One of my fool-proof tricks to creating easy, tasty, and healthy meals with little effort is to have a stash of pre-made condiments, sauces, and sides in my freezer. I like to think of it as my holy grail. These are my favorite easy-to-make-and-freeze-for-later mealtime freezer staples.
By creating meal components beforehand and freezing them, you can take any protein dish and make it into a five-star meal with the simple technique of cooking and dumping, topping, or smothering. Chef talk. It’s fancy….
Here are some scenarios to make easy dinners, with easy pre-made mealtime freezer staples!
Scenario #1: You just got home from soccer practice, dance rehearsal, piano lessons, and picking the dog up from the groomer. You’re tired, your kids are hungry and gremlin-like, and you only have ground beef in the fridge and a single head of lettuce.
Solution: Make burger wraps! Throw a few patties made from the ground beef on the skillet or grill. Thaw your previously frozen caramelized onions and bacon bits and top the burgers with these savory elements. Or brown the beef, add the caramelized onions, pour in a little coconut aminos, rice vinegar, and ground ginger, then throw in any vegetables you have, or the frozen cauliflower rice. Top with the bacon bits.
- 4-6 medium to large yellow onions
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
Slice the onions and place them all into a large saucepan. Add one tablespoon of olive oil per onion to the pan. Then add 3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Cook the onions on medium/high, evenly coating with the olive oil/balsamic mixture. Once the onions start to get translucent, turn the heat to medium/low and cook until they start to caramelize, mixing frequently. This will take roughly 30 minutes. Let the onions cool then store in an airtight container or mason jars in the freezer.
Cook an entire package of bacon in a large skillet. Once bacon is cooked, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Let the bacon cool, then cut into small square bits. Store in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag in the freezer.
Place a head of cauliflower into a food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower has transformed into small, rice-like pieces. Empty the rice into a large airtight container or a sealable plastic bag. Freeze. Add to any ground meat dishes with adequate sauces and seasoning, so the cauliflower rice can pick up the flavors. Or try this cauliflower fried rice!
Scenario #2: You just came back from a week-long work trip. You have nothing fresh in the fridge and only a few frozen chicken breasts in the freezer.
Solution: Low-Carb Taco bowls! Cook the thawed chicken either on the stovetop or pop them in the oven. Grab your pre-made salsa from the freezer and the cauliflower rice and thaw. Shred the chicken once it is cooked throughout. Pour the cauliflower rice in the skillet and add any spices like cumin and chili powder, and lime juice. Heat the cauliflower rice and add the previously frozen sliced peppers. Add the shredded chicken and homemade salsa in a bowl and devour.
Cup the tops off of the peppers and gut out the seeds. Cut into large slices and place in a sealable plastic bag. Upon serving, thaw the peppers and add to any dish as it’s heating, sautéing the peppers until soft.
Homemade salsa is such an easy homemade staple to have on hand. Totally customizable but typically includes tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, cilantro and cumin. Here is one of my favorite salsa recipes from Kim’s Cravings.
- 6 tomatoes of varying sizes, chopped
- 4 small jalapeño peppers (leave the seeds in for an extra kick)
- ½ onion
- ¼ – 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1½ to 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about ½ lemon, juiced)
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until you reach the consistency preferred (chunky or smooth).
Scenario #3: You spent the day running around like a chicken with your head cut off – running errands (everything but getting groceries). You walk in the door at dinnertime and having a variety of random vegetables in your fridge but no fresh ideas.
Solution: 10-minute vegetable soup. Sauté any vegetables you have on hand with a little coconut oil or olive oil over medium/high heat. In the meantime, thaw your pre-made bone broth in the microwave, just enough for the liquid to run out of the jar. Pour the bone broth in a small pot. Once the vegetables are soft, add to the bone broth mixture. Add any meat leftovers if you have any.
Scenario #4: Your hubby went grocery shopping. He bought 2 steaks. That’s it.
Solution: Summon him to cook the steaks on the grill and thaw your pre-made pesto. Top the steaks with pesto and serve with your thawed mashed sweet potatoes.
I LOVE this pesto Danielle created from Against All Grain. It packs a punch a flavor, without the traditional parmesan cheese found in most pesto recipes. Pesto is also easily customizable. You can sub the pine nuts for almonds or cashews, and try using beets, kale, or avocado – whatever floats your boat!
- ¾ cup packed basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 garlic clove
- ¾ teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Lightly toast the nuts in a skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Place all ingredients except for oil in a small food processor. Slowly incorporate the oil while the machine is running, until a smooth paste has formed. Continue blending for 15 seconds to thin the sauce out. Alternatively, crush all of the ingredients in a mortar and pestle and blend until smooth.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes:
- 2-4 large sweet potatoes
- at least 1/4 cup coconut milk (or almond milk)
- dash of salt
Poke small holes into each sweet potato and place on a microwaveable plate. Microwave on high for 4-7 minutes or until soft, depending on the size of the sweet potato. Let the potatoes cool, then cut into the potatoes and scrape out the insides, discarding the skin. Add coconut milk (at least 1/4 cup, depending on the amount of sweet potatoes you’ve made), and a little salt to taste. Mix well by hand or with a mixer, until light and creamy. Place mashed sweet potatoes in an airtight container and freeze.
Moral of this super long post? Pre-making some pretty easy sauces, condiments, and side dishes can be clutch during the frenzy of dinnertime. So next time your tomatoes are getting soft, make salsa. Onions sitting in our pantry for weeks? Make caramelized onions. Freeze and slice up veggies like peppers or throw that head of cauliflower in your food processor to freeze cauliflower rice. Basil plant blowing up? Make pesto and save it for later. Try making batches of you favorite marinara, or “mom’s secret recipe” sauce.
Dinner in a flash, with the help of a little creativity, prep work, and our friend, the freezer.