How Freezer Cooking Can Work with Real Foods

- A guest post from Katie Kimball -

If I wasn’t so madly in love with my husband, I might marry my freezer. I am deeply addicted to the ability to freeze food and make life more convenient in so many ways.

It’s easy to assume that cooking from scratch means I forfeit quick meals and never get to just pull something out of the freezer for dinner. Although in my switch to “real food” I had to nix the habits of popping open Campbell’s cream of chicken and falling back on Rice-a-Roni as a side dish, it’s not as though I’ve lost all my convenience foods.

Luckily, one of the greatest things about from-scratch whole food recipes is that it’s rarely double the work to make twice as much as our family needs. My freezers, one over the fridge and a small 2’x2′ waist-high chest freezer, are constantly filled to capacity.

I use my freezers as a convenience tool in two ways: to freeze ingredients for quick prep meals and to store whole dinners for those super busy days.

Some of my favorite “ingredients” to keep in the freezer include:

Easy preps

  1. Onions
  2. Peppers, sweet and spicy
  3. Celery

chopping onions

Chopping onions in bulk to freeze them.

For all of the above, I can dice or slice them and freeze without blanching, then pop into a meal directly from the freezer to the pan/pot.

The peppers in particular help me to save money, because for the price of two or three peppers in the grocery store in the winter, I can buy a half bushel of red and green bell peppers from the Farmer’s Market in the summer. Those inexpensive, local peppers are always ready for stir fry, fajitas, or chili.

preserve produce by freezing whenever I can.

Hidden vegetables

  1. Kale
  2. Spinach
  3. Zucchini
  4. Sweet potato & squash

Spinach

I’m a big fan of tossing extra veggies into the main dish whenever I can (mostly because I stink at tasty side veg dishes). When I make soups, casseroles, sauces, stews, chili, burritos, or just about anything that can handle a little extra bulk, I like to throw in one of the above veggies, which I freeze in ice cube trays and store in plastic bags.

The greens need to be blanched before freezing, zucchini can be diced and frozen without blanching, or shredded and stored in 2-cup portions for zucchini bread, and the orange veggies are baked and pureed, much like homemade baby food. Squash and sweet potatoes slide unobtrusively into jarred spaghetti sauce for a boost of Vitamin A.

And veggies go great in smoothies.

Summer fruits

sugared strawberries - turbinado

It’s become a really fun family tradition to take our kids strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and apple pickin’ in season. Our freezer really starts to burst by the end of the summer with 30 pounds each of blueberries and strawberries, 4-6 quarts of raspberries, some sliced and sugared peaches, and applesauce or apple slices headed for a mid-winter pie.

And how do we use them? We top our homemade yogurt, daily times four people, with frozen fruit, like strawberries. It’s almost like ice cream with a drizzle of raw honey on top! I could eat a teacup of frozen blueberries every night if we had a bigger freezer.

Homemade ingredients

Many real food techniques make a LOT of food with as much work as a little food. I make big batches and always have the following in my freezer, ready to make a healthy meal for my family:

  1. Homemade chicken stock (keeps us healthy in the winter!)
  2. Cooked beans (from dry)
  3. Shredded chicken, in 2-cup portions
  4. Dough of some sort: pizza, whole wheat tortillas, homemade crackers, or bread dough

Freezer Cooking, Real Food Style

chickpea wraps (8) (500x375)

When I tackled 12 meals in a day with a friend, I got a little too stressed out about the prep and tired out from the day to love the OAMC method. I do dearly love making a double meal and freezing one for later, however, which ends up being just about as helpful. I’ll freeze any soup, stew, sauce, most casseroles, burrito filling, and even a half pound of cooked ground beef when I’m feeling frugal and only put half into a recipe. Here are some of my favorites that are gracing my freezer list right now:

sausage bean and kale soup (10) (500x375)

Um, yes, we eat a lot of beans. It’s a consequence of the real food diet – since meat is more expensive, I keep the food budget in check with beans, which are also wonderfully nutritious. Plus, I’ve been doing final tests for my upcoming eBook, The Everything Beans Book (shameless plug).

You don’t have to have special freezer recipes to freeze a meal. Many, many recipes freeze well, and if you’re unsure, just freeze a single portion to test it out with little risk. Make your appliances work for you, while you work on feeding your family the most nutritious food you can!

new gravatar 125 Katie Kimball spends all the time she saves by preserving food in the freezer writing at Kitchen Stewardship, where she’ll help you balance the whole foods lifestyle with your care for the earth and your budget. She’s a mother of two kiddos with one on the way…and she’s planning to have a well-stocked freezer before the August birthday of number three!

What tricks do YOU use to make your freezer cooking a little healthier?

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Comments

  1. Great post! I am a bit lacking in the spectacular side dishes, too. My standard side is a variation on sauteing frozen homegrown veggies which I steam and freeze every summer in quart freezer bags.

  2. I want to start freezer cooking so bad what’s the best way to start and do u have sum recipes that would help?

    • @Tena, Certainly the recipes in this post are great, and Jessica (Life as Mom) has a whole series on Freezer cooking that will give you everything you need to know. :) Katie

    • @Tena,
      Katie mentioned it above. The easiest way is to double your dinner tonight and freeze one. This lets you get a handle on which of your favorites freeze well and requires little extra planning while filling your freezer!

  3. Have you had any success with brown rice in casseroles? I’m too afraid of a dinner failure (ie waste of money) but we don’t eat white rice in our home.

    • @Mary, Yes, I use brown rice all the time! In fact, you can even freeze cooked brown (or white) rice by itself. I put it in half cup portions so we can grab just one serving if we have leftover stir fry and not enough rice. Add a little water and it heats up just fine.

      I actually just made a reverse engineered recipe from a packaged food favorite that is a chicken/green bean casserole with brown rice. It will be coming in my Healthy Transformations eBook in late spring! :) Katie

  4. Such a great reminder for me! I have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately with meal prep stuff, partly due to the fact that I’ve been lazy about meal planning – that’s the first step – but carving out a little time to make sure things are ready to go in the freezer is SO helpful! My freezer’s is getting a bit bare right now, time to get it filled back up!

  5. Susan Alexander says:

    As much as possible, I try to double (or triple) recipes and freeze away. And then I “get” to use 1-2 of those each week to make my cooking easier. :) Although, right now I’m letting them pile up because I’m hoping to get pregnant in the next few months and I’m hoping to have a freezer stash to eat from if I get hit with morning sickness… ;)

    Oh, also I love to marinate meat in the freezer – you put the meat in the ziploc with the marinade, put it in the freezer, and it marinates while freezing and then again while thawing later. :)

  6. I use both freezer and canner. Other things that freeze well (or even can well, if you are friends with your pressure canner) include spaghetti sauce, taco meat, chili, meat seasoned as you like it for burritos or fajitas, even beef or chicken cooked and frozen or canned in stock. Why bother, when they are not whole meals? Because they are the time-consuming part! If the taco meat only requires opening a jar and warming, tacos or burritos go from time consuming to 10 minutes spent cutting up veggies! Quick stews or soups or skillet dishes using the beef or chicken are possible, using whatever else you have around. Spaghetti requires only warming up the sauce and making noodles or even a spaghetti squash (these CAN be successfully cooked in a crock pot, so you aren’t facing a long baking time at the end of a busy day). I also have one of the big roaster pots (like a giant crock pot), which allows me to make up monster batches of many things to freeze or can. If you have your own “convenience foods” ready to go, you aren’t nearly as tempted to serve Chef Boy-ar-dee or hit the fast food joint!

  7. I too am a huge fan of freezing food/meals.

    Whole chicken (when it goes on sale) goes into my crockpot, where it cooks all day. After cooling, I shred it into two-cup portions for later meals.

    The leftover broth is frozen as well, then strained upon defrosting to get rid of extra fat.

    Good stuff! I freeze nearly anything I have leftovers of: chili, bean soup, homemade noodles, etc.

    In the last six months, I purchased the book “Fix, Freeze, Feast” and I love it. I haven’t tried nearly everything yet – but just recently became a fan of the rice pilaf recipe. Next time, I’ll try it with brown rice and throw it all into my rice cooker!

  8. Great post! What do you freeze in? Freezer bags are too big for a lot of the single-serve type items you describe here.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      You can find freezer bags in pint, quart, gallon, and two gallon sizes now. It’s amazing! I also use a lot of reusable plastic containers with lids. Some people use canning jars. You can buy plastic reusable lids to fit all canning jars.

  9. Why do greens need to be blanched? I’ve been freezing them raw. I usually just put then in smoothies. But sometimes I’ll add them to something else like soup or a casserole.

  10. I love making my own baby food. I enjoyed your pictures. thanks for sharing. great comments too!

  11. This post makes me covet a deep freeze, deeply. Although they are energy hogs and not that green. I love the idea of buying stuff IN SEASON (when cheap at the Farmer’s Market) but having available WHENever. I hate getting my peppers from half-way around the world, and we need peppers year-round in our house.

  12. I love the idea of freezer cooking but since I love the zen of cooking itself it’s always been hard to get into the OAMC thing. I want to cook every day! But freezing ingredients and sauces helps a ton and lets me get my fix while saving time.

    I make pizza dough (I like PW’s recipe since the dough is nice and thin and stretchy,) as well as loads of pesto, which freezes nicely in little cups. Pesto makes any green vegetable good to my kids, and they love pizza with pesto and chicken with goat cheese or pesto and pepperoni. Just save a ball of dough in a freezer bag and either defrost on the counter or do it the quickie way — put the bag into a bowl of hot water for an hour.
    I also make and freeze shredded pork — throw a boston butt into the crockpot with a bottle of mojo or criollo sauce, turn on low, and walk away for the day! Great for tacos or sandwiches with coleslaw, esp if you pep up the slaw with a little jalapeno and cilantro.

    I don’t defat my chicken stock — isn’t it the fat that carries a lot of the compounds that fight off colds? I’ve had a great winter so far (no colds) after I started making my own stock.
    And I make Dutch Apple Cheese muffin mixes in my food processor and add the butter and cheese before freezing. All I have to do is stir and egg and some milk into the cold, dry ingredients and top with the apples before baking. The muffin recipe was a grand prize winner in Cooks Country magazine and I make it all the time.

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