Meal Planning Week 5 helps you realize that your freezer is an extension of your pantry. You can prep veggies and fruits, freezer cooked rice and pasta, and buy in bulk!
I hope you all are enjoying this series my friends and I have put together. Eventually, I’m going to run out of tips and tricks and will have to think of something else to chat about in these posts. Not that there’s a limited amount of material for menu and meal planning.
I hinted on today’s topic in last week’s meal planning ideas. Actually, it’s more like I had more to say about pantry prep than I thought. So, I had to postpone the topic until this week’s post. Can you guess what it is? That’s right! FREEZER! Wait. You said fridge? Okay. I’ll have to look into that one.
Use your freezer like your pantry!
We used a lot, and I mean A LOT of sliced peppers and onions. From stir-fry to Swiss steak, we used this combinate every week. Multiple times every week! Dad would slice up a whole bunch and then put them in a zip top bag in the freezer.
This is especially great if you have a half a sliced onion leftover from another recipe. Or if you have a few peppers that will be past their prime before you get to use it. Slice those bad boys up and freeze in a baggie. Now you have the makings of pepper pasta with Italian sausage or a stir fry. Or super simple Swiss steak!
In a similar fashion, you can slice or chop mushrooms and freeze them for meal planning later. No, these will not be salad worthy, but they’re definitely Mozzarella stuffed mushroom burgers worthy. Or mushroom Cheddar baked eggs worthy.
Most vegetables can be frozen raw or blanched.
Blanching helps leafy greens like kale and spinach to maintain their nutritious goodness and color. Avocados can be flash frozen in cubes or mashed with lime juice and frozen for smoothies or guacamole. Over ripe tomatoes are great to freeze, too! You can easily toss them in a recipe or make some marinara in them when you have enough saved up.
Did you buy a bunch of herbs or a clamshell package and didn’t use them all? Then head to your dollar store and get an ice cube tray or two. Fill the trays with leftover herbs and top them with water, oil, or vinegar and freeze. They’re easy to use for meal planning! Simply toss them into soups and sauces or make dressings with them.
I purchase knuckles of fresh ginger and usually don’t use it all quick enough. After I use the fresh for my recipe, I put the pieces in a zip top bag and put it in the freezer. If I need fresh, I simply grate the frozen and let it sit in a custard cup for a little bit to thaw. Voila! Fresh ginger whenever you want it!
Freeze those bananas!
If you’re like me, you’ve bought a bunch of bananas and didn’t use them. Toss those unused bananas that are over ripe in the freezer. In their skins. Just put the banana in the freezer! Once it’s frozen, I put them all in a zip top freezer bag so I can pull 3 to 4 out and make banana bread with them. They don’t go to waste and you get to make scrumptious breads from them. Or you can slice and flash freeze on a sheet pan for smoothies. You can also freeze chopped garlic in oil, too! Did you know that?
While not all fruits can be frozen like bananas, you can freeze fruits. Flash freeze whole fruits on a sheet pan for a few hours until firm enough to transfer to a zip top freezer bag. They great for smoothies, baking, and even making chutney or jams with them. They’re also great for cobblers or crisps.
Did you know you can freeze dairy items?
We used to purchase large blocks of cheese when we visited my sister in Vermont. That’s how we learned about Cabot before the rest of the east coast found out about them. She would take us to their shop and we could buy 5 pound blocks. Yes. 5 pound blocks. We would chunk them up and freeze them. Granted, they’re not great thawed and sliced for sandwiches, but they’re perfect for macaroni and cheese, beer cheese, or melted on pizzas and enchiladas.
I make macaron. Quite often. In fact, I should make some today for tomorrow. Those require at least 4 egg whites which leaves me with 4 egg yolks. Yup! You can freeze egg yolks. And egg whites for that matter. The trick to the yolks is to add 1/8 teaspoon for each 1/4 cup of egg yolks. The ratio is technically 1/2 teaspoon per cup of egg yolks, but I never have a cup of egg yolks. Maybe if you make chiffon cakes or lots of meringue you will. I do not. For the whites, you just beat them a little bit then strain for any membrane pieces and then freeze.
Beans. You can presoak and freeze them or freeze fully cooked beans with some of their cooking liquid. I have several packages of presoaked beans in my freezer for soups and chilis. It shaves that 8 hour soak time and prevents the need for the quick soak which adds time to your recipe.
Rice and pasta. We never have leftover rice. If there is leftover rice, I usually eat it for lunch the next day. Yes. Just plain pasta with a little butter, salt, and pepper or sometimes I toss in some Parmesan cheese either shredded or grated. Pasta should be al dente so it’s not over cooked when you thaw and add it to your recipe. No one likes mushy noodles in anything. If you like your pasta al dente, then just cook it about 5 minutes under that and then freeze.
Fresh pasta can be flash frozen. Spread out your gnocchi or short pastas on a sheet pan in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes. Once they’re firm move to a freeze safe container. For longer pastas, make small bundles on a sheet pan and freeze 15 to 20 minutes to dry it out. Then place in a freezer container. They should last a couple of months or longer if you have a vacuum sealer.
With all this freezing going on, you’re going to need some good containers. The best containers allow you to remove excess air and have tight fitting lids. Excess air means freezer burn can damage all your saved up ingredients. You don’t want that to happen.
I am a huge advocate for a vacuum sealer. I know I linked to one in a previous meal plan post. It allows for so much more than stocking your freezer like your pantry. A vacuum sealer means you can buy in bulk easily. You can cook double and save the rest for a second meal later on. I always take a permanent marker and write the date and what is in the bag. I have heated up and served food I’ve cooked over a year ago. Yes. I have cooked up meals I made a year ago and they taste just as delicious as when we had it the first time.
What if you don’t want to add another small appliance to your kitchen and don’t want to invest in a whole new storage system? No worries! I have put something in a regular storage container and popped it in the freezer. The next day, I have popped it out of that container and put in a freezer safe container or bag.
If you want more information about freezer food safety, check out this PDF from the Food and Drug Administration. There’s also a great list of foods you can freeze on the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation. They also have links about canning, smoking, fermenting, pickling, and making jams and jellies.