I think most people have something that they dread doing. When I talk to other moms it often seems to be dishes or folding laundry. For me it’s chopping vegetables. It’s not quite my least favorite, but it’s one of the first things that can come to my mind and deter me from wanting to cook.
If I know a recipe calls for chopping veggies when it comes to prep dinner I always cringe knowing that I will most likely end up with a counter full of peels, roots, dirt, and some more. I still do it, and I know a great meal is so good when made 100% from scratch. But made from scratch can take a long time and requires often using a large amount of utensils, gadgets, and dishes even when a meal is simple. So I like to do my chopping in bulk only periodically.
I actually took cooking lessons while I lived in the Canary Islands as a teenager. the food industry there requires a lot of workers since there are many resorts, and just to work as a waiter you were required to have done a specialized course first. I took a year course to learn the basics of cooking, and there I learned how to properly chop food. If I am doing it for fun, I love to chop veggies. But being that right now we are a big family, I am often cooking last minute meals, and for me is frustrating when I don’t do things well or when I am chopping just large quantities of veggies in a rush. So I like to take my time and I have found a way to do it when I am not under the gun.
I have learned that I can’t always get rid of everything I don’t like, but I can find strategies to soften the blow. 🙂
For me a good way to easy up on dinner has been to
1. Invest in a good set of food chopping materials
2. Every once in a while I spend some time a little bit of extra time to chop all my vegetables right after I buy them fresh from the store and then freeze them.
I like to use smaller chopping boards in plastic because they fit better in the dishwasher. I have linked my favorite ones below.
A couple of years ago I also invested in the best knives yet and I am so happy with how long they have lasted and how well they work. They are linked below as well.
I like to do it just the way you would buy frozen broccoli for example. And these are the items that I have loved freezing and that do really well for up to 3 months or even a little longer.
First of all I cute them, wash them and remove all stems and peels where neeeded. For the first theee for example, I chop them real small just how I like to use them when frying them in the pan before I make a Ragu sauce or a stir fry.
- Herbs. For these ones I chop them and place them in ice cube trays with olive oil that way they don’t brown.
- Juice from fresh lemons does great in ice cube trays. Try and add some chopped mint leaves too. You will end up with lemon-mint ice cubes and they are the best!
- Ginger Cut into about 1/4 inch cubes or grated.
- Beets peeled and cubed
- Garlic Cloves whole
- Cabbage Chopped into 1 inch strips about
- Zucchini (they will lose water once defrosted. I use them for Risotto and Zucchini Bread mostly)
- Fresh spinach and kale
- Bell Peppers
Some items do great frozen after being cooked instead:
Precooked rice (just like the ones bought from the store, can be steams for a few minutes in the microwave and it’s ready to use)
- Creamy soups (not my favorite but some are worth doing. Curry holds really well for example.
- Store bought croissants
For breads place them in the oven to defrost at about 350 for 8-15 minutes. They will taste like freshly baked out of the oven.
YOGURT: Yes, this one may seem kind of weird. But when in time of need is nice to store the smaller cups. We do it with plain Greek yogurt. Since I like to use instead of sour cream for meals, when we have taco night I can just defrost on of the cups and use it. I would place it in the fridge ahead of time and let it naturally defrost. Mix well before use. We like to do it at our home because we don’t eat a lot of dairy. If I buy fresh sour cream it always spoils. By having a small frozen cup of Greek yogurt I defrost it when we do taco night or chicken tortilla soup and there we have sour cream substitute that’s healthier for you.
There are a few items that if I can find at the store already chopped and peeled I will go for it that way. For example Trader Joe’s sells frozen herbs of all sorts and garlic cloves ready to use in their vegetable refrigerated section.
I either use them right away or freeze them and use them as needed.
I like to freeze my veggies in big gallon bags or smaller ones. I have done it both ways where I would either freeze my veggies in portions or just in a big bag and I would break off the portion I need depending on what meal I am making and how many people I am cooking for.
Here are a few more items that can also be very handy especially for the winter months. Think of pies with the first three, or smoothies for most of these fruits.
- Peaches (sliced and peeled)
- Cherries (washed and pitted)
- Apples (These ones need to be soaked in lemon juice before freezing to not brown)
- Papaya, and most fresh fruit that you can already found frozen at the store if you find it on sale and feel up for doing some serious cutting and chopping. These can all be used for smoothies as well.
- Avocado (I have not tried this one myself yet, but recently I found it being sold at the store chopped and frozen. So I think this might a good option to freeze)
- Bananas, peeled and broken in half or smaller round pieces. Great for banana bread and smoothies.
I do like to buy the frozen version of many fruits if available rather than doing it myself. The reason being is that frozen store foods actually preserve more nutritional value than the fresh bought fruits and vegetables. They are picked fresh and frozen right away while most of our vegetables are picked while not fully ripe and travel a long distance before coming to our stores.
Some of my favorite stored bought frozen options of foods are:
- Sweet corn
- Green beans
All of these are especially great for smoothies and then pies. We go through many bags. If you have your own garden instead or can buy them fresh from a farmer, a great option is to still freeze them yourself. Cut the stems out, remove pits from peaches for example.
Other things are a great option to freeze, but require some leg work on your part at first.
I have also done POTATOES in the past, but they have to be preboiled in order to not go brown in the fridge. So I boil them, peel them, cube them, and then freeze them. They hold very well for Shepherd’s Pie or Mashed Potatoes. Or even baked in the oven if frozen when they are still slightly undercooked.
I like to freeze my veggies in Freezer Ziploc Bags. If I know I am going to forget when I froze them, I will write down the date and what the item is.
This is also one of my favorite ways to save time on dinner. Now, when I am making a stir fry, all I have to do is grab some of my frozen onions, frozen cabbage, add them to my meal, and dinner is ready in 15 minutes instead of 30. If I have frozen rice I can just microwave it for a few minutes and it’s even better. Rice has the ability to taste extremely moist and fresh even after being frozen and reheated.
Another reason why I love to freeze veggies is because washing, curing, and chopping is not only the most labor intensive part, but also the messiest part. That way I make all the mess once and on a week night I only have to worry about getting my stove dirty and not my whole countertops, chopping boards, etc. etc.
If you are wondering how big or small for veggies, I like to think of what meal I am going to use them for. If for example I plan on making a pot pie with my carrots I will chop them bigger in size, If I plan on making a ragù with them, then I will chop them a lot smaller. If you have bought a big bag of carrots perhaps you could freeze some bigger and some smaller. When in doubt I would go with the smaller size. If you have kids they tend to prefer it when they can’t disguise vegetables in their meal. And they cook a lot faster that way.
I hope you will all have some safe cutting sessions.
Happy quick meal prepping everyone!
Photography by Jenna Elizabeth Photography