Even when cooking for a family of six, I don’t plan my meals as closely as you might think. But I am pretty serious about stocking my freezer with enough staples to make whatever sounds like the right combination of delicious, quick and easy pieces each night. Here are the items I try to never be without, plus what I make with them.
Every time I see that beautiful sale sticker on chicken thighs, I load up my cart. Compared to breasts, thighs have more flavor, and you can’t be the price even without a hot sale. Slow-Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala is one of our go-to favorites, and I love that I can prep the whole recipe and throw it into a bag uncooked, right into the freezer. Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-Style Chicken (pictured above) is another make-ahead gem. Packed with tender strips of bell peppers, this one has a veggie built right in. But the most-straightforward dinner in this collection of crowd-pleasers might be these grilled chicken thighs full of Greek flavors. Lemon, garlic and oregano swirl together, coating the chicken perfectly — and doing it all in minutes.
Another versatile ingredient, pineapple is the star of the four-ingredient superfood smoothie I eat for breakfast almost every day with. Not keen on the fresh greens? Try Valerie Bertinelli’s Blueberry Smoothie (pictured above), which is loaded with pineapple and berries.
Almonds and Walnuts
Nuts keep best in the freezer, so I buy them in bulk (always on sale, of course, because who knew it would come down to nuts at full price versus college tuition?!) and throw them into a gallon-size freezer bag for safe keeping. Any time I want to whip up quick family favorites like No-Bake Chocolate, Fruit and Nut Balls or Simple Sweet Potato Walnut Muffins they’re fresh and ready to go. (Plus, I love a handful of walnuts sprinkled over my cereal or oatmeal in the mornings. Hello, extra protein)
Ground Beef or Turkey
When my soon-to-be-8-year-old asked me to make my Homemade Sloppy Joes for her birthday, I knew we had a hit.
Not only can you whip up a flaky pan of Ina Garten’s Easy Sticky Buns (pictured above) faster than you could ever drive to a bakery, but puff pastry is the backbone of the can’t-miss dinner I’ve served every tiny dinner guest for years: Cheeseburger Hand Pies.
OK, so these aren’t things I buy, but rather dishes I prep ahead of time and always keep in the freezer. On a good week, there’s at least a dozen muffins waiting patiently. Our newest favorites are our Magic Muffins, packed with four types of fruits and vegetables and so much yummy flavor that no one bats an eye. And don’t forget this go-to Breakfast Burrito. I always double the batch of scrambled eggs on weekends so I have enough left over to assemble into burritos for the week ahead. Wrap them up and freeze tight for a busy morning ahead.
That humble bag of spinach is a real workhorse in my kitchen. I add it to scrambled eggs, use it in green smoothies when I run out of the fresh stuff and put it to work in a straight-up side dish my whole family loves: Skillet Spinach with Garlic.
Charity Curley Mathews is a contributor to InStyle, The Huffington Post and eHow Food and the founder of Foodlets.com, a food and parenting blog where every recipe is full of fresh ingredients, simple to make and kid-tested x4. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, four small kids, two puppies and 20,000 bees. You can follow her on Facebook.
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