Meal Prepping for Uncertain Times: Freezer Edition

Stop to smell the produce—then chop and freeze it, for a stash of fruits and veggies to use in the days ahead.

By Catherine Tillman Whalen

Published on March 23, 2020

Pop quiz: When you last hit the grocery to stock up, what’s the strangest thing that ended up in your basket? Ten cans of a soup you can’t stand? Buns, no hot dogs? A carton of shelf-stable milk from a grain you’ve never heard of? It’s okay, no one is perfectly clear-headed when contemplating the unknown.

I bought a pineapple. Perched atop five-pound bags of basmati and a mini-mountain of canned goods, it was a true oddity. The inspiration had come from a moment the day before when, as I panic-scrolled through news updates, a post about homemade piña coladas momentarily halted my freakout. The very idea of it—chunks of fresh pineapple, cut-up and frozen, mixed with white rum and cream of coconut, and finished with a splash of añejo rum—sounded dreamy. So, when I should have been scoping the granola aisle for a month’s worth of healthy breakfasts, I spotted that spiky little tropical treat and threw it in the cart instead.

In fact, while the actual frozen foods case (along with the cereal, bread, meat, and candy aisles) had been mostly cleared of inventory, the produce aisle was still full of color and life. Consider the possibilities: a frozen stash of chopped bell peppers, onions, and celery—the Louisiana cook’s holy trinity—on hand for gumbo, red beans and rice, and etouffee. (There are several one-pound bags of parcooked, peeled crawfish from The Cajun Grocer in my deep freeze.) Add a bag of diced carrots alongside those onions and celery and I had mirepoix at the ready for bolognese or ragu. I could add just about any diced and frozen veggies to fried rice. How about fresh herbs for pesto, made now and frozen in ice trays for a quick fix to all that pasta that was certainly in my future? Greens blanched and frozen for a soup, a stew, and—of course—more pasta? Berries washed, frozen on sheet pans, then bagged, to eventually add to muffins, a crisp, or even an upside down cake? Suddenly, I saw a season’s worth of brighter options.

So the next time you shop, whether you’re putting in a delivery order, or doing the 6am dash with self-checkout to ensure social distancing, don’t ignore the produce. Instead, look around and take in all the potential. With these recipes as a starting point, go forth with fresh inspiration. And if you find yourself needing a piña colada recipe, well, we’ve got you covered there, too.

Mr. B’s Gumbo Ya-Ya

This dark-roux gumbo originates in Cajun country. Get the recipe for Mr. B's Gumbo Ya-Ya »

Red Beans and Rice

In this slow-cooking Creole classic, ham hocks give the dish a savory, smoky depth. Get the recipe for Red Beans and Rice »

Crawfish Etouffée

In this luscious stew, crawfish tails are cooked with tomatoes, paprika, and cream. Get the recipe for Crawfish Etouffée »

Penne Bolognese

A hearty take on the northern Italian classic from Bamonte's restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. Get the recipe for Penne Bolognese »

Potato Gnocchi with Pork Ragu

Everyone's favorite Italian dumplings are tossed in a rich bolognese sauce in this comforting dish from Cathy Whims, the chef at Portland restaurant Nostrana. Get the recipe for Potato Gnocchi with Pork Ragu »

Bacon and Egg Fried Rice

This simple fried rice is as good for breakfast as it is for dinner. Thick-cut bacon will make for more meaty, chewy bits. Cookbook writer Amy Thielen often adds a little sauerkraut for a further Midwestern touch. Get the recipe for Bacon and Egg Fried Rice »

Pesto Varieties

See Glorious Pesto Varieties »

The Best Chicken Soup with Rice, Carrots, and Kale

Tomato paste and fish sauce add depth and umami to our best-ever chicken-and-rice soup studded with sweet carrots and silky kale. Get the recipe for The Best Chicken Soup with Rice, Carrots, and Kale »

Palestinian Spinach and Chickpea Stew (Sabanekh bil hummus)

Allspice is used commonly in Palestinian stews, like this Comforting Spinach and Chickpeas dish. Palestinian Spinach and Chickpea Stew (Sabanekh bil hummus) »

Farfalle with Cavolo Nero Pesto

In this rendition of traditional Genoese pesto, sweet and nutty cavolo nero (also known as Tuscan kale or Lacinato kale) is used in place of basil and pine nuts. Get the recipe for Farfalle with Cavolo Nero Pesto »

Blueberry Crisp

If you are lucky enough to find yourself with an overabundance of blueberries, this easy-to-make crisp is a delicious way to prepare them. Get the recipe for Blueberry Crisp »

Blueberry Upside-Down Cake

A thick, jammy layer of blueberries tops dense, buttery cake in this recipe shared from Robert and Cheri Ward of Blue Pearl Farms in McLellanville, South Carolina. Slightly sweet and dramatic, this is best made with the ripest in-season blueberries. All it needs is a dollop of whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg. Get the recipe for Blueberry Upside Down Cake »

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