Freezer Essentials – How to Stock Your Freezer For Healthy Eating on a Budget
Freezer essentials are your go-to items to make healthy eating realistic f0r your family. A well-stocked freezer is an insurance policy for last minute dinners and go-to healthy snacks. Learn about the must-haves from a family that loves to cook from scratch.
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Stocking your freezer with a variety of foods is the best way to ensure your home against food shortages, tightened budgets, and wanting to go through the drive-thru because you’re officially over your family and feeding them.
Everyone has different eating styles, needs, and requirements, so use the guide below simply as a starting point to build your healthy freezer stash.
Oh, and because I know you’re just as nosy as I am, head over to this post and check out my list of Pantry Essentials For the Home Cook. Maybe it’s just me, but is there anything better than looking in the closets of other people? I’m a sucker for an open house.
Here is my basement freezer on a good day:
If you don’t have a separate stand-alone freezer, the freezer essentials below can still apply, just in smaller quantities.
Can we talk about freezer storage for a second? Yes? Oh good!
Many people prefer to store items, even sauces, in plastic freezer bags. I totally get the appeals of these bags as you can freeze them flat and then stack them.
I get it and use them for some items myself, especially the leftovers of a Roasted Chicken and veggie scraps for making Homemade Bone Broth.
I do my best to avoid single-use products when possible. If you plan to use plastic freezer bags, it is ok to reuse them for certain foods like fruits and veggies. I never reuse freezer bags for meat.
And if you use them for cooked foods (soup, sauces, etc.), I highly recommend making sure the food is cold before it touches the plastic.
My preferred freezing storage containers are reusable silicone bags (you can even reheat in them if you’d like) and wide-mouth canning jars.
You can absolutely freeze in canning jars and they’re wonderful! You must use wide-mouth jars and leave 1-inch of space between the top of the food and the top of the jar (this is referred to as headspace). You’ll also want to make sure the contents are fully-cooled before freezing.
For more info about freezing in jars and different types of canning jars, check out this Canning Supplies and Preserving Equipment List.
I see many people running out to get expensive bins and tubs for organizing their freezers. If buying stackable freezer bins will motivate you to clean out your freezer, then do it! But if you want to do this in a more frugal way, use what you have hanging around.
Empty shoe boxes and orphaned toy bins work amazingly well as freezer storage. Don’t let not having “the right storage” prevent you from organizing your freezer.
Resources for Affordable Freezer Essentials:
In addition to local stores, I use and love these online resources for stocking our freezer at affordable prices:
- Thrive (First-time thrive customers can get a $20 shopping credit by signing up here.)
- Butcher Box
- Azure Standard (check out this post for an Azure Standard shopping list for a full rundown)
So many of the ingredients below can be used for all of these Pantry Staples You Can Make Yourself.
People often discount the nutritional value of frozen veggies, but my goal in life is to change that. And to eventually have a good hair day. We’ll see.
Frozen vegetables are flash-frozen at the peak of freshness. That means their nutritional profile is way higher than that ear of corn in January that was trucked in over 2,000 miles to your grocery store.
The real value of frozen vegetables is when buying organic. Many stores have a generic store brand of organic products and sell organic frozen veg for just a slightly higher price than conventional.
I love frozen veggies so much that I wrote this guide on Roasting Frozen Vegetables. It is such a well-kept secret that frozen veg can be roasted and enjoyed just like their fresh counterparts.
My favorite all-time recipe for using a bunch of frozen vegetables at once is this Fried Gnocchi and Veggies dish. It’s a one-pan wonder that everyone in the family will LOVE.
Freezing your own veggies is also a simple task that allows you to know how your food was processed. Check out this post on How to Freeze Fresh Produce to learn how to freeze your own.
My Favorite Frozen Veggies to Stock:
- Asparagus (related: how to freeze asparagus)
- Beets (related: air fryer roasted beets)
- Broccoli (related: roasted frozen broccoli)
- Brussels Sprouts (related: roasted frozen brussel sprouts, air fryer brussels sprouts)
- Butternut Squash (related: spicy vegan butternut squash soup)
- Carrots (related: how to freeze carrots)
- Cauliflower (related: how to freeze cauliflower, roasted frozen cauliflower & more cauliflower recipes)
- Corn (related: Freezing Corn on the Cob)
- Celery (related: How to Freeze Celery)
- Garlic (related: How to Freeze Garlic)
- Green beans (related: How to Freeze Green Beans, green bean recipes)
- Onions (related: How to Freeze Onions)
- Peas (related: How to Freeze Peas)
- Peppers (related: How to Freeze Peppers)
- Potatoes (related: How to Freeze Potatoes)
- Pumpkin (related: Freezing Pumpkin)
- Spinach (related: freezing spinach)
- Tomatoes. And yes, I know they’re technically a fruit. But you can still freeze tomatoes!
- Zucchini (related: How to Freeze Zucchini)
Frozen fruit has endless possibilities! You can use it to make and prep smoothies (related: Make and Freeze Smoothie Packs), add it to yogurt (related: Easy Instant Pot Yogurt), or even make a dessert (related: Gluten-Free Blackberry Crisp).
You can also use frozen fruit as a stand-alone snack. Until my oldest son was five, he thought a bowl of frozen blueberries (AKA “cold blues”) in the bathtub was considered dessert. Pro tip: always feed messy kids frozen fruit in the tub because it contains the mess AND cleans them up at the end. #winning
If you have a garden or access to a ton of fresh and amazing produce, try freezing your own fruit!
My Favorite Frozen Fruits to Stock:
- Bananas (related: banana recipes)
- Blackberries (related: how to freeze blackberries & blackberry recipes)
- Blueberries (related: blueberry recipes)
- Cherries (related: How to Freeze Cherries)
- Cranberries (related: How to Freeze Cranberries, Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce)
- Mango (related: mango recipes)
- Peaches (related: how to freeze peaches & peach recipes)
- Pineapple (related: how to freeze pineapple)
- Raspberries (related: how to freeze raspberries & raspberry recipes)
- Rhubarb (related: How to Freeze Rhubarb – we use it in Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp)
- Strawberries (related: strawberry recipes and How to Freeze Strawberries)
We have a local butcher that we love, but we also supplement their selection with a monthly box from Butcher Box. Butcher Box sources only organic and free-range meat for their customers and ships them to your home once a month.
Thrive is also another great source for organic frozen meat that is shipped to your house. Try their awesome sample pack to get a variety of cuts.
Everyone has different preferences for meat, but we always have these on hand:
- Grass-fed burger
- Organic chicken breasts
- Organic whole chickens (related: Paleo Roasted Chicken)
- Organic ground turkey (related: Greek Turkey Meatballs)
- Bacon (related: Air Fryer Bacon, Whole30 Bacon Brands)
- Ground sausage (related: Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana, Whole30 Breakfast Sausage)
- Organic chicken sausage for dishes like Healthy Sheet Pan Sausage and Veggies
And if you love having food cooked and ready to go (who doesn’t?), check out this post on How to Bake Bacon in the Oven. Cook up a bunch and freeze for fast breakfasts. Bonus: even my four-year-old can heat up his own slice of cooked bacon in the microwave.
Jars of bone broth or stock are the building blocks to so many delicious meals! You can learn How to Make Chicken Bone Broth and Turkey Bone Broth or buy it if homemade is just not your jam.
If you don’t want to make your own homemade stock, check out this post on where to buy bone broth. In a very dorky move on my part, I’ve created a free spreadsheet where you can compare protein and sodium content as well as the price per ounce for various brands. #nerdalert
Next time you shell out $2.50 for a small package of fresh herbs, don’t let the excess go to waste. You can totally freeze the leftovers for quick additions to future meals.
Simply clean and chop the herbs and portion into ice cube trays. Fill with a bit of water or olive oil and freeze. Remove and transfer to freezer storage bags.
Whole grains like flour, quinoa, and flax seed are delicious, but can also go rancid if stored at room temperature for too long. You can freeze those items in their own packaging, but I prefer to use these useable containers.
We grind our own flour for many whole wheat recipes and store five pounds of ground flour in the freezer at all times. Interested to know what it is like to be a giant crunchy hippie who makes their own flour? Check out this post on Grinding Your Own Wheat.
Freezer Essentials – Bread/Baked Goods
Having some baked items on hand can be a great way to expand your meal (and dessert!) options.
Bread freezes really well. Back when we were eating a lot of bread, I would always freeze homemade Homemade Honey Wheat Bread. I also keep a few storebought loaves in there for emergencies.
You can also freeze Cheesy Garlic Bread and Overnight Cinnamon Rolls which might be the two most delicious things in your freezer.
Stashes of Fluffy Whole Wheat Pancakes, Whole Wheat Waffles, Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins, and unbaked Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies can often be found in our freezer for quick breakfasts and treats.
Freezer Essentials – Sauces
Sauces ready to thaw and serve are an amazing freezer essential. I keep canning jars full of Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce for quick and healthy homemade dinners.
Pesto freezes like a dream! When I make a few batches of Homemade Pesto with basil from our garden, I take leftovers and freeze pesto.
Homemade Sugar-Free Pizza Sauce also keeps well in small canning jars. And we’re never without a few jars of this Strawberry Freezer Jam Recipe!
Freezer Essentials – Soup
My brief love letter to soup: Oh, soup. I love you so much! You’re easy to make, affordable, and so nourishing. You also freeze like a dream.
Soup is the perfect grab and go kind of meal. You can make a giant batch and freeze in individual or family-sized portions.
I prefer to save soup in pint jars (16 oz) for one serving, and quart jars (32 oz) when I need family-size soup. Pro tip: make sure the soup in the jars is cool before freezing and only use wide-mouth jars. This prevents the jars from cracking once frozen.
My favorite Soups to Freeze:
*The Instant Pot soups also have slow cooker and stovetop cooking instructions!
- Whole30 Beef Stew
- Instant Pot Tortilla Soup With Rice
- Whole30 Tomato Soup
- Instant Pot Lentil Soup
- Vegetable Noodle Soup
You can check out all my soup recipes here.
Freezer Essentials – Premade Meals
Homemade meals that are frozen and ready to go is like having a unicorn in the freezer. I mean, not really. Glitter gets everywhere. But, premade ready to go meals are the miracle you might need at the end of a very long day.
Some of my favorite easy freezer meals are:
- Mini Quiche – the ultimate heat and eat homemade dish because it can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. You can make it vegetarian, or packed with your favorite meat.
- Frozen gnocchi – the gluten-free kind from Trader Joe’s is the star in my Dairy-Free Chicken Gnocchi Soup.
- Homemade frozen pizza. Everyone in my family loves when I bust some frozen pizza out for dinner. They’re happy and have no idea I totally forgot to plan for dinner that night.
- Paleo Salmon Cakes – cook and then freeze. Reheat on a sheet pan with frozen veggies for a complete dinner.
- Bagged ice. I use it a lot for blanching veggies like when I freeze peas, or for canning peaches (hot peaches dipped in an ice bath will peel easily).
- Frozen pasta like ravioli or tortellini can be very affordable and are delicious in recipes like Instant Pot Tortellini, Instant Pot Ravioli, and Instant Pot Vegetable Noodle Soup.
- Pre-cooked beans! Make a big batch of beans in your Instant Pot and freeze in pint jars to replace the standard grocery-store cans of beans (15 oz).
- Precooked grains like Instant Pot Garlic Parmesan Rice, Instant Pot Quinoa, and Instant Pot Farro. <—if you don’t have an Instant Pot, all of those recipes have stovetop cooking notes in the posts.
- I always have a quart of garbanzo beans in the freezer to make my award-winning Addicting Garlic Hummus. And yeah, I freeze the hummus too! I use 4 oz jars for individual servings and pint jars for “party-size”.
- Scrambled eggs – they freeze so well! Related: How to Freeze Scrambled Eggs
- Butter. Yes, butter freezes really well. If you find a killer deal on your favorite butter, stock up!
- Coffee ice cubes – I use these in my Blended Iced Coffee recipe. You can use them in regular iced coffee, or to cool down a too-hot cup.
- Homemade popsicles like Watermelon Popsicles or Healthy Tea Popsicles For Sore Throats (a must-have for cold and flu season).
- Ice cream bowl for my Kitchen Aid mixer. We love making homemade ice cream!
- Yogurt tubes. I know, I know, I said I don’t like single-use disposable items, but I always keep some organic yogurt tubes in our freezer. My youngest kiddo seems to have some sort of preschool party every other week. Not only do the kids love when I show up with yogurt, but the teachers adore me because frozen yogurt doesn’t make a mess.
Every family is different and has different diety needs, so I would love to hear what your freezer essentials are! Drop a comment below and tell me what is one of your must-have items for your freezer.
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What does everyone buy through Thrive? Everything I’ve looked at so far is the same price or a bit higher than getting it at Walmart or Sam’s club
We buy a lot of home items – toilet paper, reusable storage bags (Stasher), hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, etc. Our favorite coffee and some specialty snacks that we can’t find locally or for a good price.
I never shop at Walmart and we have Costco, but I would say the Thrive prices are comparable to Costco depending on the sales. The convenience of having it delivered to our home, especially in the last 6 months cannot be underscored. They team up with Rakuten (formerly ebates) so I always get 1-4% cashback from my purchases. https://www.rakuten.com/r/SARAHA685?utm_campaign=RAF&utm_medium=RAF%20share&eeid=45830
Oh, and, according to my kids, their boxes make the best forts. 🙂
Thanks. We don’t have Costco and I work for Walmart so I get an employee discount on non food. Home delivery is definitely hard to beat right now
– We buy the raw tortillas in the refrigerated section at Costco and we find that, despite what the packaging says, they freeze just fine. Which is great if your family goes through as many tortillas as mine does (especially since my Costco runs have been drastically reduced due to the pandemic).
– I make a shredded cheese blend which ends up being 6lbs at a time. I portion it out in 1lb bags and the extras go in the freezer until needed (I probably need to invest in stasher bags for this).
– I always make more rice than we need for a meal, especially short grain brown rice. I freeze the extras in 2c portions, which is enough for a side for us or as the base for fried rice.
– A backup baby of my sourdough starter. And most of the commercial yeast I purchase in 1lb bags.
I always have butter in the freezer too! And I try to keep a good stock of home made cookie dough. Make the dough, portion it out into cookie pieces, push a hole in the center and freeze on a cookie sheet. Once frozen I transfer to ziploc freezer bags. It’s so nice to have cookies whenever we want! Your freezer sounds like a dream! I wish we had a stand alone freezer. Right now it’s just the standard freezer on the bottom of the fridge.
You gotta tell me why you push a hole in the center! I’m fascinated and can’t figure it out.
Hello western US! From the eastern US (SC)
Ive been reading your blog for years now…..(yup! a long time!)
And I have never seen this problem addressed.
When freezing liquids ( such as broth) how do you prevent them from breaking? I put about a dozen ( already cool) quarts of bone broth in my freezer. Half of them broke!!! What a mess. And what a horrible WASTE! I thought I had left enough space.
How can you tell ???
(p.s. I have loved your blogs FOREVER!)
Let’s figure this out! A few questions:
1) what kind of jars did you use?
2) how full did you fill the jars?
3) when did they crack? In the freezer? When you took them out?
4) how cool was the broth? Like cool, or COLD?
1. Ball jars
2. I left a good 1 1/2 inches.
3. They cracked IN the freezer.
4. They had been in the refrigerator for a day.????????♀️
The only thing I can think left to ask is if the jars were wide mouth or regular mouth. Regular will definitely crack but wide mouth is not supposed to! I maybe lost 1-2 jars a year to cracking in the freezer.
I keep jars of nuts in the freezer so they don’t get rancid. Periodically, I might make a dessert and freeze individual portions to try to save from overeating. I also keep chocolate chips frozen. I try to stock up for the year when they are on sale for the fall/ holiday baking season. Right now I’m hiding my Lily’s low carb candy bars in the freezer, but they taste good frozen. ????
Yes, nuts are great to keep in the fridge or freezer!
Much to our chagrin, we too have found that many goodies are BETTER cold. 🙂