Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

10 Easy Prep Foods You’ll Always Find in my Freezer

March 18th, 2009 · 45 Comments · Do It Yourself

Once I start cooking, it’s a whirlwind from start to finish.  As a mother of young children, it’s important to save steps as much as possible.  I want dinner on the table quickly…but I don’t want to rely on fast food or packaged dinners.  What works for me?

chopping onions 2

Call me the freezer queen – one of my favorite strategies is to utilize my freezer space to the utmost (almost to abuse, probably). Here are the items you’ll always find ready to go in my freezer that make dinner prep go MUCH faster:

1. Peppers: sliced and chopped, sweet and spicy, I buy in the summer at the Farmer’s Market for cheap and use them in soup, chili, stir fry, fajitas, ETC all year long.  Peppers do not need to be blanched.  Just don’t eat them raw after freezing – yuck.

2. Onionschopped and in a bag, ready to throw in anything. I can chop extra onions while prepping an easy meal or even after the kids are asleep.  I use my easy food chopper, one of my favorite kitchen gadgets ever!  Onions need no blanching.  If you try this, make sure to get the chopped onions in the freezer quickly so they don’t start to get watery.  Freeze the bag as flat (thin) as possible at first, even if you are going to store it in the door like I do for easy access.  Also double bag for odor protection.  You might have to bang them around on the counter to break up a big clump, but it’s a good way to take out some aggression!  I love that this also saves tears, because you only have to cut onions once for 5 meals or so.

3. CeleryI have one bag of chopped celery for casseroles and soups and another of 3-inch sticks and leaves to throw into stocks and broths. No need to blanch.  My celery would definitely go bad in the fridge every time I bought it if I didn’t do this!

4. Cubes of chicken brothI make my own broth (click here for method) and freeze some of it in can-sized portions and some in ice cube trays. This is ideal for those doggone recipes that call for 1 cup of chicken broth.  What are you supposed to do with the rest of the can?  If you don’t make your own broth, freeze “the rest of the can” in ice cube trays for next time…

UPDATE:  I’m going to start freezing homemade cream of chicken soup, too, after reading how well it works in the comments when I posted it.  Also find 3 freezable casserole recipes here.

5. Cooked BaconEvery time we have bacon, I fry up the whole pound and freeze the leftovers. It can be crumbled into recipes that call for cooked bacon, plus it’s my favorite topping for homemade pizza.  I also freeze pepperoni as soon as we open it.

Easy Freezer Prep Foods for Fast Cooking from Scratch :: via Kitchen Stewardship6. Lemon and Lime Juice:  I try to find these on reduced produce, or at least a whole bag on sale.  I juice them all and freeze in ice cube trays in 1 Tbs portions.  They can be popped right into recipes like White Chicken Chili, or thawed and used for Homemade Guacamole.

7. Summer fruitsliced and sugared, whole. Mmmm, nothing beats June strawberries in the dead of winter.  We use a lot of frozen fruit in yogurt (click here for my easy homemade no dishes version!), so this is essential to have on hand, plus much less expensive to buy in season.

8. Meatballs and Chicken NuggetsEasy meals! I make at least 4-5 pounds of meatloaf mix every time I make it and just make a few meatloaves and a bunch of meatballs.  I can just toss a dozen into a pot with a jar of sauce, and dinner is ready in 10 minutes.  Homemade chicken nuggets are a tiny bit time consuming, and I love being able to do the dishes once for three meals or so.  The nuggets freeze individually and can be popped out and warmed in the toaster oven in 10 minutes or less.

9. Shredded zucchini: Another summer bounty item.  I always buy four humongous ones for a dollar at the Farmer’s Market, shred them all at once in the blender (or food processor) – notice doing less dishes is a theme here! – and freeze in Ziplocs in 2-cup portions for zucchini bread in the winter. You can also freeze cubed zucchini without blanching or shredded in ice cube trays to add to recipes.  Sneak it into soups and casseroles, even jarred spaghetti sauce, to boost the veggie content of the meal.

10. WalnutsYou can’t beat the sales on walnuts just before Christmas when everyone is thinking about baking. I try to buy enough to last the whole year and just toss the thick bags in the freezer.  I also chop a whole pound at a time in my blender and store that bag in the door of the freezer to add to quick breads and cookies.

Bonus:  A bag of leftover cooked veggies for soup.  See this post for details.  UPDATE: My philosophy and tips on how to cook extra meals and freeze in advance.  Three casseroles in one hour as a modified once-a-month-cooking day.

Did you appreciate these tips?  Find more ways to make easy changes in your kitchen at the Monday Mission checklist or sign up for a free email subscription or grab my reader feed. You can also follow me on Twitter, get KS for Kindle, or see my Facebook Fan Page.

Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to helping people balance God’s calls to be good stewards of our earth, health, budget and time.  Find out more about the mission here.

Freezer on Foodista

Find a great list of recipes you can make ahead at Life as MOM’s Ultimate Recipe Swap.

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45 Comments so far ↓

  • Mary Ellen

    Great tips! I never thought about freezing celery before. I always buy a bunch for a recipe then the rest ends up going bad in the fridge.

    Val in MN Reply:

    ME too!! I’m going to chop and freeze the partial bunch in my veggie drawer right now!

  • Heatherc

    Hi! I just stumbled across through WFMW and was wondering about freezing strawberries. Do you flash freeze them first? Are they mushy upon thawing?

    Katie Reply:

    Sarah, Ooooo, how big? I’m interested to see your recipe — I feel like I’m always doing something different with mine and then not writing it down, so I have no consistency. I read about some ladies who make such a big batch that they mix it in a Rubbermaid storage tub! That sounds like fun, eh? ;)

  • mom2fur

    You have some great ideas! I never thought about grabbing lemons or limes from the discount rack and freezing the juice. Definitely gonna try that one!

  • mub

    This is a wonderful post. It looks like I’m not the only one who has a problem with dying celery because I never use the whole thing fast enough!

  • Katie

    Heather,

    I have 3 ways I freeze strawberries: whole, sliced, and sliced/sugared. To freeze without sugar, I spread them out on a cookie sheet first (either whole or sliced) and freeze them that way, then transfer to a bag or container. Sometimes the sliced ones get stuck together, but a big clump can just go in a smoothie. I tend to use them frozen: smoothies for whole berries and in yogurt for sliced. Yes, when they thaw, they’re “mushy”, but mixed into yogurt they’re just delicious. If you want sugared berries for topping on ice cream or shortcakes (or yogurt too), just use about 1/4 cup sugar to a generous bowl (3-4 cups?) of sliced berries, mix up and store. My favorite way to eat these is about half thawed, so they’re really cold with little ice crystals…oh, I’m salivating just thinking about it! :)

  • Heatherc

    Thanks so much- theyre on sale here for 99 cents a lb- I’m going try it out :)

  • Donna @ WayMoreHomemade

    I do much of this as well, but some of these ideas were new to me.
    I posted on freezing leftover egg whites today. :)

    Good tips all… thanks.

  • Katie

    Heather,
    They’ll probably still be decent in smoothies, but depending on where you live, fresh and local is far and away tastier! In Michigan, our strawberry season is June. They don’t compare to what I can get in the store any time of year. :)

  • Sarah

    Great post Katie!

    I too keep celery, onion and peppers in my freezer! I’ve also frozen a mixed batch of the three that I know will be the right amount for one of my favorite meals, jambalaya! (But I’ve learned to not do too many bags of it – or else when I go to make another variety of soup that doesn’t call for peppers, I’m stuck! :)

    I’m hoping to make a big batch of meatballs this week (you’ll see me detail it on my blog in the next few days) – wish me luck!

    Best,
    Sarah

  • Alisa@Foodista

    Great tips, and what a great blog as well,Hope you wont mind but I’d love to guide Foodista readers to your site, just add this little widget here to this post and it’s all set to go, Thanks!

  • Elizabeth

    I love the lemon/lime juice tip!

    Here is my favorite freezer treasure: browned ground beef. When it is on sale, I will buy 5-10 pounds and brown in it batches. I then divide it into 1 or 2 pound portions and freeze it in zipper bags. I use the meat in my crockpot for chili or taco soup or sloppy joes…it makes the prep quick and easy in the morning if the meat is browned and ready to go!

    Katie Reply:

    Very smart! I should do this more often myself. Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth – I hope you’ll be a regular!

  • Shawna

    Great tips. I already have local peppers and fruits in the freezer awaiting my first long winter without my beloved farmers market. But I did not think about the onions. That was another local item I was going to miss this winter. The farmers market is today so I think I will buy quite a few of them. Also in learning to cook I have begun to learn about lemons and how good they are for you and how you can use them in so much. Great idea for the lemon juice.
    I finally got up the nerve to try Chicken broth a few weeks ago. My freezer is getting full quick now. It is time to get that deep freeze.

  • Rebecca

    I never would have thought of this, and what a great way to save time and money! Especially the onions; I hate chopping them!

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  • Jimmie

    My freezer must have list (even before I got my fancy chest freezer) would be
    broth
    mashed pumpkin (from fresh)
    beans (from dry)
    a few brown/black bananas (for bread or smoothies)
    .-= Jimmie´s last blog ..How to Learn Chinese =-.

  • jackie

    I completely love this post. I’m definitely with you on the homemade chicken stock but I’m going to try out some of your others too! Found you on Tip Junkie. Can’t wait to check out the rest of your blog.
    : )
    jackie.
    .-= jackie´s last blog ..Meatloaf Muffins =-.

  • Robin Ingram

    I know this is a bit late to be replying, but I just wanted to say that I am really inspired by this post. I constantly feel like I am the worst homemaker ever and really regret not asking my mom to “teach me” when I was younger. I really struggle desperately with meals in the kitchen….mainly just being able to be healthy at the same time as being quick and simple. We moved recently (two days after my son was born to be exact!) and replaced my fridge, and my old one is in the garage and has been for a while. Needless to say, it is totally nasty, but I am very motivated to clean it out now and follow your suggestions! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Katie Reply:

    Robin,
    Welcome! You’re not alone in our generation, wishing we could have learned more from our moms. You’re in a huge time of transition,, with a new house and a new baby, so you definitely need to cut yourself some slack for a little while. Then you can take baby steps to get back on track. Hopefully you can find some good ideas here and stay motivated! :) Katie

  • Emma

    What a lot of great ideas you’ve posted. I also love using my freezer, but reading your post has inspired me to use it even more!
    Here are my tips to add to the mix:
    If a recipe only calls for the juice of a lemon, zest the skin into a baggie and freeze it for later. It’s so handy when a recipe calls for a Tablespoon of lemon zest/rind.
    Also, when I buy a whole celery, I cut the base and leaves off, give them a rinse and chuck them in a bag in the freezer for making chicken stock later. Because the stock gets strained, nobody will know you used the inedible bits to get extra flavour. (I store the celery stalks in a Tupperware Fridgesmart container in the fridge and they stay crisp for weeks in there.)
    When I cut the head off an onion, I sometimes also chuck it in a freezer bag for making stocks.
    And sometimes I’ll really thoroughly scrub my carrots before peeling them, so I can save the skin for going into stock.
    It’s all about making stock in my household!

  • Rebecca C

    I do most of them already, but I never thought to freeze onions before. What a great idea! Hubby and I are not at all fond of onions unless they are very well cooked, so we only use onions once a week or so. This will keep them from going to waste. :)

  • Amy M

    LOVE this post. As a working mom I’ve found freezer cooking is the only way to provide a nutritious home cooked meal in as little as time possible. Thank you for some great tips!

    I’d like to add the garlic also freezes well. I don’t like to chop garlic and I often only need a clove or two and then end up throwing the rest of the bulb away. To save time and waste I purchase a large bag of peeled whole garlic cloves at Costco and puree them in my food processor with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. I then press this mixture into 1T sized ice cube trays. Once frozen I put all cubes into freezer bag. If I need less than 1T I simply cut the cube in half and save the rest for later. These method works great for me since I don’t like the flavor of the already minced garlic sold in jars.

  • Lauren

    Peeled ginger – if the grater is reeeeally sharp, ginger grates more cleanly frozen than raw. Lime leaves and sliced lemongrass. Chopped garlic – my hands stink often enough, thank you very much! And finally: a big tub of the week’s peelings to toss into whichever stock I’m making that weekend.
    The “sometimes” list: Raw pureed liver frozen in an ice cube tray, for upping the nutrition in ground beef meals. Raw breakfast sausage patties, veggie patties – anything in patty form is a hit at snacktime. Grated celeriac, since we don’t always want the whole bulb at once and they go smooshy once cut open; works great as a “primal” soup thickener.
    Freezers rock :)

    Katie Reply:

    Lauren,
    Awesome additions! I do the liver thing now too, but not when I wrote this post. :) Katie

  • Christi

    We also keep bacon in the freezer at all times. We buy in bulk and bake it all up in the oven. You can see how at http://mealsanddealsmom.blogspot.com/2010/11/oven-baked-bacon.html.
    I also never thought of freezing celery. It seems to fall into the never-freeze-lettuce category. I will try this because I often have wilty celery in my fridge.

  • Shelby

    Great tips!!! Love it! I am going to start freezing onions starting tonight. I have a little suggestion for freezing the onion or anything, really and not have to beat it to death to break it apart before use. I do this with grapes, bananas, and sausages. I lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them a bit before I put them in the freezer bags. Then they don’t stick together in the bag and you can pull them out one at a time. Thanks again!

  • Chrissy

    A nice tip for keeping celery fresher longer is when you get it home, take it out of the plastic bag you get it in at the grocery store and completely wrap it in aluminum foil. Works every time and makes it last 3x+ as long! :)

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  • Amanda

    I do some of these as well (bread crumbs, onions, walnuts) and will definitely be adding the rest. I also slice up over ripe bananas for smoothies and banana nut bread muffins. I also lay raw bacon on wax paper on cookie sheets, freez and snap off and store in a bag ao I can pull put a slice or two at a time. I cook it on my George and it tastes great. Otherwise, I would throw half the package away.

    Katie Reply:

    Amanda, you can save even more time (which you’ll need now that you’re committed to doing so much from scratch) by just tossing bananas into a bag, maybe broken in half. Both smoothies and bread don’t need any special treatment! ;) Katie

  • Cortney

    I know this post is a couple years old but I’m curious about freezer zip bags. I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of plastic in my home( storage containers, food containers, etc) mainly for health reasons. My husband gets on me for using so many plastic baggies and it bothers me too. Should it not?

    Katie Reply:

    Cortney,
    Plastic zip bags are safer plastic, but who knows what we don’t know yet, you know? I tend not to store or freeze anything liquid in them, but there are just times I can’t figure out any other way. ??? Outside the freezer, I try to avoid them when possible – there are some neat cloth bags available for lunches and such (http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/09/13/back-to-school-bonanza-a-greener-option-for-your-sandwiches-review/). Hope that sheds some light! :) Katie

    Cortney Reply:

    Thanks Katie! I agree, you gotta do what you gotta do! I suppose it makes me feel better to know that other health conscious mom’s are using them, hoping they’re safe enough ….BTW, I love, love, love your site. I’ve been working on the baby steps for a while now. Now that I’ve found you and all your insight, it’s hard not to want to do it all at once. My husband’s all for it but I think he’s overwhelmed!

  • Annie MommyO3cherubs

    Thank you for such grate tips. I’m just now building my frezer menus & this post was a huge help. Some things I like to keep on hand are: cubes of lemonade to drop in a tall glass of cold water during the summer, coffee drink cubes ((simple syrup with instant coffee & even flavor of choice mixed in) make ice coffee readily available for unexpected guests or whatever, & sandwich bases (chicken salad, ham & cheese we add mayo & things later, & of course PB&J). But seeing what you posted here just opened a whole new set of options for me & my family. Thank you again. God bless.

  • claudia

    Wondering about the whole refreezing thing?? I buy my beef and chicken from the farm, so all my meat is already frozen. When I take it out, make something (cook it–such as meatballs) and then refreeze, my flavor just plunges. Does anyone else have this problem, and is there a solution?

    Katie Reply:

    Claudia,
    I don’t think it’s frowned upon to thaw, then cook, then freeze. I wonder if you just don’t like the flavor of food that’s been frozen, period, and it’s nothing to do with the previously frozen raw meat. ?? Be sure to wrap things really tightly and get all the air out; that will help keep freezer flavor out. :) Katie

  • Darlene

    Wow, you have some great ideas listed here. I am repinning and I am a new follower. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Diane

    When I freeze celery it always turns brown. How do you keep it from turning brown. I do wash it before I freeze it. Is that my mistake

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Diane,
    Hmmm, I’ve never had that happen! Does it taste bad after you cook it too? I do wash it first…I guess just make sure your knives are sharp and that you’re freezing it right after cutting. :) Katie

  • Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    The cooked bacon is a great idea! I usually separate and freeze it in different portions, but I think cooking it all is a much better idea. Thanks for the tip!

  • Angel

    I didn’t even know having “leftover” bacon was possible! :) Great list! I will be adding these to my freezer.

  • Tanya

    Wait! You have left over bacon!?! Please tell me how that works. LOL!

    Seriously, thanks for the tips. I didn’t know I could freeze celery for soups, etc.

    I’ve been freezing whole tomatillos from my garden like you do strawberries: washed, freeze whole on a baking sheet, and then dump them into a freezer bag.

    Pam Reply:

    I was thinking the same thing… who the heck has leftover bacon?? Lol. We eat an entire pound in one meal around here. I don’t have enough pans or oven space to bake more than a pound at a time or else I would!

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I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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