15 Versatile Freezer Foods to Simplify Meal Prep

My journey to easy meal preparation was not an easy one. I started by trying some “dump” recipes where you put all of the ingredients for an entire meal into a bag and then when you are ready to cook, you can just dump the whole thing in your slow cooker.  The problem was some of the foods were overcooked, while others were undercooked.  I eventually decided that any recipe with the word, “dump” was not a recipe for me.

I also tried freezing different casseroles and soups, but while there were some successes, many turned to mush. The other problem was that we like a lot of variety and, after having a meal, I usually didn’t want to repeat it for months.  This is why I eventually learned to just freeze versatile ingredients that I can use in many of our favorite meals.

Why should I consider freezing these ingredients?

  • improves meal quality
  • increases meal variety
  • saves food prep time
  • reduces dirty dishes
  • saves money since you can buy in larger quantities or stock up when items are on sale
  • reduces food waste
  • often helps with portion control

How should I freeze the following items? It varies depending on the amount you expect to use at any one time. One idea is to freeze in portions and then move the frozen portions into zippered plastic bags.

Another space saver is to freeze in a zippered bag and then flatten the bag out before freezing so items can be stacked. Best of all, after the items are frozen, they could be stood upright in plastic bins similar to folders in a filing cabinet if your freezer allows this configuration.

Finally, when you expect to need larger amount, it works well to freeze in plastic or glass freezer containers. If you would like to do this, look for square containers since they use space more efficiently.

Some people prefer taking a day once a month to do all of their meal prep, but that isn’t for everybody. Most of the items listed below can be prepared in large quantities during the regular preparation of a meal and the unused portion frozen for future use.

What should I freeze?

  • Cooked Ground Beef Crumbles
  • Cooked Sausage Crumbles
  • Cooked Shredded Chicken
  • Cooked Shredded Pork Loin
  • Cooked Italian Meatballs
  • Taco Meat
  • Sloppy Joe Meat
  • Italian Meat Sauce
  • Chili
  • Marinara
  • Pesto
  • Condensed Stock
  • Cooked Rice
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Pizza dough

Ground Beef Crumbles
How to prepare: Allow to fully cool and then freeze portions in a flattened zippered bag, making sure to remove all air. You’ve Been Freezing Ground Beef Wrong Your Whole Life
How to use: casseroles, skillets, soups and chilis, loose-meat sandwiches, taco salad or go here for more ideas 50 Easy Dinners that start with Ground Beef

Sausage Crumbles
How to prepare: Cook bulk breakfast or chorizo sausage (i.e., no casing) in a skillet until fully cooked and crumbled. Cool and then freeze in plastic bags in the amounts you are likely to consume.
How to use: pizza, soup, egg dishes, hash skillets, stuffed vegetables, casseroles, pasta, sandwiches or go here for more ideas 25 Best Ground Sausage Recipes

Shredded Chicken
How to prepare: After cooking, shred chicken using the paddle attachment of your mixer or two forks. Freeze in flattened zippered plastic bags. How to Make Shredded Chicken
How to use: soups and chilis, quesadillas, BBQ chicken sandwiches, wraps, burritos, nachos, chicken salad, chicken pot pie, BBQ chicken pizza, salads, bowls or go here for more ideas 50 Shredded Chicken Recipes

Pulled Pork
How to prepare: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Freeze in flattened zippered bags.
How to use: soups and chilis, sandwiches, bowls, tacos, tamales, burritos or go here for more ideas 20 Easy Dinner Ideas Using Pulled Pork,

Italian Meatballs
How to prepare: There are lots of great recipes to choose from. Here is mine: Kenda’s Spaghetti and Meatballs Please note that the marinara and meatballs should be frozen separately.
How to use: spaghetti and meatballs, pizza topping, meatball sub sandwiches, sliders, soups, casseroles, or even shape the meatballs into meatloaf instead. Please go here for more ideas 42 Crazy-Good Dishes That Start with Frozen Meatballs

Taco Meat
How to prepare: Follow directions on your taco spice package. Spanish Gardens makes my family’s favorite. Allow meat to cool completely and then freeze in flattened zippered plastic bags.
How to use: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, enchiladas, pizza, pastas, casseroles, stuffed vegetables (e.g., zucchini, bell peppers), salad, soups, or go here for more ideas 25 Recipes You Can Make with a Pound of Taco Meat

Sloppy Joe Meat
How to prepare: The BEST Sloppy Joe Recipe sauce described here. Freeze in flattened zippered bags.
How to use: sandwiches, casseroles (e.g., Tater Tot), pasta topping, stuffed vegetables (e.g., peppers or zucchini, top french fries or corn chips, top rice or mashed potatoes, stuffed baked potatoes, or go here for more ideas 36 Ways To Repurpose Sloppy Joes Into Something New

Italian Meat Sauce
How to prepare: Brown ground beef and mix with your favorite homemade marinara. One option is the sauce described here. Simply make without the meatballs and mix with the ground beef crumbles. Freeze in flattened zippered bags.
How to use: pasta sauce, pasta casseroles (e.g., lasagna), pizza sauce, stuff vegetables (e.g., pepper, spaghetti squash, zucchini), mozzarella grilled cheese or go here for more ideas Ways to Use Leftover Pasta Sauce

Chili
How to prepare: If you don’t have a favorite chili recipe already, here is an Easy Chili Recipe to try. My family loves Williams Chili Spice Mix and it makes chili night easy. Freeze in flattened zippered bags or plastic or glass containers.
How to use: Baked potatoes, spaghetti topper with cheddar, chili dogs, crescent roll casserole, wraps, chili mac soup, over fries or corn chips, cornbread casserole, stuffed peppers, or go here for more ideas 20 Ways to Use Leftover Chili

Marinara Sauce
How to prepare: There are so many tasty recipes, but the sauce described here is my favorite. I freeze some in flattened zippered plastic bags and some in muffin tins to use for pizza sauce.
How to use: Cooking your own marinara allows you to create a thicker sauce that can be used for pizza or thinned a little for pasta sauces, casseroles. Marinara can also be used to top chicken parmesan, meatloaf, meatball sandwiches, and stuffed vegetables. Add even more water for soup. Please go here for more ideas 70 Meals that Start with a Jar of Pasta Sauce

Pesto Sauce
How to prepare: Fresh Basil Pesto Freeze in ice cube trays or silicone muffin tins and then store in a zippered plastic bags.
How to use: pizza, pasta topping, pasta casserole, top chicken or salmon, flavor vegetables, sandwich spread, soups, or go here for more ideas: 25 Things to Make with Pesto

Condensed Chicken Stock
How to prepare: I keep a bag in my freezer where I can quickly stuff leftovers such as chicken bones/carcass, dill and parsley stems/leaves, celery, carrots, and onions. This allows me to make a rich chicken stock. Condensed Chicken Stock can be frozen in ice cube trays or muffin tins. Just be sure that you know how much water to add to each cube.
How to use: Soups, gravies, and sauces are obvious, but stock can also be used in casseroles, skillets, chicken pot pies and other ideas listed here 40 Recipes with Chicken Stock to Use up the Box

Cooked Rice
How to prepare: Cook brown or white rice according to package directions, then thoroughly cool. Freeze in zippered plastic bags, removing as much air as possible. Use immediately after removing from the freezer.
How to use: fried rice, topped with stir fry, with beans, soups, casseroles, skillets, stuffed vegetables, topped with etouffee or gumbo or go here for more ideas 35 Ways to Use Leftover Rice

Mashed Potatoes
How to prepare: The most important thing is to use the right kind of recipe. This recipe uses sour cream and cream cheese instead of milk/cream which prevents grainy mashed potatoes upon thawing. Potatoes could be frozen in a flattened zippered bag or in a silicone muffin tin and then transferred to a large zippered bag.
How to use: as a side, topped with meatballs or chicken and gravy, topping Shepard’s pie, casseroles, potato cakes/croquettes, breads, dumplings, waffles, pancakes, soups, gnocchi, pierogi, or go here for more ideas: 35 Easy Ways to Use Leftover Mashed Potatoes

Pizza Dough
How to prepare: How to Freeze Pizza Dough
How to use: pizza, calzone, Stromboli, breadsticks, garlic knots, flatbread, crackers, pot pie or go here for more ideas 31 Things to Make with Pizza Dough

Aromatics
How to prepare: The aromatics to use depends on how you most frequently flavor your meals. For guidance, please see Freezing Aromatic Flavor Cubes for Asian Stir-Fry Suppers and All About Mirepoix, Sofrito, Battuto, and Other Humble Beginnings. Caramelized onions can be frozen in a silicone muffin tin and then transferred to a zippered plastic bag. Roasted garlic can be frozen in an ice cube tray, as can citrus juice, with or without its zest. Herbs can be minced and frozen in an ice cube tray and some butter or oil added, depending on what is most appropriate for each herb (e.g., butter in dill, canola in parsley, olive oil in basil). Garlic and herb cubes can then be transferred to a zippered plastic bag.
How to use: Most work well in a variety of soups and sauces. Here are some additional uses for the different types of aromatics: Asian (stir fry, noodles, fried rice), Mirepoix (chicken pot pie, roasted poultry and dressing), Spanish Sofrito (arroz con pollo, eggs, paella), Holy Trinity (jumbalaya, gumbo, etoufee, red beans and rice), caramelized onions (any recipe that requires you to cook an onion until softened), roasted garlic (any recipe that requires you to cook minced garlic until aromatic), fresh minced herbs (any dish that is finished with fresh herbs like parsley, dill or basil), citrus juice (any dish finished with a bit of fresh citrus).

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Freezing Aromatic Flavor Cubes for Asian Stir Fry Suppers

Freezing Aromatic Flavor Cubes for Asian Stir Fry Suppers

Do you love stir fry, but find the prep work tedious?  I felt the same way until I learned some easy short cuts that not only cut back on my prep time, but also meant less clean up time.  One of those short-cuts involved the mixture of garlic, ginger, scallions, and red pepper flakes that add complex flavors to my stir fries.  No matter what meat or vegetables I cook in my stir fry, I always make a little well in the center and quickly fry some aromatics in it before adding a sauce.  Unfortunately, it takes a long time to mince the aromatics small enough that we don’t end up biting into a big, unappetizing hunk of garlic or ginger. I could use the food processor, but I don’t want to get it dirty for such a small job.  I also don’t want to have to buy ginger every time we have a stir fry and ginger doesn’t  really last all that long.  The solution that works for us is to prepare enough aromatics for several stir fry dinners at once and then freeze them in ice cube trays.

Asian Aromatic Flavor Cubes

Ingredients

4 heads peeled garlic (about 8 oz once peeled or 1 cup minced)

2 oz peeled ginger (about 1/4 cup minced)

Whites of 16-20 scallions

1 TB red pepper flakes (optional, adjust according to heat preferences)

¼ cup sesame oil

Unless you love chopping food into tiny bits, use a food processor to mince the garlic, ginger, scallions, and red pepper flakes.  I try to process until it is just short of a puree. Asian aromatics after mincing

Spoon the mixture into an ice cube tray in 1 TB portions, making about 18 portions.  Press the aromatics in tight and then spread the sesame oil over the top where it can soak in and fill in any holes before freezing.

When you are ready to make a stir fry, get an aromatic flavor cube out as soon as you start cooking.  This will allow it to thaw a little before mixing into your stir fry.  I set the cube near the pan to help the thawing process.  This mixture can also be used to flavor a marinade for grilling meat.

Simplify stir fry with aromatic flavor cubes.  Happy Cooking!

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