Guest Post | A Well-Stocked Freezer: the Secret to Easy, Healthy Meals

by Natalie

Hi Everyone! Well I am not a registered dietitian, but am a good friend of Natalie’s, and aspire to be a loyal follower of her nutritional guidance. I thought I would share some of my tips for keeping the great ingredients Natalie recommends on hand, in frozen, nicely portioned amounts.

I don’t know about you, but I love buying and cooking food in bulk. It allows me to shop less often and save a few bucks while doing it. BUT, I also seem to never be able to keep fresh food in my fridge from going bad, and I hate throwing it away. I believe a well-stocked freezer is just as important as a well-stocked pantry.

INGREDIENTS IN MY WELL STOCKED FREEZER

Proteins

My husband is a protein fiend – so even when I try to cook vegetarian, I know he will rarely enjoy a meal without some meat tossed in. Dealing with raw meat is not my favorite thing, so 2 additions I always have on hand are pre-cooked pulled chicken, and pre-cooked chicken sausage. These are both great to pull out and stir into a soup or pasta, top a pizza – or just about anything!

  • Pulled Chicken – We buy 2 small whole chickens at our local butcher shop and cook them in the slow cooker each week. I honestly don’t know how I cooked meals before doing this regularly! All it takes is adding a little seasoning, and setting the cooker to low with a probe set to 180. Mmmm does the the house smell delicious when these are done! We pull both chickens (my husband loves this job), let them cool, and freeze. Huge bonus from cooking them this way – you also end up with around 4 cups of very dense broth when you are done that can also be frozen.
  • Chicken Sausage – For these, I buy them pre-cooked and use the cookie-sheet method described below to freeze.

(I hope to soon start experimenting with freezing home-cooked black beans as an alternative to cans, but haven’t tried that yet!)

Broths and Sauces

  • Marinara sauce – Every few months on a free Sunday evening I will make a big batch of a marinara sauce that I use both for pasta and pizza, and freeze. This is my go-to recipe, but use your favorite! Other sauces I’ve made and frozen include homemade enchilada sauce (so much tastier and better for you than the salty canned kind!) and a peanutty-Asian sauce for stir-fry. Having homemade sauces on hand really makes a quick meal come together with whatever veggies you happen to have around.
  • Chicken broth – For this I pour out the broth from my slow-cooker chickens (see protein section above) through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and let it separate and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Toss the solidified fats from the top, and it’s kind of like condensed-chicken-jello (I know – ick – but stay with me, it’s worth it). This can be frozen using the flat-ziploc method or ice-cube tray method. I prefer the latter because it’s so dense that you’ll want to dilute it 1:1 for using in a recipe. Of course this doesn’t have to be homemade broth – if you only partially use a carton of broth from the store, just freeze the rest for use later!

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Pictured left to right: pulled chicken, chicken sausage, chicken broth, bell peppers

Veggies & Fruits

  • Bell Peppers – I have an obsession with these guys. Pretty much every meal in our house starts with chopped onions and bell peppers as the base. When they are on sale, or when I’ve bought too many and not used them quickly enough, I will wash and chop them into a thick julianne and freeze raw using the Cookie-Sheet Method.
  • Diced Celery and Carrots – It’s great to have these on hand to whip up a quick batch of soup. For these I’ll do a quick blanch before freezing using the Cookie-Sheet Method.
  • Hearty Greens & Mushrooms – some veggies are better when frozen after cooking, with these guys I’ll do a quick saute before cooling and freezing.
  • Bananas – My husband is crazy about having frozen chunks of banana on hand. Now that he’s used to adding these to his smoothies he prefers it to fresh. They make it nice and creamy, almost like you’ve added ice cream!

Other Fruits I do this with: Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries.

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Cheeses

I’ve found that some cheeses freeze really well and are so handy to use in cooking. When thawed the texture changes a bit so you have to use them in something you are baking. I often toss goat cheese or good shredded parm into the freezer if I notice they might go bad in my fridge.

No-Prep Freezer Staples

I’m sure most of you already do this but there are some staples that I keep in my freezer that require no preparation whatsoever – I buy these frozen and ready-to-use. These include: Frozen Fruit (blueberries, berry-mix, mangos, raspberries), Frozen Veggies (stir-fry mix, broccoli, green beans, corn), and some Starches (brown organic rice, loaf of whole-wheat bread, loaf of half-used french bread). Some other freezer staples I’ve discovered in the last few years at higher end grocers like Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s include garlic, basil, and shallots.

FREEZING METHODS

The Cookie-Sheet Method

This is a great method for anything solid you want to grab out of the freezer by the handful. Spread your items out on a cookie-sheet so the edges are barely touching if at all and partially freeze flat for at least an hour or so. Slide them into a gallon-size Ziploc bag.

I use this for : Julianned bell peppers, Large chunks of banana, Whole pre-cooked chicken sausages, Diced celery, Diced carrots, berries

The Flat-Ziploc Method

This is a great way to freeze liquids and sauces. Fill your freezer bags about ¾ full and stack them flat on their sides so they freeze in a nice shape for easy storage. Flat Ziploc with Partitions : I recently started doing this with pesto, where I only want a small portion each time, and also pre-cooked shredded chicken. Lay the bag down flat and using a knife, make indentations to separate the contents while freezing. It’s much easier to grab a half or quarter of the quantity when you do this!

I use this for : Marinara sauce, Chicken broth, Enchilada sauce, Pesto sauce, Pre-cooked shredded chicken

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The Ice-Cube Tray Method

Possibly my favorite of them all. It’s great for chicken broth especially where you may only need a cup or two for a recipe and don’t want to deal with thawing a whole quart. Just pour into ice cube trays, freeze until solid, and pop out into a gallon-size freezer bag. Tip: If you ever buy the mini-cube trays from Trader Joe’s with Garlic and Basil, save them and reuse for small stuff! Last summer I froze dozens of trays full of minced serrano peppers into cubes and we spiced up our chili with them all winter long.

Tips

Keep a sharpie marker around in the kitchen to label your bags with the contents, date made, and date to toss. When I am considering whether/how to freeze a particular or item, or for how long, I always go to the last chapter of Joy of Cooking that gives an overview on just about any ingredient, as well as how it can be prepared or stored. I could honestly read this section like a book, it is so interesting!

What are the go-to items in your freezer? Any tips to share?

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A note from Natalie:

Don’t you just love her?! Amanda is truly a one of a kind gal.  I feel so blessed to have her in my life. She is the only lady I know that has an engineering degree that can also sew a baby bib, build a bed, and look smokin’ in a black cocktail dress (probably all at the same time too). She can do just about anything. Thank you Amanda for this awesome post. I can’t wait to try some of your suggestions.  

{ 9 comments }

Marilyn May 23, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Great ideas. You girls are talented! I learn something new everyday.

Brittany May 23, 2013 at 8:38 pm

This was so helpful! Just what I needed! Thank you Natalie and Amanda! This motivates me to get to work and start cooking at home more.

Melissa May 23, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Great post Amanda, I love the tip about the cookie sheet freezing method! I definitely need to put some of these into practice.

One thing I started freezing that has been awesome is tomato paste – then I don’t have to waste a whole can when a recipe only calls for a tablespoon!

Amanda May 23, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Great idea melissa! I do that too with tomato paste!

.. Also remembered that I always have whole wheat tortillas and flatbreads in the freezer too, other great staples to build a quick meal on.

Natalie May 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I freeze tomato paste too, but I try not to buy canned all that often due to BPA. I love those toothpaste-type squeeze containers that tomato paste is also sold in.

My go-to freezer items are wild, Alaskan Salmon filets from Costco, blueberries, strawberries, sprouted bread, sprouted corn tortillas, frozen spinach, and various frozen veggies (mostly to make baby food for my little one). Trader Joe’s has a lot of really good, healthy frozen items.

Amanda – I love your pulled chicken idea!

Monica May 30, 2013 at 5:50 am

I’m sure you guys do this too but I freeze bread. I have a gluten free diet so although the shop bought varieties are good I’m experimenting with baking my own. Once I have a good loaf I slice, freeze and only take out what I need when I need.

Natalie May 30, 2013 at 10:31 am

I love to freeze bread too! My favorite bread is the Food4Life 7 grain. So neat that you started baking your own bread. I bet it tastes amazing!

Hannah August 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Wow this has really inspired me!

p.s Just bought your book Natalie and can’t put it down! My Mum also had cancer and completely changed her diet to help herself. I am finding all this fascinating!

Thanks x

Natalie August 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Im soo glad Hannah! Thank you for purchasing my book too! Well wishes to you and your mum.

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