In a rush to get dinner on the table? Turn to your freezer for help. Keeping it stocked with healthy frozen foods (think: vegetables and fruits, fish fillets) and other essential ingredients that store well in the freezer will make it easy to whip together healthy meals. Plus, filling the freezer with healthy options makes it less enticing to run and get takeout. Here are some healthy ingredients to keep in your freezer.
Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough: With as many topping options as your imagination can dream up, it’s nearly impossible to tire of pizza—and with whole-wheat dough at the ready, it’s a quick, nutritious meal to pull together. Top with lots of your favorite veggies, some lean protein (chicken sausage, anyone?) and a sprinkling of part-skim mozzarella or other lower-fat cheese. Just take the pizza dough out of your freezer and let it thaw in your fridge 24 hours before you want to use it.
Fish Fillets: Keeping frozen fish on hand is a great way to help boost your seafood intake. Versatile, easy-to-find picks include wild salmon and farmed tilapia, and fillets in individually vacuum-sealed packages are less likely to get freezer burn. If you buy a big bag of fillets, just pull out what you need the night before you’re going to cook it and put it in the refrigerator. A 5-ounce fillet takes about 8 to 10 hours to thaw in the fridge.
Fruits and Vegetables: There are many advantages to keeping frozen vegetables and fruits on hand. For starters, many come chopped, which cuts prep time. And depending on the season, frozen fruits and vegetables actually may be better for you than fresh: they’re picked and frozen at their prime, so they often have more flavor and nutrients than their out-of-season counterparts. Most don’t have added sodium. If you thaw frozen fruits and vegetables, drain off any water that has collected in the bag or thaw in a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Depending on your recipes, you may not have to thaw them at all. Versatile, nutrient-rich picks: peas, spinach, vegetable medleys, berries.
Whole-Grain Bread: Bread spoils easily, especially if it’s kept on the counter in plastic. Fortunately, breads (and bread products like wraps and hamburger buns) freeze beautifully and don’t take much time at all to thaw. In fact, slices of bread go from freezer to toaster without a problem. Or just pull out what you need and let it thaw in your fridge for an hour or two.
Chicken Tenders: Like conventional chicken breasts, they’re a great source of lean protein but they’re much smaller so they thaw quickly. Their smaller size also makes them easy to add to a soup or stir-fry without having to commit to thawing and cooking a whole breast. Pick up a big package of tenders and repackage them in quart-size zip-top bags for convenience. Just transfer them to your fridge to defrost the night before you’re ready to use them.
Nuts: Nuts are full of good fats (especially walnuts, which have omega-3s). They are great for baking, topping a salad or just plain snacking. And as it turns out, storing nuts in the freezer is actually better than storing them in your pantry: it prevents the oils from going rancid. They don’t take long to thaw—just 10 minutes or so on the counter and you’re ready to go.
Shredded Cheese: Don’t let loose-end blocks of forgotten cheese get moldy in the fridge. Shred what you don’t use and freeze it. This works best with solid cheeses like Cheddar or Monterey Jack. These thaw almost instantly and the texture and flavor remain unchanged.