How to Use Your Freezer to Up Your Meal-Prep Game

Over the past few weeks, my food shopping habits have changed. While I used to drop by my local co-op every few days (taking the time to explore my options for fresh, in-season foods instead of treating the trip as a frenzied errand), I’ll admit that as of writing this, it’s been just over two weeks since I’ve been to the store.

We’re each learning to adapt to these changes in our routines differently, and in modifying to the times, I’ve tapped into the unsung hero of my arsenal of appliances: the freezer. That’s right—while housing your favorite ice cream is still super important, using your freezer strategically can help you keep homemade goods within reach for easy snacking and lets you have balanced, nutritious meals on hand throughout the week

From stocking up on soups that make the best leftovers to desserts you can bake on a whim, here’s how I’ve turned my freezer into the meal prep game-changer I didn’t know it could be.

1. Get Creative With How You Get Your Greens

While shopping every few days affords you the luxury of having fresh fruits and veggies when you need them, a once weekly or even biweekly grocery trip makes that same luxury a challenge. Luckily, there are many ways you can incorporate those vitamins and nutrients into foods that’ll keep in the freezer. Smoothies are an easy way to get a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables (not to mention protein, fats, and fiber). Skip the smoothie pack and blend all of your ingredients at once, filling plastic jars and screwing an airtight lid on top. The night before you want a smoothie, put a jar in the fridge to thaw out, shake, and enjoy.

I also love making a big batch of veggie burgers and saving several for the freezer. You can enjoy burgers on top of a salad for added veggie goodness or keep it classic sandwiched between hamburger buns. My favorite recipe pairs beets with black beans and brown rice for a texture that rivals any meat patty. Freeze raw or cooked burgers between two sheets of parchment paper and cook or reheat in the microwave or oven whenever you need a quick, yet balanced meal.

2. Keep Things Organized

I’m not sure what your freezer looks like, but after my boyfriend came home from a fishing trip with 60 pounds of frozen fish (yep, that’s real life), I knew I needed to be deliberate about how I packed our freezer. Ours is almost entirely open, and so instead of falling back into my old habit of throwing things wherever I saw room, I invested in a few organizers to help sort things out. On top of that, having plastic tubs allowed me to assign specific areas of the freezer to different categories of food. Now I know exactly where to look for veggie stock, smoothies, or the leftover chili from last Thursday. 

But remember: your freezer’s ability to keep foods fresh longer is a double-edged sword. While you can store soup for several months, if you’re not careful, the tomato bisque from February can easily get lost in the depths of your freezer. Instead of playing the dangerous game of guess-when-I-made-this, simply label containers with what’s inside and the date you froze it. This’ll save you from unearthing a mysterious Ziploc bag you can’t remember putting there in the first place.

3. Let The Barefoot Contessa Inspire You

Who else is stalking Ina Garten’s Instagram more than usual? Just me? Well, if you haven’t been keeping up, Ina recently posted some major freezer-packing inspo. Among her tips was the reminder to leave extra space in the containers you place in the freezer. Liquids expand when they freeze, and with all the effort you’re putting into curating a well-thought-out freezer, the last thing you want is for anything to burst. Another key point? Let your food defrost in the fridge rather than setting it on the counter overnight. Foodborne bacteria is more likely to grow at room temperature, meaning that any perishable food you leave outside of the fridge or freezer for a long period of time is at risk. Err on the side of caution and move anything directly from freezer to fridge when you’re ready to eat.

4. Soup for the Win

On the topic of temperature, I can’t write an article about the proper ways to freeze food without addressing how you can use your freezer for stocking up on homemade soup. My approach is to make a big batch of whatever the night’s recipe is, share a bowl with my boyfriend for dinner, spoon some into a container for lunch the next day, and save the rest for the freezer. A step that may seem too obvious but that often gets forgotten? Let your stew come to room temperature before freezing.

When your soup is ready to go in the freezer, you have a couple options. A larger portion can be poured into a zip-top bag to be frozen flat on a sheet pan, removing the pan once the soup is solid. Or, if you want to freeze your soup in individual portions, just pour into individual muffin tins and transfer servings to a zip bag to keep for longer.

Another thing to note when making soup for the freezer is to forgo the addition of pasta. While minestrone is definitely a fave, as the soup cools, the pasta will absorb excess liquid, making the reheated result a mushy, unappetizing mess (not a good look).

5. Breakfast Is Your Freezer’s Favorite Meal

I’m a sweets girl, and I’m 100 percent on-board with the fact that I can count doughnuts and pancakes as my first meal of the day (and, you know, pie for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving). My freezer only builds on this love, letting me bake a batch of muffins on the weekend and tucking them away for quick grab-and-go morning meals throughout the week. 

The options for muffins abound, with the spectrum ranging from veggie-packed baked goods to what are essentially cupcakes sans frosting. While I’m always game for both, I’m currently focused on boosting my immune system, and as such, berry-packed muffins are a part of my regular rotation. After scooping the batter into a muffin tin, you can either bake right away or place the muffins in the freezer until set. From there, the muffins can keep in the freezer for up to two months, for ready-to-bake deliciousness at your fingertips.

While growing up, cold cereal was a weekday morning staple, but there were a few days when I’d wake up to freshly-made waffles. I can now relive these glory days as an adult with freezer waffles. Make a batch on Sunday morning, let them cool, and store the leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer. When you wake up on Thursday with a serious craving for waffles (please tell me I’m not alone in feeling this), just pull one from the freezer, reheat in the toaster, and you’ve got the Eggo Waffle of your childhood, just a million times better.

Continuing upon this ode to breakfasts that taste like dessert, when breakfast cookies started to become a thing, I felt seen. My go-to recipe includes a healthy serving of avocado and kale made sweet with the addition of honey and cinnamon for a breakfast you can take with you in the car or eat at your desk. I divide the dough in two and save half in the freezer for at-a-whim baking whenever the morning calls for it.

6. When It Comes to Dessert, the Possibilities Are Endless

Speaking of cookies, I’d be remiss not to mention your freezer’s endless potential for storing sweet treats. While we all know your freezer can be a goldmine for ice cream (is that the second time I’ve mentioned it?), it can also house your favorite cookie dough to be baked off any night after dinner. I mix up the recipe, scoop out cookies onto a baking tray, and chill until cold and solid, transferring to a zipped-top bag to be stored for up to three months. When the craving hits, grab a ball or two from the freezer and bake off in the oven for a homemade treat you can thank your past self for.