Is it just me or do your afternoons sometimes get sucked into a vortex, too? I mean, one moment I’m seemingly ahead of schedule, and the next I’m looking at a cold stovetop and three hungry little potami. Fortunately, my trusty freezer is always on call, ready to serve up pre-prepped items that can be quickly made into meals.
Some are one-pot dishes that can be cooked without thawing beforehand, others are single ingredients that can be combined with whatever’s on hand for a quick weeknight meal. For example, cooked, shredded chicken can be quickly thawed to make burritos, a chicken salad, soup, paleo quesadillas, younameit.
Now, maybe you’re not sucked in by the afternoon vortex as often as I am. Even so, there are AT LEAST TWO good reasons to freeze pre-prepped ingredients and meals:
Reason #1: You’ll save money by stocking up on sale items
As I mentioned in this post on eating real food on a budget, farmer’s markets and grocery stores sometimes have amazing deals on produce. I once bought juicy, organic, harvested at the peak of ripeness tomatoes for $1 per pound! When that happens, it’s a great idea to stock up and freeze some for later.
As a bonus, freezer’s actually use less energy when they’re full, so stocking up is more economical, too!
Reason #2: You’ll save time by prepping in bulk and washing fewer dishes
Another benefit is that you can cook once, clean once, and eat twice. (Or three times!) After you’ve pulled out your ingredients it takes just a few extra moments to measure out a second (or third) batch, and cleanup is about the same regardless. When you’re done, though, you can eat half and put the rest in the freezer for an easy meal later on.
Ready to get started? Here are some tips for freezing foods properly
- To keep berries, muffins, meatballs, etc. from sticking together, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer the items to a container/bag.*
- Be aware that foods with a high water content – particularly some fruits and vegetables – will have a different texture when thawed. Berries are a good example. They’re just as delicious, but softer, and typically do better in recipes that are cooked vs. raw. For example, I might use the berries to make a freezer jam. (They can also be used to make smoothies, but using them raw in this way is an exception to the general rule.)
- When freezing items like bread (or paleo bread), I skip flash freezing and instead place a thin strip of parchment paper between the slices to keep them from sticking together.
* I prefer to store certain ingredients in parchment paper lined freezer bags. It keeps the plastic away from the food and keeps the bags clean so they can be reused.
Foods That Freeze Well
Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. As explained in this article, “It stops the enzymes that keep vegetables ripening, helps get rid of dirt and bacteria, brightens color, slows vitamin and mineral loss, and wilts and softens the vegetables so they are easier to pack.”
How To Blanch Vegetables
“To blanch vegetables, bring a large pot of water to a boil (use at least 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables). Add the vegetables to the water. Once the water returns to a boil, cook the vegetables 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and transfer them immediately to a bowl of ice water until they are completely chilled. Drain the vegetables well.” (source) If you want precise cooking times for specific veggies. Andrea Dekker has a downloadable pdf available on this post.
These veggies need to be blanched before freezing:
- brussels sprouts
- green beans
- lima beans
- peas (sugar snap, snow, etc.)
- sweet potatoes
These veggies do not need to be blanched before freezing
- beets (peeled and chopped)
- garlic (whole or chopped)
- ginger (it’s technically a rhizome, but I’m including it here for the sake of simplicity)
- onions (roughly chopped)
- pumpkin or another winter squash like butternut (cooked)
- tomatoes (roughly chopped)
These veggies do NOT freeze well:
- potatoes (raw)
Budget Tip: Save veggie scraps to add to broth. I keep mine in a bag in the freezer and add to it over time.
- Butter – Just toss it in whole. Easy peasy.
- Medium/hard cheeses – Grate before freezing and add to cooked dishes.
- Milk – Because it is not homogenized, raw milk will separate when frozen. The cream gathers into chunks, which is not very appealing. Fortunately, you can simply run it through a blender after thawing to restore consistency. One thing to keep mind is that milk expands when frozen, so you need to pour off a cup or so before placing the container in your freezer to prevent it from bursting.
- Cream cheese – The texture becomes lumpy, but if you’re using it for baking (like a casserole) it shouldn’t be a problem.
- Cottage cheese – The texture becomes watery, but it works fine id you pour the water off and use in a veggie lasagna or something baked.
- Homemade mayo (or store-bought)
- Sour cream
- Yogurt (raw, store-bought yogurts have stabilizers that may help them retain consistency better when frozen)
In addition to keeping raw meat on hand, I also like to keep small batches of cooked meat that can be quickly thawed on weeknights. Here are some examples of how I use them:
- Cooked, shredded chicken – burritos, a chicken salad, soup, paleo quesadillas, quick chicken soup
- Ground beef – tacos, burritos sloppy joes, paleo nachos, etc.
Muffins, bread and other baked goods
Most baked items freeze well. On super busy nights, one of my favorite things to do is quick-thaw some bread in a warm oven for sandwiches. If I have some cooked meat on hand I’ll add that, if not we have fried eggs with mayo, avocado, etc. Here’s an overview of what I try to keep on hand.
- Paleo bread (or traditionally-prepared bread) – Place parchment paper between slices to prevent them from sticking together
- Paleo tortillas – Place parchment paper between tortillas to prevent them from sticking together
- Cookies (Or just the dough, frozen into cookie dough bites. This paleo chocolate chip cookie recipe is egg-free.)
- Pancakes and waffles – Place parchment paper between them to prevent them from sticking together
Herbs (With One Condition)
Most herbs will turn brown if you try to freeze them, but there’s a workaround. Mix them with olive oil (or butter) and freeze them in ice cubes. The fat will keep them fresh, and as a bonus you have a starter for sautéing all kinds of dishes. Just toss the cube in the pan, warm on low, and add in whatever you like.
Fruits (With One Condition)
Tip: To keep fruit from sticking together, flash freeze it. Just spread it in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer the items to a container/bag.
- bananas (Peel before freezing. Overripe bananas make great banana bread, and under-ripe bananas are a great source of resistant starch that can be added to smoothies)
- citrus fruits – Cannot be frozen whole, but you can squeeze the juice and freeze it. The zest can also be frozen.
- freezer jams – Here’s a strawberry jam recipe to get you started.
- grapes – But only if you’re going to eat them frozen. They turn to mush if allowed to thaw.
- Apples – Can be frozen whole, then thawed and peeled for use in pies or homemade apple sauce.
- Avocado – Can’t be frozen whole, but it can be pureed and mixed with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to prevent browning (about 1 tablespoon per avocado). Okay for adding to guacamole or avocado dressing.
- Watermelon – But only if you’re pureeing them to make popsicles.
Though they can’t be frozen in shells (they have a habit of exploding), raw eggs can be added to ice cube trays, transferred to bags after they are frozen, and then pulled out as needed for baking or scrambled eggs. I stock up on eggs during late summer/fall when my chickens are laying, because production slows down through the winter. If you buy from a local farmer you might find this necessary, too. This is the ice cube tray I use.
Tried-And-True Freezer Meals
You can find a few at the bottom of this post on throwing a freezer meal prep party with friends.
Soups, Stews, Chilis and Broths
Virtually everything in this category freezes beautifully. Here are a few recipes to get you started:
- Wine (When placed in the freezer, wine takes on a slushy-like consistency. I like to keep some on hand for use in stews and sauces.)
- Chocolate (for baking, keeps it fresh)
- Tomato paste
- Homemade ketchup (or store-bought)
- Marinara sauce