. Are local, fresh, in season veggies ideal? Of course! With that said, I want you to stock your freezer for your REAL LIFE (not Pinterest). Frozen fruits and vegetables are the perfect solution during months that fresh produce just isn't available. If you can afford to pay $1,873,298 for organic strawberries, well... you go girl, but for the rest of us, frozen fruits and veggies offer us a way to get a variety of fruits and veggies into our families bellies without having to take a second mortgage out on our house.
Storage Tip: I like to remove my fruits and veggies from their packaging and store them in clear freezer safe containers. This way I can combine half used packages and don't have to rummage around a crowded drawer to find what I need. It also enables me to quickly see exactly what I have and what I don't.
- Frozen Fruits and vegetables are not all created equal. Look for packages of vegetables marked with a USDA "U.S. Fancy or Grade A" shield. This mark is only given to produce with the best color, shape, and size. It is more nutrient dense than vegetables labeled "U.S. No 1," "U.S. No 2," Grade B, and/or Grade C. With that said, I have been to LOTS of stores and often can't find vegetables with a "fancy shield." If it isn't available look for products that are USDA Organic Certified and Non-GMO.
- Vegetables and Fruits don't stay good forever in the freezer. Bummer huh? They will degrade and lose nutrients. Pay attention to the expiration date!
- If possible, when preparing frozen vegetables, steam or microwave. Do not boil. This minimizes the loss of water-soluble vitamins.
- Do not buy frozen fruits or vegetables that are in sauce. They often have lots of extra sugar, salt and/or funky ingredients. If you are buying frozen corn, the only ingredient needed is, well... corn. Keep it simple!
When you don't have a lot of time to spend cooking dinner, frozen grains can be a lifesaver. Be REALLY careful when purchasing frozen grains, many can have a laundry list of additives and preservatives, but more and more I am seeing whole-food friendly options. Pre-cooked rice and quinoa can be mixed with beans, veggies, lentils or added to soups and stews.
Storage Tip: Like my fruits and vegetables, I store my grains in clear containers. I like that I can scoop out the amount that I need easily. As mentioned above, this helps me eliminate multiple half used packages hanging out in the freezer.
- Don't waste your money buying organic or non GMO quinoa.. save it grass-fed beef and organic apples! Quinoa comes with built in saponin, which tastes terrible to pests. This means farmers don't need to do much spraying! Quinoa is NOT a genetically modified grain, so no worries in that department.
- You can make and freeze your own grains as well.. truth, I just HATE making rice and quinoa. I struggle to get the texture right, soooo I buy.
- Purchasing Frozen grains is pretty straight forward. Most important, skip on varieties that have added ingredients or sauces. Just like with the vegetables and fruits, there is the potential for a lot of extra sugar, salt and weird ingredients. If you are buying brown rice, the only ingredient needed is brown rice. You can add the rest!
- You can make SO MANY quick dishes with pre-cooked rice. Here's one of my favorites...
Quick Spanish Rice
Ingredients: 2 TBS olive oil; ½ onion, diced; 4 cloves garlic, minced; 3 cups cooked brown rice; ½ cup crushed tomatoes; ¼ cup water; salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: In a skillet over medium heat, cook oil and onions for 5 minutes. Add garlic and taco seasoning. Continue cooking until onions are translucent. Add brown rice, crushed tomatoes, water and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Cook 1 minute to warm sauce. Serve immediately.
THINGS TO PREP AND FREEZE:
3. Chicken Stock
When it comes to chicken stock, store-bought is SO tempting. Let's face it. Making chicken stock takes planning and time. Buuuuut, homemade is SO superior. Check out the ingredients and salt content on your favorite store-bought brand. It will most likely disappoint. Fresh stock if simple to make and full of valuable nutrients.
Storage Tip: Chicken stock can start to take up a lot of room in a freezer. For this reason, I pour it into a Ziplock bag, seal it, lay it flat on a baking tray and allow it to freeze flat for 5-6 hours. Once it is frozen flat, it takes up almost no space (and you can stack it with other things you have frozen flat). Make sure to date and label!
- If you are making chicken or beef broth, make sure to use organic meat. If you are using meat that contains pesticides and additives, well.. it kind of defeats the purpose
- I make my stock in a crockpot overnight using THIS RECIPE from 100 Days of Real Food.
- Chicken stock can be stored in the freezer for 4-6 months.
Homemade basil pesto is one of the BEST things to stock up on in the Summer months when basil doesn't cost 1,347,032 million dollars and is easily accessible. It's perfect for throwing together a quick meal. It can be tossed with some pasta, used a a pizza base or in soups and stews. SO many options. Making your own is better than store-bought (are you noticing a trend yet?). When you make it from scratch you have control of the amount of oil used, salt content and the quality of ingredients.
Storage Tip: Pour pesto into an ice-cube tray and freeze for 2 hours. Remove frozen pesto cubes and store in a resealable plastic bag that has been dated and labeled.
- Pesto will last up to 3 months frozen.
- My favorite basil-pesto recipe..
Ingredients: 4 cups fresh basil; 1 cup grated parmesan cheese; ½ cup of pine nuts or walnuts, toasted; 3 garlic cloves roughly chopped; 1 lemon, zested and juiced; salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: Toast pine-nuts for 6-7 minutes in a 350 degree oven (watch carefully, they burn quick). In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together pine nuts, garlic, basil, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Drizzle in olive oil and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Storage Tip: There are lots of way to store prepared meats. You can do the freeze flat method I described above (I find this best for refrigerators with a freezer drawer) or you can use clear stackable containers (I find this best for French door refrigerators). It's really about what works for you!
5. Cooked Hamburger/Onion/Garlic Mixture
This frozen combo is one of the things that I reach for most often when I am perusing the freezer for last minute dinner options. It's the starting point for So. Many. Recipes. Sloppy Joes, Chili, Spaghetti Sauce, Pastas.. I could go on and on. Having it prepped and ready to go will save you TONS of time when you are throwing together a last minute meal.
- When I am stocking the freezer I usually make 5 lbs. of hamburger/onion/garlic at once. I then freeze them into 1 lb. or 2 lb. portions.
- Date and label. Ground beef should not be kept in the freezer longer than 3-4 months.
- Here is the recipe that I usually follow..
Ingredients: (per lb. of meat): ½ TBS olive oil; 1 large garlic clove, minced; 1 medium onion, chopped; 1 lb. ground beef; salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: To a skillet over medium-high heat, add olive oil and onion. Cook 3-5 minutes or until onion begins to soften. Add garlic. Cook an additional minute. Add ground beef, salt and pepper. Continue cooking until hamburger is no longer pink. Drain excess grease.
6. Shredded Chicken
Shredded Chicken is another one of those meal starters that you will find yourself reaching for time and time again. Nothing is worse than dinner being slowed down by a 35 minute wait while chicken bakes, cools and then get's shredded. Ain't nobody got time for that! You can use the shredded chicken for soups, casseroles, tacos, salads, pasta dishes, etc. Trust me, it's not going to go to waste.
- Like with the hamburger, onion, garlic combo, I usually make 5 lbs. of shredded chicken and divide it into 1 lb. or 2 lb. portions.
- Don't forget to date and label. Shredded chicken should not be kept in the freezer longer than 3-4 months.
- Here's how I make my chicken..
Ingredients (per lb. of meat): 1 lb. chicken, olive oil, salt and pepper
Instructions: Heat oven to 350. Pat chicken breasts dry and apply a very thin layer of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on thickness or until no longer pink in center. Allow cooked chicken breasts to cool and then use 2 forks to shred.
7. Taco Meat
I know what you're thinking, "I already made ground beef.. do I really need more?" First of all, who said it had to be beef? Cchicken and turkey are awesome with taco seasoning too! Second of all... YES! There is nothing easier than thawing some ready made taco meat, chopping a few veggies, plopping some whole wheat tortillas on the table and calling it dinner. It's simple, delicious and nobody will even realize that your motivation was laziness. My favorite kind of meal! You can also use this meat for salads, enchiladas, nachos and probably about a million other things that I just failed to mention.
- I usually don't make 5 whole lbs. of taco meat in addition to the hamburger/onion/garlic mix. In all honesty it gets to be a lot and I use the other more often. With that said, you do you!!
- Make sure to date and label. Do not keep cooked beef, turkey or chicken longer than 3-4 months.
- Here's how I make my taco meat...
Ingredients (per lb. of meat): 2 teaspoon minced onion, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon cornstarch, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon dried minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon oregano and 1 lb. ground chicken, turkey or beef, ½ cup water
Instructions: Mix minced onion, salt, chili powder, cornstarch, cumin, red pepper flakes, dried minced garlic and oregano in a small bowl. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Crumbled ground beef into hot skillet, Cook until beef is completely browned. Drain grease. Return ground beef to heat. Pour seasoning mixture and ½ cup of water over beef. Stir to combine. Bring to a smaller and cook until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes
Stock the Freezer: A 7 Day Challenge
Let me guess... feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea of all this cooking? Don't! I can help.
I've chunked this post into a 7 manageable tasks. The Stock the Freezer Challenge will help you make a plan, stick to it, and turn your freezer into the stuff that healthy meals are made of!
Click on the image below to get your FREE copy of Stock the Freezer: A 7 Day Challenge .
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Have you ever frozen fresh produce? I've done chopped fruits, especially strawberries, but have you ever frozen spinach or things like that? Has it worked for you or would you recommend doing something like that?
I loved all of your tips and advice! Very helpful!
Bailey Sissom says
Hi Katie! I don't freeze a lot of produce (doesn't mean it can't be done), but I have chopped onions, peppers, etc. and stored them in the freezer. Spinach and other greens also do really well frozen. Perfect for adding to soups, smoothies and pasta dishes. I'm so glad you found the post helpful!
Yes, I've frozen fresh spinach for smoothies. I just put it in a gallon ziploc freezer bag, remove as much air as you can, lay it flat and freeze. I also freeze berries after they have been washed, and dried. I usually freeze them on a cookie sheet first and then put them in a freezer ziploc bag.
Yes I have frozen kale. Spinach is the same process. You have to blanch the spinach and kale in boiling water for 2 minutes then plunge it into ice cold water or cold water with ice cubes for the 2 minutes, allow to dry by either using a salad spinner or spreading it out onto a clean kitchen towel.
Then bag and freeze. You could compact it into balls then freeze so it takes up less space or pat it flat in the freezer bag then freezer
Bailey Sissom says
Thanks so much for sharing!!!
Hi! Do you have to thaw the cooked beef/chicken before you cook with it?
Bailey Sissom says
Hi Ally. Yes, I usually pull it out the night before I plan to use it and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. That said, no reason you couldn't heat it frozen in the oven:)
What brand of containers do you use? How long have they lasted?
Bailey Sissom says
Hi Kate! I just use Freezer Safe Ziploc containers. I have been using my current ones for about 8 months with no problems:) Here is a link so you can see exactly what I am talking about http://amzn.to/2sPHGkl . Hope this helps!
Is there a trick to not getting the meat to freeze in a big chunk?
Bailey Sissom says
Hi Katie.. I don't know of one, but if anyone else does.. please share! I usually just defrost my meat the night before using by taking it out of the freezer and letting it hang out in the fridge overnight. By the time I am ready to use it, the clumping isn't really an issue anymore.
Aunt Fairy says
try using parchment/waxed paper to divdie the meat/
Bailey Sissom says
What a great hack! Definitely going to start doing this!
Katie, if you cool the cooked meat completely, then place on cookies sheets in a single layer and freeze for about an hour, maybe two, Then dump into a freezer bag or container, you should be able to just scoop it out by the cupful. If it is pre-frozen but sticking together, smack it and it should become crumbled again.
Another idea I came across. For ground meat (seasoned or not) stored in ziplocs. Put meat in bag, flatten and remove air. Then while bag is sealed and flat, use backside of long knife or round bamboo stick,etc, and press down to create squares in the bagged meat. Then freeze. You can then break off just the portion you need from the freezer and return the rest to the freezer. This works really well for us single folks
Bailey Sissom says
I love this!!! Thanks for the great tip:)