I’ve come to realize that, for a busy woman like myself, the heart of the Well-Nourished Kitchen is really in the freezer. While it does take time and planning to regularly produce nutrient-dense meals, you can make up for lost time by taking full advantage of your freezer.
When you’ve gone through all the trouble of simmering stock on your stove for the past 12 hours (or 2, if you’re impatient), you gain that time back by storing 1-cup servings in your freezer for quick use in the future. Your enjoyment of certain types of produce isn’t relegated to its growing season anymore. You can freeze berries, chopped fruits, and vegetables and enjoy them all year long. You want a peach smoothie in January? Why not? When you’ve had a busy week and don’t have time to get to the market, you can still enjoy the home-cooked meal that you, in a moment of sheer brilliance, stashed away in your freezer weeks ago.
Dismiss your notions about pre-packaged, freezer-to-microwave foods and fill your valuable freezer space with nutrient-rich ingredients and home-cooked meals. While frozen TV dinners are easy, they are expensive and full of sodium, sugar, and lacking in life-giving nutrition. When you feel inspired and energized to cook a meal from scratch, simply double the recipe and freeze half for that day in the (near) future that you just don’t have the time or energy to tackle dinner.
Here are my freezer essentials:
Homemade Stocks and Broths: After you’ve allowed your stock to settle and skimmed off the fat, store it immediately in the freezer in 1-cup servings. While I have the best intentions of using my stock right away, I often find myself wasting the portion in the fridge because I let it sit too long. Freeze stock in plastic freezer bags and write the date, type of stock, and amount on the bag with a marker. Lay them flat on a shelf in the freezer so they maintain an easily stackable shape. These defrost in a pinch and are the perfect addition to soups, grains, and braised vegetables and meats. Most broths and stocks will stay fresh in your freezer for up to 1 year.
Bones: Bones are a valuable resource in the well-nourished kitchen, but sometimes you don’t have the quantity (or the time) to make broth right away. Save the bone scraps from the carcass of a chicken or turkey, the leg or shoulder from a lamb, the bones from stack or ribs, and the ham bone. Keep a large freezer bag for each type of meat, and add bones to the appropriate bag whenever you have them. When the bag is full, it’s time to make broth. These will keep in your fridge for up to 1 year so be sure to mark the date of the first bones you add on the outside of the bag.
Meat, Poultry, & Seafood: When you find a good source of sustainably-raised meat, don’t be afraid to stock up! These proteins will stay fresh up to 3 months in your freezer, as long as you store them correctly. The most important thing is to protect them from exposure to the air. Wrap meats very tightly in either plastic wrap or freezer paper, pressing the wrapping right up against the surface of the meat. Wrap with aluminum foil and place in a freezer bag. The vacuum-sealed plastic bags some meats come in are fine too. The best way to defrost meats is to place them in the fridge a day or two before you plan to eat them. This takes a little advanced planning, but it’s easier than going to the grocery store! I recommend always keeping a pound or two of ground beef, bison, turkey, or lam in your freezer for a quick meal.
Frozen Fruits & Vegetables: Frozen fruits and vegetables are the perfect, quick, nutrient-rich addition to smoothies, soups, and stews. When fruits and vegetables are frozen, they retain their nutrients and will keep for about 6 months. It’s fine to buy pre-frozen, organic produce from the store, but it’s cheaper to purchase fresh produce during its season and to wash, chop, and freeze it yourself.
Herbs: If you’re like me, you’re constantly throwing out old herbs you find in the back of your fridge after using 1 tablespoon in a recipe. While fresh herbs add vitality to a dish, frozen herbs reduce waste and allow you to cook up delicious meals without having to go to the grocery store. My favorite method of freezing herbs is to freeze 1 Tbsp. servings (washed and chopped) with water in ice cube trays, then transfer to a plastic bag once frozen. They’ll keep this way for 6 months.
Nuts & Seeds: Though nuts are most commonly stored at room temperature, nuts actually contain very fragile oils and remain fresher if kept cool. Store nuts in the refrigerator for daily use for up to 3 months and keep your stock of extra nuts in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Pre-Made Dishes: This is the real time saver, folks. Any time you make a dish that stores well, double the recipe and freeze it for a later date. Be sure to freeze it in single or family-sized servings so it’s easy to defrost. My favorite freezer items are bolognese and other sauces, soups, and stews. I also store single-serving bags of pesto in the freezer to add quick flavor to eggs, chicken, and spaghetti squash.
Frozen Purees: I learned this trick from the “flavor cubes” in Charlie Ayers’ cookbook, Food 2.0. The idea is that you puree a mixture of bold flavors and freeze them in ice cube trays to add a quick burst of flavor to soups, sauces, casseroles, or meats. My favorite combination is tomato, garlic, basil, and red wine vinegar – add to a pan with a little oil and heat up a piece of chicken or fish for a quick meal!
Am I missing anything?