From Fed & Fit’s Cassy Joy.
I’m often asked about my favorite kitchen tool and to be honest, I have to say that it’s my freezer(s). Though not necessarily a tool used to prepare foods, it is the one piece of equipment that I lean on the most to help make my Paleo lifestyle easier. After years of following a Paleo template, I’ve learned that a carefully knit safety net of healthy, readily available foods helps to keep me on track and away from the takeout menus. After I invested in a deep freeze that’s set aside JUST for prepared foods, life got a lot easier.
Though I do love to cook, I don’t always have or want to make the time to prepare a fresh meal three times a day, every single day. Instead of relying on takeout, I can pop a serving of leftover casserole in the oven for a quick reheat! I then get to enjoy the benefit of a healthy meal and still continue with my richly scheduled day.
Here are some steps to stocking your freezer so that you too can have healthy meals at the ready.
Clear out and dedicate some freezer space to your prepared frozen meals.
This is important! Even though you may follow the steps below and fill your freezer with delicious, healthy foods, if you can’t find them, you won’t rely on them. It’s important to make these quick freezer meals as accessible as possible. If you have the space, I recommend clearing out enough room for 4 different baskets in the freezer: one for full meals (like a casserole), one for proteins, one for starchy sides (like baked potatoes), and one for non-starchy sides (like cooked greens).
Bonus: if you’ve got the space and means to invest in a deep freeze, I highly recommend it! A dedicated freezer set aside just for your healthy freezer meals can help you feel especially organized, in addition to offering more space for food.
Schedule a day to meal prep.
In order to fill the freezer with foods, you will need to cook it! I recommend knocking it out in a day. It’s a little like cooking Thanksgiving dinner, but you get to make all YOUR favorite foods! Full meal prep days require some planning, so be sure to actually schedule the day in your planner. You’ll need to grocery shop the day before and write out the meals on your docket.
Keep yourself entertained by tuning into your favorite podcast or Internet radio station!
Consider prepping both full meals AND meal components.
This is one of my favorite secrets to success. I’ll fill my freezer with a mixture of both full meals (like casseroles, stuffed peppers, or stews) and meal components (proteins, starches, and non-starchy vegetables). Some days, I just want a stew and other days, I want a pretty plate of roasted chicken, caramelized carrots, and crispy broccoli! Having a variety of foods to choose from helps to keep me entertained and coming back for more.
Pro tip: freeze in individually portioned sizes.
This is key! Freezing the foods in individually sized containers or bags helps with:
- Portion control – having the foods pre-sized and frozen as such can help you keep your portions right where you want them.
- No more leftover boredom – when you have an abundance of leftovers in the refrigerator that must be eaten within a few days, food boredom can ensue. If you’re freezing meals in individual portions, there’s no need to eat that entire dish in one week! You can spread it out and keep your pallet entertained.
- Mix and match – because your proteins, starches, and veggies are all frozen in individual servings, you can mix and match at mealtime!
- Faster reheat – smaller portions reheat more quickly!
- Best texture – smaller portions also reheat with the best texture because the size allows for more surface area to melt or come to temperature at the same time.
Don’t overlook this step! Again, you want your stash of freezer meals to be as user-friendly as possible. To start, I recommend that you keep servings of the same meal or type of food in the same place. For example, if you stored individually cut and roasted slices of acorn squash in plastic baggies, place those in one larger plastic bag so that they’re kept together and you have a good idea of how many servings of that starch you have left. The same would apply for roasted chicken, a large beef roast, roasted cauliflower, casserole servings, etc.
Once your leftovers are organized together, I recommend labeling with the following:
- Date of preparation (best to eat within 5 months of freezing)
- Label: full-meal, protein, starchy, non-starchy veggie (you can use colored stickers for this, too)
Defrost as you like!
How you defrost and reheat is completely up to you! If you prefer the microwave, go for it. If you prefer stovetop, that works too! That being said, if you’re looking to recreate the best texture, I recommend reheating a food where you first cooked it. For example, if you baked a casserole in the oven, try reheating it there, too! If you created a sauté of Ginger Pork and Broccoli, reheat it in a frying pan for the best texture.