The dinner time rush is the pits – even if you have your meals planned out, sometimes things get in the way and you’re hurrying to feed hungry kids on a grumbling tummy of your own and chopping all of those vegetables is just taking too long.
One of my favorite meal time shortcuts is to have meal starters in my freezer. They help make dinnertime less of a chore and help me be more efficient during the week. They can also be a life-saver when I don’t have a plan for dinner and the fridge is looking rather sparse.
Vegetable Meal Starters
These are my favorite vegetables to keep on hand in the freezer (you can purchase many of these already prepared, or you can buy them on sale and prep them yourself):
- diced onions
- chopped celery
- sliced bell peppers
- chopped carrots
Tip: You can make and keep a soup starter in your freezer, called a “mirepoix.” It is made up of 1 part celery, 1 part carrots, and 2 parts onions. I usually use scant 3/4 cup portions, which makes a generous helping of soup. A mirepoix is the perfect starter for just about any soup – chicken soup, bean soup, split pea, ham bone, vegetable, beef stew, and whatever else you can come up with – so it is really handy to keep around!
Meat Meal Starters
I like to keep many of these on hand, as well:
- cubed beef
- cubed chicken
- chicken pieces with bones (like split breasts)
- cooked taco meat
- shredded leftover chicken (this is great to pair with your soup starter for that chicken soup!)
Buy meats when they’re on sale to save serious money. Pick up two or three family packs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cube them up, and freeze them in meal-sized portions, then thaw them and use them as your recipes call for them! This is a great way to get through some of the leaner months, budget-wise.
Other Meal Starters
A few other things that can be useful are:
- chopped herbs, frozen into ice cubes
- stock or broth frozen in 4oz (half cup) blocks
This is perfect for using up any leftovers you have from a recipe that you don’t want to go to waste.
Storing Meal Starters
If you were to use a freezer bag for each of these, you’d run out of freezer bags pretty quickly!
I prefer to chop my vegetables and put them into sandwich bags, then put those all into one gallon-sized freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.
Also, make sure to label all of your baggies with the date they came in, then make sure you use the oldest first. This method is called FIFO, short for “first in, first out,” and ensures that nothing gets forgotten and freezer-burned, but that you can still cash in on great deals.
A lot of these meal starters work well with a variety of crock pot meals, as well! You can throw many of them in frozen in the morning and have a warm, delicious dinner by the evening. Don’t forget to check out my 5 tips for better slow cooking!
Do you keep meal starters in your freezer? What’s your favorite? Share your meal planning tips in the comments below!