Most of us are at home way more than we’re used to. Plus, we are currently responsible for much more…
Most of us are at home way more than we’re used to. Plus, we are currently responsible for much more cooking than we might otherwise choose. While it might be tempting to order takeout often, we can use our freezer to accomplish healthy eating with less time and less effort.
And with visits to the grocery store reduced, this might be the best time to harness the powers of your freezer.
Here are six simple ways to eat healthier by putting your freezer to work:
— Boost your smoothie with frozen cauliflower.
— Meal prep for your slow cooker.
— Add frozen berries.
— Double what you’re already cooking.
— Let the store do the chopping, ricing or spiralizing.
— Soothe your sweet tooth.
Boost your Smoothie with Frozen Cauliflower
If you use the right combination of ingredients, a smoothie can be a delicious and satisfying meal with minimal prep time or clean up. An additional boost can come from frozen fruits and even vegetables. Did you know that frozen cauliflower makes a thick and creamy smoothie without needing dairy? Try adding a half cup of frozen cauliflower to your favorite smoothie and blending until smooth.
If you’d like the smoothie to be your breakfast, make sure that you include some protein, such as peanut butter, collagen powder, sunflower seeds, chia seeds or flax seeds. I would also recommend some fats — you can buy frozen avocado cubes, so that you’re ready to blend at any time.
Nutrition note: The same fatty acids that make chia and flax seeds so healthy for you are also vulnerable to spoiling. Keep them in the freezer to prevent spoilage, especially if you bought ground flax seeds.
[READ: Surprisingly High-Fat Foods.]
Meal Prep for Your Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
There are so many freezer meal recipes where every ingredient is simply frozen together in a gallon-sized zip-top bag and then frozen. My favorite resource is The Family Freezer.
Once assembled, squeeze out all of the air and make sure the bag is tightly zipped shut. This prevents freezer burn. If you lay the bags flat, they stack nicely and take up minimal room in your freezer.
When you’re ready for a quick meal, thaw the ingredients in the fridge and cook on low in your slow cooker or Instant Pot. If you set aside an hour or two, you can easily get several dinners prepped and in the freezer, so that dinner is ready, fast.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Simple chicken and rice soup with lemon
— 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs.
— 4 large carrots, peeled and diced.
— 2 ribs celery, diced.
— 1 small yellow onion, diced.
— 1/4 cup dry white rice, raw.
— Juice from 1/2 lemon (optional).
— 1 teaspoon salt.
— 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
— 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.
— 1 teaspoon dried dill.
— 1 quart chicken broth – not needed until day of cooking.
1. Add all ingredients — except the chicken broth — to a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Squeeze out all air, seal and lay flat to freeze.
2. When ready to cook, thaw freezer bag overnight in the refrigerator or in the morning in water.
3. Empty contents of the bag to slow cooker and add broth. Cook on “low” setting for 6 to 8 hours.
4. Shred chicken with two forks and add more salt and pepper, if desired.
Berries are a nutritional powerhouse. Not only are they high in fiber and phytochemicals — those plant-based compounds that keep our cells healthy and resilient — they’re also low in sugar. The trouble is that fresh berries tend to spoil very quickly.
Frozen berries are available year-round, are just as healthy (or even healthier) than fresh and aren’t going to mold the second you return from the grocery store.
Frozen berries make a cool snack on a hot day, a flavorful ice cube to make plain water more interesting, a quick flavor boost for muffins and pancakes and an easy addition to smoothies or oatmeal.
Double What You’re Already Cooking
You might be surprised to learn just how many foods freeze well once they’re cooked and actually taste better once you thaw them again. From whole-grain waffles and muffins to oatmeal breakfast cookies, individual portions of leftover soups and stews to sloppy joe and taco filling. You can even make extra brown rice or refried beans to have the start of a meal for later.
You can also leverage your freezer to prevent waste. Leftover tomato paste after a recipe called for a mere tablespoon? Portion out the remainder into little dollops on a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper on a plate and freeze. Then store in a freezer bag, and you’ll be able to easily add the right amount to your next recipe.
The most important strategy is to freeze each item with as little exposure to air as possible. For example, tightly wrap baked goods in plastic wrap and remove all air from plastic bags of food.
If you freeze any liquid in glass jars, be sure to use wide mouth jars and leave a generous amount of space for the food to expand without causing the jar to break.
Always label and date any food before putting in the freezer. Masking tape works well on most kinds of surfaces. Chalk paint works well to label glass jars.
Let the Store Do the Chopping, Ricing or Spiralizing
We all know that we probably should be eating more vegetables — the data suggests that only 1 in 10 US adults are eating enough. We could use some help.
Frozen veggies are already cut and ready to add to your meals — from stir-fry veggie blends for a quick takeout inspired meal, to cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles as a nice addition to your pasta meals.
Even your kids might get excited about a vegetable if it’s in a new, fun form. If you’re struggling with a picky eater, vegetable tots are a step in the right direction to encourage them to be eating more vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, they’re not going to spoil any time soon and they help you to get dinner on the table fast.
Soothe Your Sweet Tooth
While your freezer might be used to housing pints of your favorite ice cream, you can also use frozen fruits to make creamy and delicious desserts.
A good starting point is freezing peeled and sliced ripe bananas. Then, blend in a high-powered blender or food processor until very creamy. This will take a few minutes. The final texture is creamy, dreamy and delicious and is surprisingly similar to soft-serve ice cream. It’s tasty plain or even better with the addition of peanut butter, cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla and topped with your favorite ice cream toppings.
Explore a tropical flavor by pureeing frozen mango or pineapple and boost the flavor with a splash of rum, some coconut milk or vanilla extract.
I prefer to eat this right away as soft serve, but you can also make this and pop back in the freezer for later. Just keep in mind that it freezes very firmly and will need to sit on the counter for a bit to thaw enough to be able to scoop.
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6 Simple Ways to Eat Healthier Meals by Using Your Freezer originally appeared on usnews.com