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When you think of the freezer, you may just think of it as a place to store chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas, ice cream or those leftovers you don’t want to deal with. But the freezer can be the secret to having a well-stocked kitchen.
From staples like frozen veggies and fruits to some things you may not even know you could freeze, here are 15 foods to always keep in your freezer.
You should be eating vegetables every day. Whether you prefer broccoli, carrots, peas or any other of the most popular veggies in America, they’re some of the most important elements of your diet. But fresh vegetables have a relatively short shelf life, can be expensive and can be hard to find out of season. That’s why frozen vegetables are a must-have freezer staple. Frozen veggies are just as healthy as fresh and allow you to have your favorite veg at your fingertips any time of year.
One of our favorite sustainable food tips is to freeze fruit when it starts to become a little overripe. Bananas, berries, pineapple and mango all freeze well. You can always buy pre-frozen fruit, too. Stock up on frozen fruit so you can whip up quick, colorful and healthy smoothies for breakfast. If you’re not a smoothie person, there are plenty of desserts you can make with frozen fruit, too.
If you’re trying to save money at the grocery store, shop the sales — especially meat. Buying turkeys before Thanksgiving and saving them in a deep freezer for future family meals can save you a small fortune (and make for some delicious dinners). Pay attention to major price cuts to stock up on ground beef, chicken thighs and breasts, steaks and pork chops so you always have a hearty protein on hand for dinner. Just make sure you know how to defrost all your meat the right way before cooking.
Frozen fish filets and frozen shellfish like shrimp tend to be budget-friendly and can quickly defrost in a cold water bath, allowing you to make a healthy pescatarian dinner when you forgot to defrost meat. You can even safely cook frozen fish fillets straight from the freezer to get dinner on the table at record speed. Garlic butter baked shrimp and baked whitefish are two quick and easy dinner recipes for busy weeknights.
Nuts are a deeply versatile food, whether you just want to snack on a handful of almonds, add some pine nuts to a pesto or bake with walnuts. But when it comes to shelf life, pricey nuts sometimes only last as long as six months — and trust us, you don’t want to mess with rancid nuts. Keep your nuts around longer by storing them in the freezer. You don’t even need to thaw them before snacking or cooking.
If you’re trying to be thrifty and sustainable, one of our favorite ways to use so-called food scraps is to keep a gallon-sized zip-top bag in the freezer and fill it with vegetable scraps as you cook. Think garlic peels, the ends of onions and shallots, carrot shavings, celery leaves, herb steams and so on. When the freezer bag is full, make your own stock. Not only does this reduce food waste and save money, but the resulting stock is so much better than the store-bought stuff.
Once you make your stock (or buy stock from the grocery store), keep it in your freezer since it will only keep in your fridge for four to five days. If you want to have it on hand so you can make the best-ever soups and stews — and, of course, flavor other things — put your stock in freezer-safe zip-top bags, freezer-safe plastic containers or ice cube trays in pre-measured portions to use later.
There are some foods you should never freeze, but shredded cheese is surprisingly freezer-friendly. Buy this staple when it’s on sale and when you want to use it to make next-level grilled cheeses, creative twists on mac and cheese or more of the best recipes for cheese lovers, you’ll have more than enough. When you’re ready to work it into a dish, just set it on the counter for 30 minutes or so to defrost.
One of the best tips for bakers making biscuits or pie crusts is to use really cold butter. And the best way to get cold butter is to store it in the freezer, so keep a couple of sticks in there. This also extends the shelf life of your butter from two months to six months. This is also a handy tip if you’re a family who doesn’t cook with a lot of butter or if you find a great deal.
You should never refrigerate bread, but freezing your bread keeps it fresher longer and it’s pretty much just as good as it would be when you made or bought it. Thaw your frozen bread on the counter overnight and use it for some super scrumptious sandwiches. Freeze bread ends and bits, too so you can turn it into breakfast casseroles and more of these recipes that will finish off a loaf of bread.
If you’re making cookies for your family but don’t necessarily need to make six dozen chocolate chip cookies, you can freeze the leftover dough and bake it later (or snack on it — we won’t judge). If you freeze the dough in pre-portioned scoops, you don’t even need to defrost it; simply bake as directed and add a few extra minutes of cooking time. The key to a well-stocked freezer is having things on hand you can whip out at the last minute. So, if you’re going to a potluck but don’t have time to bake from scratch, frozen cookie dough could really come in handy.
Many of our favorite dishes to bring to a party start with one common ingredient: puff pastry. Use this frozen baking staple to create curry puffs or pigs in a blanket for a game-day gathering, an egg tart for brunch or a Danish if you’re in charge of dessert. The world is your oyster when armed with puff pastry.
Fresh herbs can take your cooking from ordinary to extraordinary, but they don’t last particularly long in the refrigerator. One of our favorite tips for making your food last longer is to take fresh herbs, chop them up, put them in an ice cube tray with a bit of olive oil and freeze them. Then, whenever you need a touch of freshness, you have perfectly preserved herbs!
Sometimes, dinner goes awry. Maybe the chicken from the grocery store was a little gnarly or you totally and completely burned the lasagna in the oven. Life happens. And when it does, freezer foods will come to the rescue. Keep a pack of hot dogs or sausages in your freezer that you can toss on the grill without defrosting or a bolognese you can reheat in a pinch and toss on some pasta. Of course, some frozen dinners or snacks can also save your lunch when you’re in a pinch.
If you don't want to whip up dinner from scratch every single night of the week, we don't blame you. When you have time, cook up a double batch of your favorite dishes so you can have some freezer meals for later. Chili, lasagna, enchiladas and some of our favorite casseroles all freeze well and are among the dinners you can freeze and make ahead for busy weeknights.
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