Fixing Feasts from Your Freezer
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Look into your freezer (and pantry) -- you're likely hiding some delicious and healthy meal options that are budget and waistline friendly! In times when getting to the store isn't an option, here are a few ideas to help you (as my husband says) "stretch the groceries" without stretching your waistband.
Often regarded as plain and flavorless and relegated to Chicken Pot Pie and soups, frozen foods actually provide a creative way to keep vegetables and other healthy foods in your diet. Frozen at the peak of freshness, these fruits and vegetables provide year-round access to out-of-season foods and allow you to stay stocked with your favorites, regardless of what's at market. Similarly, shelf-stable pantry items turn into nutrient-packed delicacies when prepared in a flavorful way.
If you can't get to the grocery store, having a fully stocked freezer and pantry will help you create meals without worry of having fresh, perishable items.
Here are a few of my favorite freezer and pantry staples:
Some of these are mixed together; others, separate. Also, I keep corn, which I'm including as a vegetable even though it also gets counted as a grain.
bananas (when my bananas start to get a little too spotted for my taste, I peel them, break them into pieces, and freeze them in a Ziploc freezer bag.)
If you eat meat, freeze the meat for a short period of time at the proper temperature (usually under 0 degrees) and wrapped in an airtight container.
Dried Goods like beans, seeds, fruits (no sugar added), nuts, and lentils provide plant-based protein and stay fresh on your pantry shelf for months. I like to keep the following:
root vegetables (gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic)
canned goods (veggies based in low-sodium water, fruit in 100% juice, beans, canned tuna fish and meats, like chicken)
Jar-sealed foods (especially pickles and pickled or fermented foods)
whole grains (like oats, quinoa, brown rice) and seeds (like chia, sunflower seeds, ground flax, and sesame seeds)
Boxed nut- or oat milk. I personally like unsweetened almond milk.
I also have a few items in the fridge at all times, like locally-sourced eggs (which can last 3-5 weeks if kept properly), tofu, and condiments (mustard is a favorite, but so is horseradish and cholula!)
Starting from Scratch
Without your go-to meal options, where do you start? Once your stores have been stocked, the next step is knowing what to make with what you have. Here are two super easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes using pantry, freezer, and longer-lasting refrigerator items to get the job done.
Almond Blueberry Oats with Cinnamon and Chia
1/4 cup for old-fashioned steel-cut oats (See side of box for quick cooking oats
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (add a splash of vanilla if you'd like, or use unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1/8 cup dried fruit (I like the Trader Joe's triple berry mix)
3/4 tsp chia seeds
Prepare one serving of steel-cut oats (per package directions), using both water and almond milk.
In a bowl, pour blueberries. Allow to soften, or warm carefully in the microwave to melt. Sprinkle in dried fruit. When oats are ready, pour over blueberries. Sprinkle on chia and cinnamon, to taste. Add additional almond milk on the top. Stir and Enjoy!
Berry-rich Green Smoothie
I call this Berry-Rich not only because it has lots of berries, but also because berries are rich in antioxidants -- key compounds that help reduce "oxidative stress" in your body. While I call it a green smoothie (I throw in spinach, because berries and bananas hide almost anything! You could also use kale, beet greens, microgreens or something else!), it usually turns out to be pretty purple and delicious. I've also tried this with a bit of frozen spinach, so in a pinch, you don't actually need to use anything fresh!
1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained (or a large handful of raw)
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
5-7 frozen strawberries (depending on size)
1/2 frozen banana (NOTE: when my bananas start to get speckled and the kids won't eat them anymore, i peel them, break them in half, and put them into a Ziploc freezer baggie.)
5-7 frozen peach slices, mango slices, or pineapple chunks
1.5 cups unsweetened almond milk (approx.)
1/4 tsp lemon juice
Optional: 2 scoops collagen peptides or unflavored protein; 1 tsp lemon omega-3
Place everything into a blender, and mix until smooth. Enjoy with a straw or a spoon! (Makes enough for two large servings of smoothie.)
Tuna and Black Bean Salad
Using things I always have in my pantry, this quick and easy salad provides a protein punch without feeling heavy. I've prepared it (below) over a bed of baby greens, but if those aren't available, try using some frozen broccoli and serve on whole grain bread or with whole grain crackers.
1 can tuna fish, drained
1/4 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 Tbsp dried parsley
1 Tbsp lemon juice (fresh, or from the little plastic lemon in a pinch!)
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Combine and serve with your favorite sides!
Minestrone Bean Soup
This simple yet tasty dish relies on a ton of pantry and frozen food staples. It's easy to pull together, makes a large recipe, and adds lots of colorful nutrients to your diet.
Start by selecting the vegetables you want to include -- for me, this usually looks like onions, carrots, and celery (sometimes referred to as a mirepoix), potatoes, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, green beans, potatoes (use fresh if you have them! They usually last for a while in a cool, dark place like the pantry.) While celery is hard to find frozen (freezing changes the texture of the celery), onions and carrots are usually easy to find.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion (about 1 cup diced frozen onion)
1 cup sliced carrots, thawed
1 large potato, small diced (I love yukon gold, but russet also work well!)
4 cups vegetable broth (make your own with this recipe!)
1, 28oz can petite diced tomatoes
1, 8oz can tomato sauce (plain)
1, 15oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1, 15oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup green beans, thawed
1 cup broccoli, thawed
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
2. Add in potatoes, and stir to sauté about 2-4 minutes. Add vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
3. After 10 minutes, add tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans and bring back to a boil. Reduce to simmer for 8-10 minutes.
4. Add green beans, broccoli, parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Cook until preferred tenderness of greens (I prefer al dente, or roughly 3-4 minutes.
5. Taste and adjust seasoning, as preferred. Serve with some parmesan cheese, if desired!
One of the easiest ways to whip up a veggie-filled meal, pasta primavera is full of pantry and freezer staples.
Lentil Pasta (or regular pasta if you're not gluten-free)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onions, diced (use frozen if you have them!)
1, 28oz can diced tomatoes (or use 1 can diced and 1 can crushed if you like this to have more of a sauce)
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
2 cups frozen vegetables, thawed (broccoli, carrots, and green beans are all great options!)
salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a large pot, boil water and prepare pasta based on box directions.
2. In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil on medium. Sauté the onions and garlic until fragrant and softened, about three to four minutes.
3. Add can diced tomatoes, bring to a boil. Simmer ten to fifteen minutes. Add basil and oregano, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
4. Add in vegetables and heat until warmed through. Season to taste. Enjoy!
Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry
Tofu keeps in the fridge for a while, so it's great to have on hand in a pinch. Throw frozen veggies in for a quick saute and serve over rice for a quick meal the whole family will enjoy.
1 cup whole-grain brown rice, rinsed and drained
1 block extra-firm tofu (this is my favorite brand: Nasoya)
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or liquid aminos
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp sesame oil (or other high-heat vegetable oil)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (I like using the stir fry mix, which includes broccoli, carrots, peppers, and onions)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Boil 2 cups of water on the stove. Add in rice and reduce to simmer. Cook 15-25 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Fluff with fork and set aside.
3. Remove tofu from the container and lay on several paper towels. Cover with additional paper towels and press to remove water. Let sit at least 10 minutes.
4. Slice the block of tofu in half (depth-wise); then, slice length- and width-wise into cubes. Set into a bowl and toss with soy sauce/liquid aminos, then sprinkle with cornstarch. Stir gently to coat and spread on a baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes, flipping once in the middle, until firm and golden brown. Set to side.
5. Meanwhile, heat sesame oil in a large skillet until hot. At the same time, add veggies and garlic. Toss in oil and cook until brightly colored and still firm. (Optional: add a splash of soy sauce or liquid aminos.)
6. Add prepared tofu to vegetables to combine. Serve over rice.
Ready for more? Here's another few other ideas from some fantastic resources (click the links for recipes!):
Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Onions from Real Simple. Root veggies, like potatoes and onions, stay fresh for longer than green veggies. Pair veggies with thawed frozen chicken breasts to complete the meal. I also add a 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary (or use 1/2T fresh if you have it!) to add some extra flavor.
Lentil Bolognese is another option that uses protein-packed legumes in place of meat (which seems to be absent from shelves anyway). Try using canned mushrooms instead of fresh (if fresh aren't available), and rely on pantry staples, like pasta, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and tomato sauce to fill up this dish.
Frozen Spring Vegetable Risotto pairs arborio rice with frozen peas, asparagus, and green beans (in place of traditionally fresh versions). While risotto might sound scary, it's actually fairly simple to prepare, and as a self-proclaimed "fussy" cook, I love that you can just stir and stir and stir and stir.... and it gets even more delicious and creamy.