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?
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. Onions: chopped 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. Celery: I 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 broth: I 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…
5. Cooked Bacon: Every 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.
6. 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 fruit: sliced 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 Nuggets: Easy 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. Walnuts: You 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.
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Find a great list of recipes you can make ahead at Life as MOM’s Ultimate Recipe Swap.