The $4 Grocery You Should Always Have in Your Freezer (Perfect for Nights When You’re Too Lazy to Cook!)

published Jan 7, 2024
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

What started as a game — “What can we make in 15 minutes?” — to keep her son occupied during the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly turned into a full-fledged cookbook. 15 Minute Meals, out this month, is novelist, cookbook author, and TV host Ali Rosen’s bible for anyone who doesn’t have the foresight (or time!) to think about dinner hours ahead. 

The long list of salads, soups, noodles, rice bowls, desserts, and more she’s created are proof positive that “there’s a lot that you can do in a few minutes.” She credits a big part of that to the veritable mountain of quality frozen shortcuts (and pantry staples) that exist today, calling it a “golden age of ingredients.” 

As an often spontaneous meal planner (planner being generous), I wanted to know the one thing every lazy cook should always have in their freezer. So, of course, I reached out to Rosen to chat. Here’s what the woman who wrote the book on quick-yet-satisfying meals had to say. 

Credit: Mara Weinraub

Why You Should Always Have Frozen Peas (and Other Portioned Vegetables) in Your Freezer

“I would say frozen peas is my number-one thing — like I love frozen peas,” says Rosen, and maybe not quite for the reason you think. Their neutralness is what really makes them stand out: “[They] don’t add as much texture and flavor,” which oftentimes is what she’s going for when she wants to add some nutritional value into whatever she’s making — and with minimal effort.

“It’s no work, and because of their size, you don’t have to do anything to them. You’re not going to get a whole bite of them in anything, so they’re not going to ruin any flavor.” Plus, “The quality of how we freeze things has really shifted in the last number of years,” adds Rosen, who also wrote a freezer-meals cookbook. “So you’re often getting more nutrients from a frozen vegetable than you are from the broccoli you bought six days ago.”

“If you want to make mac and cheese, great! Throw some frozen peas into it and then you’re getting your vegetable quantity for the day.” Same goes for ramen, rice bowls, pasta bakes, soups (she’s a big fan of creating them from pantry ingredients like coconut milk and chickpeas, along with frozen peas), and ground meat for tacos.

Her go-to brand is Cascadian Farm (“that’s what I tend to buy”), but she also says store brands — with organic lines — are great. “The organic ones tend to be higher quality across the board because it’s not just that the vegetables themselves are organic, but also the freezing technology is better, the packaging is better, the handling is better.” She also recommends getting any frozen vegetables home and in the freezer as quickly as possible “because the minute that something starts to defrost, and then you freeze it again, you’re losing something texturally.”

Beyond frozen peas, Rosen swears by broccoli florets, medleys (like the pea, green bean, and carrot blends), and frozen spinach, which is especially great for melding into sauces and hiding from picky eaters — of all ages. “Freezing garlic and herbs in ice trays (in olive oil)” is another one of her favorites; she also recommends buying the frozen garlic or ginger cubes, like the ones at Trader Joe’s, with “as few ingredients listed as possible,” along with frozen stock and ice cream. (She grew up with Haagen Dazs Chocolate and still considers it one of the best.) 

“My freezer is mostly full of ice cream — ice cream, stock, peas, and some gin.”

Buy: Cascadian Farm Organic Sweet Peas, $4.19 for 10 ounces at Instacart

What’s the one shortcut you always have in your freezer? Tell us in the comments below.

This is part of How to Be a Lazier Cook, highlighting the super-easy recipes, cooking tricks, and grocery items you need to start off the year a little lazier and a lot more delicious.