I've always looked at my freezer as one of the best kitchen tools at my disposal. Not only does it hold my hoard of butter pecan ice cream, but it also serves as a staging area for any number of meals that I can pull together in minutes — without resorting to flimsy TV dinners.
While I've made it a habit to cook big batches of meatballs, red sauce, or pinto beans and package them for future meals, I'll admit that it's nice when I can find real food alternatives prepped and ready to go at the grocery store.
I did some sleuthing recently to see just what lurked in the frozen food aisle and was pleasantly surprised to see that there's more there than corn puppies and fish sticks.
1. Cooked Rice and Quinoa
Fried rice, quinoa salad, rice bowls — you can make these meals quickly and easily if you've got cooked rice or quinoa on hand. While both are easy enough to cook at home, they both take time. Grab a few bags of frozen cooked cereals to keep for those nights when you just can't.
2. Pizza Dough
Enjoy homemade pizza whenever you want without taking a couple hours to stir up the dough. Keep a few frozen dough balls on hand for those weeknights when a pizza craving hits.
3. All the Cauliflower
Cauliflower has seen enormous popularity in recent years, thanks to the Paleo and low-carb diet trends. Now you can find that white vegetable in all its forms: mashed, riced, cut into florets, and even shaped into tots!
4. Smoothie Kits
Smoothie shop drinks can cost a pretty penny. It's so much cheaper to make your own at home; everyone knows that. But what if you don't have the space for all the different ingredients you might want to include? Stock up on a few smoothie kits, which offer a variety of options without your having to buy five different bags of frozen fruits and veg.
Brand to try: Pineapple Ginger Crafted Smoothie Blend from Dole
5. Crustless Quiche and Omelet Bites
No doubt about it — gluten-free and low-carb options are the cat's meow. And it's nice when you can find breakfast options already to go. Check out your options for crustless quiche and omelet bites, featuring a variety of vegetables and meats.
6. Precooked Proteins
I've long espoused the idea of keeping cooked proteins on hand in my freezer. This makes it so much easier to stir up a soup, mix up a salad, or fill a sandwich. You can find shredded chicken, frozen meatballs, cooked shrimp, and more just waiting for you to add your favorite flavor profile.
Everybody knows you can buy ice in the freezer aisle, but did you know you could buy flavored ice? What a fun addition to your party list — especially if you don't own ice cube trays. My store offers flavored ice in lemon, orange, mango-peach, blueberry-pomegranate, and even coconut!
8. Cooked Legumes
Yes, you can cook your own dried beans, but that takes awhile. You can buy canned beans, but what if you don't have a use for the whole can? Try the freezer section. Lentils, black eyed peas, and beans are available cooked and ready to use.
9. Herbs and Aromatics
Love to cook with fresh herbs and aromatics but don't want to waste a whole bundle, knob, or head? You can find basil, parsley, cilantro, ginger, chiles, and garlic prepped and ready to go in little frozen cubes. Use what you need and keep the rest on ice.
10. French Macarons
My 10-year-old daughter makes some fantastic macarons, but it's a process that involves curing the egg whites and letting the cookies sit awhile before baking. I can get my macaron fix much quicker now that all my favorite grocery stores sell variety packs of the delectable almond cookie.
What treasures have you found in your grocer's frozen aisle?