Healthy 10-Minute Meals You Can Make From A Well-Stocked Freezer
Frozen salmon filets are my best friend. Yeah, maybe that sounds weird, but when you're as consistently frazzled as I am and still want to prioritize healthy eating, having a stockpile of frozen goodies that cook up fast and won't spoil if you forget about them is key.
And yes, you can cook salmon filets from frozen—just rinse the filet with a little water, pat dry, season, and cook in a skillet with a healthy fat like avocado oil. In fact, one of my absolute favorite meals can be made from all frozen staples: salmon, slathered with pesto served over a combo of cauliflower rice and peas. All of which comes together in 10 to 15 minutes, delivers loads of nourishing nutrients, and helps me feel in control of my health without amplifying my stress.
What else should you stock up on to eat really well for minimal effort? I chatted with a few registered dietitians and culinary pros about their favorite freezer staples, plus how to morph them into quick and easy meals so you're not spending hours in the kitchen or calling in yet another takeout order.
What to stock in your freezer for quick and healthy meals:
1. Frozen spinach (or other leafy greens)
"How many times are those leafy greens forgotten at the bottom of your produce drawer and tossed at the end of a busy week? Frozen spinach is the perfect option to blend with fruit and nut milk for your morning green smoothie," says Megan Fahey, R.D., functional medicine nutritionist. And nope, it won't make your smoothie taste weird. You can also quickly sauté it up with some healthy fat, chopped garlic, and salt for a healthy side.
2. Other frozen veggies (spiralized veggies, stir-fry blends, peas, mushrooms, etc.)
You can never go wrong with frozen veggies—stock up on a variety of options you enjoy that can be used in different ways such as frozen peas, pre-spiralized zucchini, stir-fry veggie blends, riced cauliflower, cubed butternut squash, and even mushrooms. These make a great side all on their own or can be incorporated into grain bowls, quick soups, and smoothies.
"I love to use frozen zucchini noodles; they're great in soups," says Jessica Cording, R.D., mbg Collective member. "Frozen peas are also great. Still frozen, they're great to add to a smoothie to add some protein, fiber, and a smooth texture."
3. Frozen berries & bananas
Frozen fruit is often better than fresh for smoothies. Opt for antioxidant-packed blueberries or mixed berries, or whatever you know you'll enjoy (frozen mango is also amazing). Whenever you notice your bananas getting a little too ripe, slice them up and store them in a freezer bag, suggests Fahey, as they'll make the ideal creamy base for your smoothies and can be incorporated into baked goods and desserts.
4. Frozen whole grains
"When I am short on time, throwing together a quick grain bowl is the ultimate three-minute meal," says Fahey. "Although I try not to rely heavily on the microwave, reheating grains provides a base to top with most anything you have on hand—beans, eggs, chopped veggies, sauerkraut, etc." While you could cook up your own grains and freeze them, frozen brown rice is readily available at most grocery stores.
5. Frozen wild-caught fish or shellfish
"Depending on where you shop, the frozen section of your supermarket may provide the only wild-caught fish options!" says Fahey, who typically opts for salmon or cod. Often, you can find backs of individually vacuum-sealed filets, so you can cook only what you need. Bonus: As mentioned above, you don't even need to thaw frozen fish filets before cooking—simply rinse, pat dry, season, and cook in a skillet with a healthy fat. Wild-caught shrimp is another great option to keep on hand, as it thaws and cooks up quickly, making it the perfect addition to stir-fries.
6. High-quality frozen beef, turkey, or veggie burgers
"I usually keep some organic turkey burgers on hand, and I'm currently obsessed with the half-turkey, half-mushroom organic Blend Burger from Applegate Farms," says Cording. Veggie burgers from brands like Sweet Earth, Morning Star, Hilary's, and Dr. Praeger's, and beef and poultry burgers from Applegate, Tribali Foods, and Teton Waters Ranch all make high-quality options as well. (Check out all of our favorite healthy burgers here.)
And you don't have to eat your burger on a bun either—serve one up on top of a salad, along with some mixed veggies in a grain bowl, or even sautéed into your next stir-fry.
7. Sprouted grain bread
"Products created without preservatives like sprouted breads don't have a long shelf-life, so store them in the freezer if you aren't living in a full house," suggests Fahey. "Toast with nut butter and jam is a favorite comfort food that can always be prepared in my kitchen, no matter how empty my fridge may be!" Not to mention, it's the ideal base for avocado toast. The best part: You can actually toast up individual bread slices from frozen—no need to thaw first.
"Frozen pesto is great to have on hand for pasta or to give veggies or meats a zip," says Maya Feller, R.D. Since it's summer, consider making your own and portioning it out into an ice cube tray so you can pop out a portion and reheat as needed. Or simply do the same with store-bought pesto.
9. Broths and stocks
Frozen bone broth from brands like Bonafide Provisions is a great freezer staple. Same goes for those shelf-stable cartons of broth. But inevitably, there will come a time when you don't use up that pouch or carton for a recipe. In that case, you should take the advice of our contributing food editor Liz Moody and pour your remaining broth into an ice cube tray to freeze for later use. "When the cubes are completely frozen, pop them out and store them in a bag," says Moody. "You can use these little flavor bombs to deglaze vegetables, as a base for sauces, or to add a dash of umami to pastas or soups."
10. Precooked, pre-portioned protein
Since you aren't going to give up cooking altogether, the next time you whip up some chicken, beef, or even a batch of beans, set aside individual portions in freezer-safe bags or containers, suggests Cording. That way, you can reheat and easily incorporate into a meal when you're rushed.
Simple 15-minute (or less) meals to make with these frozen staples.
These are just a few quick and easy combos you can make with freezer staples above plus a few other simple ingredients:
1. Green smoothie
A simple go-to formula for a delicious smoothie featuring frozen staples: Frozen spinach + frozen berries + milk or liquid of choice + protein (protein powder, collagen) + fat (nut butter, seeds, avocado). Consider adding in frozen peas for extra texture and a dose of plant-based protein, too!
2. Veggie-loaded grain bowl
Heat and combine brown rice with a combination of veggies such as beans, butternut squash, and broccoli. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper, or a dollop of pesto. Optional: Top with a protein like an egg, chopped burger, or leftover chicken.
3. Shrimp stir-fry
Thaw and sauté shrimp in a pan with garlic and a healthy cooking oil. Once mostly cooked, add in a bag of frozen stir-fry veggies or zucchini noodles and flavor-boosters like tamari or coconut aminos. Optional: Serve over brown or cauliflower rice, and finish with sesame oil.
4. Veggie stir-fry
Sauté frozen stir-fry veggies or zucchini noodles in a pan with a healthy oil, garlic and onion, chopped tofu, and flavor boosters like tamari or coconut aminos. Optional: Serve over brown or cauliflower rice, and finish with sesame oil.
5. Veggie noodle ramen
Heat and combine zucchini noodles, mushrooms, veggie or bone broth, and your protein of choice (e.g., leftover chicken or tofu) in a pot until things just start to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, or even swirl in some Sriracha.
6. Chicken and rice soup
Heat and combine chicken broth, brown rice, a bag of mixed veggies, and some leftover shredded chicken in a pot until things just start to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Veggie-loaded frittata
Sauté up frozen veggies like peas and mushrooms in a skillet with a healthy oil and garlic. Pour in a few whisked eggs and cook until things set slightly. Finish cooking under the broiler until the frittata just starts to brown slightly.
8. Zucchini noodles (or pasta) with pesto
Thaw some frozen zucchini noodles (or even carrot or beet noodles), or whip up a batch of regular or grain-free pasta, and toss the noodles in pesto. Top with a protein of your choice (chicken or shrimp), and consider adding some fresh sliced cherry tomatoes and finishing with a sprinkle of Parmesan.
9. Loaded avocado and egg toast
Toast up a piece of sprouted bread, smash on some avocado, and top with cooked frozen spinach and a fried egg.
10. Salmon over cauliflower rice
Rinse, pat dry, season, and pan-fry a frozen salmon filet for a few minutes on each side. In a separate pan, heat cauliflower rice and peas in a little oil until warm. Serve salmon over the cauliflower-pea blend and finish with pesto.
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