Some nights, you have time to research a new recipe online, casually shop around for ingredients at your local supermarket, and meticulously prepare a photo-worthy dinner. But most nights? Most nights you barely have time to take a shower before bed, let alone cook an entire meal from scratch.
And for those nights, it’s totally worth it to have these emergency foods stashed in your freezer so you can throw something together—and fast.
Frozen foods don’t just make emergency dinners possible, they’re also essential for some of our favorite meals, like smoothies! The following foods are our favorite items we always have on hand and ideas for how to use them. Want healthy recipes, supermarket shopping guides, and essential nutrition tips at your fingertips? Subscribe to the new Eat This, Not That! magazine now! For a limited time, you can save 50 percent off the cover price—click here!
Adding just 1/2 cup of these legumes to any dish will give your meal a boost of 4 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber.
I have found a way to use peas in almost every 10-minute meal I can make. Seriously, these little guys will go with just about any dish you make. The best part is, you can throw them in your dish after you’ve finished cooking it and they’ll basically thaw in minutes due to residual heat.
Toss in 1/2 cup of peas per serving to any dish. My favorite go-to dishes are pasta with vodka and peas; cauliflower fried rice; Indian chicken, cauliflower, and green pea curry; and even macaroni and cheese with peas.
Whole Grain or Sprouted Grain Bread
Swapping out refined grain products with whole grain varieties has been found to help overweight adults eat less, lose weight, and decrease inflammation.
Whenever I buy bread, I immediately put it in the freezer. (The sooner the better to retain the bread’s freshness.) And I’m not just talking about sprouted grain breads you find the freezer aisle like Ezekiel bread. All baked bread loaves can be kept in the freezer for 2-3 months, whereas keeping a loaf on your counter will only last you a week or so before turning moldy.
Keep a loaf of bread in the freezer for a serving of gut-nourishing whole grains at breakfast—either serve with peanut butter, banana, and chia seeds, or a quarter of an avocado, poached egg, and hot sauce.
One more fun tip? Keep frozen flatbread or naan to whip up a quick pizza!
There’s a lot of hype around kale, but spinach certainly stands up to it as a more palatable superfood. Spinach is full of free radical-fighting, eye health-supporting antioxidants, and it’s one of the top sources of plant-based calcium, magnesium, and iron. Oh, and it also acts as a prebiotic, which helps to promote the growth of good gut bacteria.
Keep a bag of frozen spinach in your freezer to add to smoothies, toss it in a chickpea and crushed tomato stew, saute it up in an omelet, or heat some up with garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil for a greener pasta sauce.
Mixed Berries and Bananas
From mixed berries to leftover bananas, fruit is one of the best things to keep in your freezer. They’re great in smoothies, as toppings for overnight oats, microwaved into instant oats, as a topping on yogurt, or to make a healthier ice cream or pancake topping. (Simply boil down the frozen fruit with a bit of lemon juice and water for an amazing berry sauce.) Fruits are rich in free-radical-fighting antioxidants, and, perhaps surprisingly, some frozen fruits are actually higher in certain antioxidants than their fresh counterparts.
Use frozen fruit in one of these 10 Fat-Burning Smoothie Recipes Nutritionists Love!
If you don’t want to spend yet another night eating a refined grain pasta, why not keep some spiralized veggies on hand in times of crisis? They’re lower in calories and carbs than their flour noodle counterparts and rich in micronutrients.
If you don’t have a spiralizer at home, pick up a packet of Green Giant Veggie Spirals from your supermarket freezer aisle. They come in carrot, zucchini, beets, and squash.
Heat up spiralized veggies and top with a turkey marinara meat sauce or saute up with teriyaki sauce and frozen edamame for a quick veggie-filled stir fry.
Full of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, nuts are the perfect ingredient to have on hand at all times.
You shouldn’t just keep nuts in your freezer for emergency purposes. It’s also the best way to store nuts all the time. University of California Food Safety explains that “nuts retain their quality for a year or more at refrigerator temperature or up to 2 years in the freezer.” On the other hand, nuts will only quality up to a few months at room temperature. That’s because “room temperature storage encourages insect growth and causes nut oils to become rancid quicker. […] Rancid nuts are not unsafe, but they have a sharp flavor that most people find unpleasant.”
Nuts can be used to add a boost of fats, fiber, and protein to oatmeal, yogurt, and salads. You can pulverize some pecans to make a crust for fish or bake a sheet of almonds tossed with cayenne, maple syrup, and egg whites for a sweet and spicy healthy snack.
Pesto or Herbs
How many times have you shelled out cash for fresh herbs only to have them go bad after a few days? You rarely use the entire package you purchase and end up having to begrudgingly toss them out soon after you purchase them. Instead of wasting these low-calorie flavor boosters, you can easily freeze them for a later use.
Whenever I make or purchase fresh pesto and don’t use it all within a couple days, I simply dole it out into an ice cube tray to make easily defrostable pesto cubes that are perfect toppers for a fillet of salmon or on zucchini noodles. As for other herbs you have? Chop them up and store in ziplock baggies, or freeze in an ice cube tray in extra virgin olive oil.
Looking to add more protein and fish to your diet? Keep a bag of frozen shrimp! Ounce-for-ounce, shrimp is one of the best sources of pure protein you can purchase.
Shrimp is a perfect addition to a cauliflower rice, sauteed up with EVOO and garlic to serve alongside your favorite veggie and rice, or added to a stir fry.
They might be a higher in fiber and micronutrients than their refined peers, but whole grains like brown rice and quinoa also take much longer to cook. That’s why it’s super helpful to keep pre-cooked versions of these grains in your freezer that can be heated up in minutes. Adding a serving of quinoa to a meal will supplement your dish with around 6 grams of plant-based protein.
You could easily make a huge batch of grains and freeze it, or pick up a bag from our favorite brands. Whole Foods’ 365 brand and Trader Joes both package microwaveable brown rice, and Ancient Harvest recently came out with the first microwaveable organic quinoa.
Yes, this one takes a little more planning, but this is the best solution to dinner in a pinch: frozen dinner! And if you don’t want to fully cook dinner and then freeze, consider packaging up pre-portioned slow cooker meals that can be dumped in your slow cooker in the morning and then are ready to eat when you come home from work.
Make extra of your favorite meals when you have time: breakfast sandwiches, lasagna, enchiladas, or meat sauce. Or, simply pick up an Eat This!-approved choice from our list of The 46 Best Frozen Foods in America.