Quick Easy Healthy Freezer Friendly Meals
How to Stock Your Kitchen for Quick Easy Healthy Vegetarian or Vegan Meals
When my husband and I both have the longest, worst day ever, we want quick easy meals.
But we live in the country, where nobody delivers, and even fast food is a ten minute drive. I’m not willing to wrestle a baby into a car seat for fast food. Ick.
So, I turn to my best friends - fridge, freezer and pantry, for an quick easy healthy 10 – 30 minute meal.
Stock your freezer and pantry right, and you can make quick easy meals without sacrificing taste or nutrition.
Sometimes, this might mean that dinner is mac ‘n’ cheese with frozen mixed veggies & canned beans. That’s still decent nutrition – everyday food that keeps your family on a balanced healthy diet. Anything you cook at home beats fast food by a mile!
Stock basic ingredients for easy vegetarian meals with little prep time: High protein foods, like beans and nuts; carbohydrates, like quinoa, rice, and pasta. And vegetables. You need vegetables.
Combine those three food groups for quick easy healthy meals, and all you need is something to bring it all together – sauce, a sprinkle of cheese, or just oil and spices.
Speaking of spices, if you don’t have much, start small, with a few mixes like curry or Mexican spices, or Mediterranean or Italian herbs, besides the usual salt & pepper. They’re fast and convenient and you can add to them if you get more into cooking.
Beans and Nuts:
In The Pantry: Stock dried beans. Lentils are quick to cook, since they don’t require soaking. Savvy Vegetarian has some very nice lentil soup recipes. I also like kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans. For hummus lovers, chick-peas are essential. They’re also great in casseroles, soups, stir fries and salads.
In The Freezer: Stock cooked beans. I like to freeze beans in 1,2, and sometimes 4 cup containers. The one cup containers are the most handy. If you’re making pasta for the family, a cup of beans is all you need to add protein to the dish. Soup? Two cups. Double batch? Four cups of beans, and freeze the extra soup!
Beans freeze very well. Spoon them into containers and cover with their cooking liquid. They are just as firm thawed as they were before freezing, and if you’re making soup, the cooking liquid is a bonus for the broth.
In The Fridge: Nuts and seeds that you’re going to use within a month can be stored in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer. Eat nuts and seeds sprinkled on and in any food, or as snacks with dried fruit or by themselves. If you’re hungry and want something NOW, try a few nuts.
My staple nuts are cashews and almonds. As a nursing mother, I need to pack in the protein – and the fats! I blanch almonds for snacks, and they keep in the fridge for a couple days, covered in water.
I love to add cashews to almost anything. I grind them up to add to oatmeal, cream soups and smoothies. I toss them in with stir fried veggies, soups, you name it. Cashews also make a good base for Pesto – and they are much cheaper than pine nuts.
Quick Cooking Tip: Keep some canned cooked beans in your pantry. These are back-up beans, for when you realize that the kidney beans you thought you had in the freezer are actually soup. Back-Up Beans to the rescue!
A Few Other Possibilities: Try walnuts or other nuts or seeds, baked tofu or packaged tempeh or seitan for the vegans – those are high protein instant foods, not low budget but good possibilities for quick meals.
Grains and Pasta:
In The Pantry: Keep dried Pasta and Grains that you eat often. I keep Rotelle, Penne, and always lasagna noodles – you never know when the lasagna craving will strike! Rice and quinoa are my mainstay grains. Quinoa is great because it’s also a very good source of protein. I also keep bulgar wheat, which I use in chili.
Frozen cooked grains are wonderful in Tofu Veggie Stir Fry. The heat from the dish will thaw the grain for you, no need to microwave.
In The Fridge: Cooked grains and pasta will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, and you can store leftover lunch or supper for the next meal.
The fridge is also where life-saving condiments, sauces, sandwich fixings, spreads and dips hang out – to eat with your grains (including bread) and beans and nuts and cut up veggies…plus staples like milk (dairy or non), eggs or tofu – all the makings of almost instant meals.
Quick Cooking Tip: I keep mac’n’cheese and ramen noodles in the pantry, and tortellini in the freezer. They make a good base for a fast meal – throw in frozen veggies and beans and you have a balanced healthy meal in 10 minutes. Dress it up with herbs and spices to end up with a pretty nice meal.
In The Pantry: With a few exceptions, I don’t go much for canned veggies. They have nothing on fresh or even frozen veg for taste and nutrition.
Tomatoes are an exception. It is very handy to have pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste on hand. Many soups have a tomato base to them, or at least a bit of tomato added. Pasta dishes often depend on tomatoes for flavor.
Canned olives and artichoke hearts are quick salad or pizza toppings. E.G. Pizza bagels, a childhood favorite that my family still loves – an open faced bagel/bun topped with spaghetti sauce, sliced olives & artichoke hearts, covered in cheese and cooked 8-10 minutes at 450.
Canned pumpkin is another exception. It’s very nutritious, and you can make all kinds of delicious things: Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, or Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake. Canned pumpkin goes on sale this time of year, so stock up!
In The Freezer: There are quite a few veggies you can keep on hand to hurry up dinner. Frozen mixed veggies are my hero. I always have two bags in the freezer. Other handy veggies are: peas, corn, chopped spinach and green beans.
In The Fridge: Basic long lasting veggies to keep in the fridge are carrot, potato, sweet potato, celery, onion, parsley, lettuce, cuke, tomato, garlic. Chopping veg is a deal breaker for lots of people because they don’t know how and are really slow at it. But there are ways around that.
Some people buy pre-chopped veggies, but those are expensive and lose taste and nutrition once they’re cut. You’re better off with frozen. Another option is to own a decent chef’s knife and learn to use it. Then in 5 minutes you can chop your own veggies to quickly steam or shovel up hummus. Try it!
Quick Cooking Tip: Have you noticed that nothing ever needs a whole onion? Chop it all up anyway and freeze the other half. It doesn’t take much more time, and the next time you need onion, you won’t have to chop!
In my freezer right now, I have: various frozen beans, nuts, and frozen veggies. I also have ready to eat foods: Refried Pinto Beans, 6 servings of Zoe’s Vegetarian Chili, and two servings of Lasagna.
Great, you say, now I know the contents of your freezer. You saved me a trip. I was coming to look.
Here’s The Thing:
I know myself. I’m never going to turn into a dutiful homemaker, with a seven day menu plan and an hour every night to make dinner. I want 30 minute meals – or faster!
Like most people, I’m trying to make healthy food choices and pay the bills, raise the kids, and keep the house from looking like a bomb went off. All I want after a day of that is a good meal and half an hour to relax.
Freezer friendly meals make the difference between an ill fed and well fed family. Don’t think of them as leftovers, think of them as cooking ahead. A big batch lets you cash in on the economy of scale. It takes very little extra time to double a recipe, so you’re eating twice for almost the same time investment!
One or two days a week I have time and ambition to really cook – that’s when I fill the freezer. I’ll cook a big pot of soup, or lasagna. Or I’ll make veggie burgers and freeze extra patties.
Frozen meals are grab & go lunches for my husband and teenager, or me when baby won’t stay asleep for more than 20 minutes, or dinner when we’re all too tired to cook.
Otherwise, we eat junk. And we don’t get the nutrition we need, and we’re more tired the next day. Which means we have even less ambition in the kitchen. It gets ugly from there.
Get off the junk food treadmill and start cooking smart!
Zoe Keeland, Veggie Mom