A warm blanket, a hug, a generous pour of wine: I’m not immune to cliché sources of comfort. For me, at this time in my life when I have three kids under six years of age, there’s nothing quite like a stocked freezer.
Knowing that dinner can be ready in a matter of minutes, that I can serve some sort of vegetable even if I haven’t gotten to the market in days, or that breakfast awaits, even when we’ve returned home late from a trip the night before and have nothing else in the house to eat? That’s the kind of relief that lets me sleep easy. That and the fact that my baseline is exhaustion and I basically fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow.
So these days, here are eight foods I keep in my freezer at all times.
1. Chicken Nuggets and Fish Sticks
My kids love them, their friends love them, and if I happen to be going out and asking a babysitter to heat up dinner, chicken fingers or fish sticks couldn’t be easier. They’re a no-brainer dinner that we rely on weekly.
I’ll often serve them with a roasted sweet potato and steamed broccoli, or frozen sweet potato fries if I’m going full-freezer meal.
2. Puff Pastry
I’m a huge fan of chicken, turkey, or root vegetable pot pies, but I’m not a huge fan of making dough on a weeknight. Enter puff pastry, which when rolled out thin, can be pressed right into a pie tin or over the filling for an effortless pot pie.
Puff pastry is also a great dough for a quick vegetable tart—that approximates pizza if you add cheese, for anyone who’s asking—or easy fruit hand pies.
3. Frozen Peas or Mixed Vegetables
Whether I’m spooning peas over mashed potatoes, mixing them into mac and cheese, or blending them into a satisfying, springy pesto, I use frozen peas a lot. They’re fun to eat and defrost in the microwave in minutes.
In the same way, I’ll often defrost a bag or half a bag of mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, and corn) and throw them into fried rice, or serve them as is. Quick, easy, and objection-free—so far, that is.
4. Frozen Shrimp
Frozen shrimp thaws in about 20 minutes, which is just the amount of time I need to prepare whatever I’m cooking with it: minced garlic and parsley for shrimp scampi, cabbage slaw for shrimp tacos, or fried rice.
Shrimp holds up very well in the freezer and is so versatile. There’s a reason it’s America’s most popular seafood!
5. Frozen Bananas or Other Fruit
For the dessert-fiends that are my children—they get it from somewhere: guilty as charged!—banana ice cream, otherwise known as Banana Nicecream, is one of my all-time favorite tricks.
Bananas contain more starch and less water than so many fruits, so when they freeze, they don’t get icy. Instead, they retain their texture and become almost astonishingly creamy when blended.
I usually just add a few tablespoons of milk to the blender to help the banana chunks mix, but you can add peanut butter, vanilla extract, cocoa powder… there are so many options.
We like other frozen fruit in our house too, particularly mango, which also stays pretty creamy. We blend that up for mango lassi, or honestly just eat the pieces as is.
6. Frozen Brown Rice
I’m big on quick-cooking grains and starches, like instant couscous, when I’m throwing together dinner. So frozen brown rice, which cooks in three minutes in the microwave, is on the top of my list for freezer saviors.
I was shocked the first time I tried it and found it tasted a lot better than I expected. Now, I use it regularly to serve mixed with black beans, as a side to chicken or fish, or tossed with sautéed vegetables and herbs. The kids are very happy eating it plain, so I do that, too. (Rule #201 of parenting: Don’t overcomplicate things. Rule #202: If it works, go with it.)
7. Frozen Dumplings
Steamed or fried, frozen dumplings are a beautiful thing. We’ll go through a whole bag with a side of green beans or (frozen) rice for dinner. If I’ve got a little bit more going on in the kitchen, we’ll have half a bag in addition to whatever I’m cooking. They’re quick, delicious, and the kids enjoy dipping them into a dish of soy sauce. It’s the little things!
8. Chicken Stock
Roast chicken is an almost-weekly dinner in our house, especially in the cooler months, and though it might sound daunting, making chicken stock from a leftover chicken carcass is super simple—and a great way to reduce food waste by incorporating herb stems, carrot trimmings, leftover onion and celery pieces… you name it.
I love keeping stock in the freezer for risotto, soups, or braises, and it feels good knowing exactly what’s in it, as opposed to the long list of ingredients I typically find on a box.