How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Stock Your Freezer

by | Apr 15, 2009
Rice Balls

Rice Balls

There are many places you can turn when you’re feeling lazy or are too busy to cook a fresh meal, but instead of reaching for the take-out menu I prefer to turn to my freezer. For one thing, even the taqueria directly downstairs from my apartment cannot whip up something as quickly as I can. And their grilled veggie burrito (not to mention the carne asada burrito!) is substantially more expensive than anything I would make–I’m sure you can guess which is healthier too.

(This post is part four of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry, part two is Essential Groceries and part three is Seasonal Shopping.)

Your freezer is an invaluable resource for storing foods that are best made in large batches. Frozen fruits and vegetables from the grocery store can also come in handy when you are in a pinch. Below is my personal list of freezer essentials, but please add your own in the comments and tell us how you use them:

  • Frozen rice balls The single most essential item in my freezer is my giant bag of frozen brown rice balls. When I first explained the best way to make rice, I mentioned that I prefer to make a large batch and freeze it in individual servings. This is a trick I learned from a former housemate that always cooked traditional Japanese food (thanks Kiyoshi!). He used white rice, but I think this method is even more valuable for whole, intact grains since they are not particularly easy to integrate into your meals unless you make them yourself. Whole grains take quite a while to cook, but if you make a lot and freeze them you only need to cook grains occasionally. In addition to rice, you can also freeze other grains like barley and steel cut oatmeal.
  • Cooked legumes To know me is to know that I love beans and lentils. Legumes are some of the healthiest food you can eat, and are among the best sources of protein on the planet. The only problem is they can take a long time to cook. Lentils cook pretty quickly (~20 minutes), but I like to make beans in large batches in the pressure cooker and freeze the rest in 1-2 tupperware containers that I thaw at my leisure. Lentils can be frozen as well.
  • Green legumes In addition to beans I have cooked myself, I also keep a stock of shelled, frozen soy beans and petite green peas in the freezer. These cook in just a few minutes and are delicious tossed with nuts, garlic and fresh herbs. My recipe needs some serious updating, but if you want an example of what I mean check out my Edamame and Peas Quick Fix.
  • Frozen fruit I always have a few bags of frozen wild organic blueberries for the days I run out of fresh fruit for my cereal. They thaw pretty fast (sometimes I put them in the microwave for 30 seconds) and are pretty tasty. They are great in oatmeal and pancakes as well.
  • Walnuts I keep my walnuts in the freezer to prevent the unstable omega-3 fatty acids from going rancid. Other nuts likely store well in the freezer too but tend to be more stable at room temperature than walnuts, which are particularly high in omega-3s.
  • Soups I love soup and cook it often. If you have ever browsed through James Peterson’s book Splendid Soups, you know why. The problem with soup is there is only one of me and the recipes tend to serve at least 4 people. Unless you want to eat the same thing all week long, freezing your left overs is your best bet. An added bonus is that you end up with a freezer filled with your favorite creations that can be eaten on lazy days.
  • Bread I do not eat bread often, but love to have it in the house just in case. But I never buy regular, sliced grocery store bread that is full of preservatives, dough conditioners and other bizarre ingredients that belong in the lab. Instead, I like to go to my local bakery (Acme or Tartine), get a fresh loaf, cut it up into single servings and freeze it in gallon freezer bags. You would be shocked at how nicely frozen bread reheats in an oven set to 325. Alternatively you can take it out a day early and thaw it in the fridge.
  • Meat Most of you already know that meat stores well in the freezer, but you can also store scraps and bones to make your own stock. Conveniently, you can also freeze your homemade stock.
  • Sauces During the summertime my local markets are practically giving away basil. It is such a wonderful herb, I cannot help making big batches of pesto all season. Leftover sauces can be frozen and taken out in winter when your favorite flavors are harder to find.
  • Spices I have recently started grinding my own spices, but like many things it is easier to do it in large batches. Extra spices store well in sealed containers in the freezer.

Your freezer is a great resource and I encourage you to be creative. It can make healthy eating much easier by giving you quick access to healthy foods, and also spares you from monotony when you cook in large batches.

How else can your freezer help you eat healthy?

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10 Responses to “How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Stock Your Freezer”

  1. MB says:

    Do you have a large freezer? Most people only have the 2 cft freezer above their frig. It hold about two batches. Then you are still eating the same meal several times over.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I share a small freezer with 4 other people. Normally I cook fresh food, so I resort to freezer items very rarely (except the rice). Personally I do not store several frozen meals at one time because of the space restrictions you mention, but I have no problem keeping the grains, beans, nuts, frozen vegetables and usually a soup or two. It’s a little crowded, but it is doable.

  2. Mark Lewis says:

    I never thought of freezing rice; great tip!

    I tried the Steam Fresh frozen vegetables and liked them in the beginning until I started comparing them to fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, the freezing process tends to break down vegetables. Do you find this to be a problem with any of the items you listed?

    • Darya Pino says:

      You are right, Mark. Fresh vegetables are much better than frozen. I think freezing works fine for the beans, peas and other legumes, but I do not buy frozen broccoli, spinach, etc. Bell peppers are ok, I guess.

      Another issue is that I do not steam vegetables. It saps the flavor out of them and is likely less healthy than cooking them in a little garlic and oil with herbs. A little oil helps your body absorb fat soluble nutrients, like vitamin E.

  3. Karen says:

    Thanks for the post – these are great tips! I need to start using them asap!

  4. Katie says:

    Great post Darya- I love this series! I am afraid I can’t start everything at one time though, I think I will start with a few of the easier ones and go from there. I’m really excited though!

  5. NB says:

    +1 on the frozen rice balls- my favorite trick.

  6. summertomato fanboy says:

    Your pressure cooker revolution has changed my life (and my diet!). Beans will never be the same, and I never knew it would be so different. Now to work on getting better on soups.

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