Stocking your kitchen is the first thing you need to do if you’re serious about cooking on the reg. Healthy meals will practically build themselves if you have a pantry full of high-protein staples, a fridge full of fresh fruits and veggies, and a freezer full of, well, everything else.
Seriously, the freezer is a great place to store just about anything, aside from the handful of ingredients that are better off left in the fridge or at room temperature. The freezer is like a time-capsule in that it will keep most foods fresh for a long ass time. These are the nine foods you should always try to keep cold. Ice cold.
1. Chicken and vegetable stock
Stock is a key flavoring agent in many recipes. It can add a savory, umami-kick to everything from soups to sauces. And you can even use it in place of water to cook your grain of choice—a method that will practically guarantee your next grain bowl is extra tasty.
Nothing is better than real-deal, liquid stock. Sure, powdered stuff and bouillon cubes are fine in a pinch, but homemade, or even store-bought liquid stock is much more nuanced. You can make or buy a bunch at once and easily freeze it in plastic containers for later use.
2. Whole grain bread
When left on the counter or refrigerated, bread will stale or mold very quickly. On the other hand, bread stored in a freezer can last for up to three months, which makes this a great trick if you tend to buy bread in bulk. Freezing it is simple: Just be sure it’s tightly wrapped or stored in air-tight plastic containers. When you do finally decide to defrost it, let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes for the best results. Generally, the bread will retain its original structural integrity.
3. Pre-cooked beans
“Beans and lentil often take a while to cook,” says Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E., registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “They are powerhouse of plant-based protein, fiber, and other nutrients.” Cooking a bunch of beans and lentils at once and then freezing them will save you so much time when you’re ready to throw a meal together. As with other foods, you’ll want to make sure that your beans are stored properly in the freezer. Give ‘em the ol’ pop in the microwave or toss in a saucepan, and use them in salads, wraps, soups, or dips.
Can you say smoothies? Frozen fruit is a key ingredient to that breakfast favorite. Though, yes, there are a few fruits that you probably won’t want to freeze—apples, pears, or anything else that’s particularly watery (unless you’re trying to make a popsicle)—everything else is pretty much fair game. You can buy many fruits pre-frozen—berries are one great option, and they’re a lot cheaper than their fresh counterparts. You can also freeze fruit yourself in a couple different ways.
If you’re on that smoothie track, consider puréeing your fruit and portioning it out into an ice tray. Alternatively, you can simply cut up your fruit and put it into plastic baggies. Maybe even consider making a freezer-pack smoothie.
5. Ginger root
This is my personal favorite thing to keep in the freezer. On those icy shelves, ginger root will last for what seems like forever, and is actually about a year. But ginger is pretty affordable, so preservation isn’t the main reason I prefer to keep mine in the freezer. Rather, I find that ginger is easier to handle and prepare when frozen. I like to grate mine with a microplane or a cheese grater and sprinkle it over fried rice, teas, soups, and anything else ginger tastes good with.
If it feels like every time you try to use your fresh herbs you find that they’ve already gone bad, freezing them might be just the solution you need.
There are a couple different freezing techniques you can choose from. The first, and most popular, is popping the whole leaves into an ice tray and covering them with olive oil. This is fine if you don’t mind using a lot of olive oil. But if you do (we get it, olive oil is pricey!) another, less expensive option is to blend your herbs into a paste with a bit of oil or water, and then separate them into that same ice tray. If you don’t feel like going through all the herb-paste-making-effort, a lot of grocery stores now sell herb ice cubes in the freezer section next to the other vegetables.
Edamame is a nutrient powerhouse. It’s packed with protein and fiber, and Sheth likes to add it to stir-frys and eat it as a snack all by itself. Most grocery stores already sell edamame in the freezer section, so this ingredient is basically destined for your ice chest.
As is the case with fruit, certain veggies aren’t meant to be frozen. These are usually vegetables of the watery nature like cucumbers, celery, lettuce, and radishes. Feel free to freeze pretty much everything else. The ones that are most often sold pre-frozen include peas, spinach, broccoli, carrots, and corn, and these tend to retain their original crisp texture better than canned vegetables—and keep more of their nutrients.
9. Meat-based proteins
Most meat-based proteins will survive about a week in your fridge before they’re no longer safe to eat. This is true of chicken, beef, fish, and the like. The easy solution? Freeze it! You can either freeze fresh meat yourself—using proper food storage containers, naturally—or you can buy your meat pre-frozen. Either way is safe works fine, so it’s up to your preference.
When it comes to defrosting meat (and specifically chicken), there are a things you’ll want to keep in mind: Avoid leaving it on the counter or letting it defrost in the microwave. Instead, pop it in the fridge a few hours before you plan to cook with it, and you should be good to go.