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How Your Freezer Can Be Your Best Friend in The Kitchen

Browsing through the latest trends in kitchen innovation can certainly be overwhelming. From convection steam ovens to Bluetooth-enabled appliances, there is no shortage of impressive ways to make your life in the kitchen easier and more efficient.

But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of getting back to basics and enjoying the simple pleasures of everyday life including the joy of sitting down together for a family meal.

As we get back to our “normal” lives, I can’t help but feel the dramatic change of pace – we are back in full force to our busy work and school schedules. I don’t know about you, but at the end of a busy workday, there is nothing more reassuring than knowing I can open the door to my trusty freezer and quickly put together a healthy meal for myself and my family! So, consider this blog entry a love letter to my good old freezer, which is probably more valuable to me than any high-tech kitchen gadget.

How can my freezer help me in the kitchen?

With a little bit of planning, properly utilizing your freezer can have many benefits, not only for your health but also for your wallet. Having a wholesome meal (or portions of a meal) ready to grab from the freezer keeps you on track because you will be less likely to make an unhealthy choice or order take-out.

While take-out can be convenient, and in certain situations can also be healthy, it is much easier to control the quantity and quality of ingredients in your meals when they are fully or partially homemade. Fast food or take-out usually contains high amounts of additives, chemical preservatives, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or other overly processed ingredients; all of which you can significantly reduce or eliminate altogether if you make a similar meal at home.

Your freezer can also help you save time and money because you can buy in bulk and make an extra batch of your favorite recipes: one batch to enjoy today, and another for a rainy day!

What do I need to get started?

There are some essentials you will need to help keep your freezer stocked and organized, and perhaps more importantly, to prevent you from losing your mind as you wonder “What in the world is in that container?!”

As you embark on your freezer prep, make sure you have the following items ready and available:

  • Freezer-safe zip storage bags (assorted sizes)
  • Disposable or reusable aluminum pans and/or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids
  • Ice-cube trays
  • Permanent markers for labeling

It is important to clearly label your freezer containers with the following information: contents, cooking/reheating instructions, and use-by dates as appropriate. Equally important is properly sealing your containers and tightly wrapping your foods to prevent spoilage and freezer burn.

What should I keep in my freezer at all times?

In a perfect world, I would love for every freezer to be stocked with fully assembled meals ready to thaw, heat, and serve at the table! While that would be ideal, it is certainly not necessary. Aim for having the following categories of foods in your freezer:

Frozen Vegetables

Believe it or not, frozen vegetables are actually superior to their fresh counterparts in nutritional value because they are harvested and frozen at their peak quality. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing like seasonal fresh produce from the farm stand, but when it’s not in season, frozen vegetables are a delicious and versatile alternative.

I like to keep my freezer stocked with a variety of frozen vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli (widely available riced or as florets), chopped spinach and kale, pepper blends, green beans, edamame, and zucchini spirals. Make sure to follow the recommended cooking instructions on the package to maintain optimal flavor and texture. You can easily use those veggies as a quick side dish with a drizzle of your favorite dressing or herb butter. You can also add a variety of frozen veggies to smoothies, quiches, soups, chilis, or bowls.

Flavor Boosters

When you’re short on time, having what I like to call “flavor boosters” available in your freezer is an easy and quick way to, well, boost the flavor of your dishes! I like to make herb butter and oil blends to keep on hand to add to soups, stews, vegetables, and side dishes. You can do this by chopping your favorite fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, cilantro, etc.) and mixing them with softened butter or extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You can also add finely minced garlic or lemon zest if you like. Portion into individual servings using ice cube trays and freeze. When ready to use, pop the ice cubes out of the tray and use as needed.

Homemade Broths/Stocks

This category is optional since good quality store-bought broths and stocks are widely available on the market. But when you don’t have time to run to the store or when you’re feeling under the weather, there is nothing like having a supply of homemade vegetable or animal-protein-based broths to get you started on a quick and nourishing meal. Portion extra vegetable or chicken stock in quart-sized containers with tightly fitted lids and freeze then use as needed to make your favorite soups. Perhaps add one or two cubes of your flavor boosters in there, too!

Cold Drinks

Whether it’s your daily cup of iced coffee or your post-workout smoothie, your freezer can give you a head start on preparing your favorite cold drink! You can enhance the flavor of your homemade iced coffee by adding frozen coffee cubes.

Start by brewing your favorite coffee then allow it to cool to room temperature. Pour the coffee into ice cubes and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight. When you’re ready for your dose of caffeine, place coffee cubes into your favorite cup and top with coffee. Make sure to use frozen coffee cubes within 1-2 weeks, as they tend to get stale when kept for longer periods of time. You can also apply the same method for black or herbal tea.

Smoothies and smoothie bowls are popular options for breakfast, snacks, and workout recovery. While store-bought smoothies are widely available, many are high in added sugars even when they tout their high protein content. You can customize your smoothies to your preferences, cut down on sugar, and save time by preparing individual smoothie packs in your freezer. The possibilities are endless but here is one of my go-to options.

In a freezer-safe zip bag, place a combination of 2 tablespoons of unsweetened almond butter, 1 cup of chopped spinach, and a serving of avocado. This is a great base to which you can add your favorite ingredients and really make it your own. Seal, label, and place in the freezer. When you’re ready for your smoothie, place the contents of the bag in the blender, add unsweetened almond milk or liquid of your choice, blend, and enjoy! You can also add 1-2 scoops of your favorite protein powder as desired.

Overview of a green smoothie in a glass with green spinach on the table next to it

Fully Prepared Meals

The following recipes are freezer-friendly meals from our very own Awaken180 recipe portal! I made sure to include a breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipe along with options for snacks and treats.

Breakfast Bake with Sausage, Eggs, Spinach and Mushrooms

Plan on making two batches of this recipe on a Sunday morning for breakfast or brunch! I guarantee it will be a big hit with your friends and family. To prepare for the freezer, allow the dish to cool completely after baking then cut into individual squares and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Don’t forget to label it before storing it in the freezer! Use within 3-6 months. You can alternatively make this recipe in a muffin pan and store leftover muffins in the freezer for a quick breakfast or snack. When ready to eat, just unwrap and pop in the microwave or oven until heated through.  

Buffalo Chicken Casserole

Casseroles lend themselves perfectly to the freezer! If you’re planning on making this recipe for the freezer, bake it for 10 minutes less than instructed by the recipe, and do not add any garnishes. Allow to cool, then wrap tightly, label, and freeze. When ready to eat, thaw in the fridge overnight or for at least 4 hours then bake at 375 degrees until heated through and the top is crispy and bubbling. Drizzle with ranch, top with fresh chopped green onions, and add a little more Franks Hot Sauce to the top. Enjoy!

Mongolian Meatball Cabbage Wraps

Trust me when I tell you, you need to have an extra batch of these meatballs for a quick weeknight dinner or elegant dish at your next get-together! Double the recipe and freeze a batch of meatballs in a freezer-safe zip bag. Seal tightly, label, and use within 3-6 months. When ready to serve, thaw the meatballs in the fridge then heat in a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until heated through. Garnish with scallions and serve warm in cabbage leaves.

Chicken Zucchini Poppers

Did someone say protein and veggies combined in one delicious hand-held package? Count me in! Like the meatball recipe above, make a double batch of those chicken poppers and save a batch in your freezer for a quick snack or for your next lunch or picnic.

Salmon Burgers

It is true that we are still in the midst of cold snowy weather, but you can have a taste of summer year-round with this delicious recipe! Double the recipe and store a batch in your freezer for a summery dinner any day of the week.

Frozen Treats

A variety of our very own Awaken180 products can be frozen to make delicious and program-approved treats! Some popular options are our jello and puddings. Also, check out those recipes from the recipe portal for more frozen treat ideas:  Chocolate Fudgsicles, Chocolate Mocha Pudding, and Awaken180 Ice Cream.

In summary, your freezer can clearly be a big ally for you whether you’re trying to manage your weight, make healthier food choices, save time, or simplify your weeknight dinner routine! Start small and don’t let the task of stocking your freezer become daunting or overwhelming. Mix and match between the above categories based on your goals and preferences and you should be on the right track! At your next check-in with us, feel free to talk to your coach about other freezer-friendly recipes or share your own tips and tricks with us. ????