Photo courtesy of Ela Vegan
One of the biggest obstacles to healthy eating that I see my clients face is time. At the end of a long work day, often the last thing they feel like doing is making a fresh meal from scratch, especially when checking items off a never-ending to-do list and juggling the needs of kids, partners, and parents. Despite best intentions to eat healthfully, this can often mean that dinner is takeout or a packaged meal, which can be high in sodium and contain unwanted additives that negatively impact your metabolic health.
One solution I always share (because it’s how I manage the same challenges): Keep your freezer stocked with homemade, individually portioned meals that you can reheat within minutes. Unlike just trying to prep the week’s meals on a Sunday, freezer prep gives you a much longer window to use what you make. Even freezing parts of meals can be a big help in getting something fresh on the table every day. Here’s how I coach my clients to start using freezing as part of their prep and some of my favorite freezer-friendly recipes.
For mains, I have a few go-to’s: usually a combination of protein such as fatty fish, free-range/grass-fed poultry/meat, or a vegetarian protein source such as lentils or tofu, mixed with vegetables sautéed or roasted with olive, coconut, or avocado oil, and a small amount of a complex carbohydrate such as sweet potato, butternut squash, or quinoa. The amount of carbs I include in my meals will vary; I like to have different options on hand depending on my activity level and where I am in my menstrual cycle, an approach known as carb cycling.
And it’s not just dinner: I make sure that I always have healthy, high-protein breakfast items on hand to start my day off with stable blood sugar when I don’t have time to eat or prepare breakfast at home. My favorites are low-carbohydrate granola (nut-based, which keeps fresh for longer when frozen), vegetable egg bites, and green smoothie ice cubes.
Freezing food doesn’t reduce its nutritional quality but can impact taste and texture. You can mitigate this by being intentional about how you prepare and store food (see below). Still, I also like to keep certain fresh items on hand to brighten up my meals, including plain Greek yogurt, cherry tomatoes, homemade hummus, tahini sauce, and fresh herbs such as cilantro and basil.
Below, see my top tips for freezing meals, as well as recipes for healthy options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Food Freezing Tips
- A vacuum sealer can keep food fresh and reduce the space it takes up in the freezer. You can also use silicone bags, a layer of plastic wrap/beeswax and foil, airtight plastic containers, or glass.
- If freezing in glass containers, make sure they’re labeled explicitly as freezer-safe (tempered), and leave about ¾ inch of room at the top for food to expand to prevent the glass from cracking.
- Cool food entirely before putting it in the freezer, as placing warm items next to cold ones can cause them to thaw and impact the quality of the food.
- Avoid cream and mayonnaise-based sauces, which often become grainy and separated with freezing.
- Keep food most likely to grow bacteria (e.g., meat or seafood) near the back of the freezer where the temperature is more consistent than in the door.
- Label and date everything, and put older items towards the front of the fridge so you can use them first.
- Food should be thawed in the refrigerator, using cold water, or in the microwave – not on the counter at room temperature, which can cause harmful bacteria to grow.
- Individually-portioned frozen meals can be reheated directly in the microwave if frozen in microwave-safe glass. If you freeze in plastic, transfer the contents to a microwave-safe dish before reheating to prevent harmful chemicals from leaching into your food.
These recipes are high in protein and micronutrients and contain no added sugar. Properly stored, they can keep in the freezer for 2-3 months.
This vegan breakfast burrito is rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats from tofu, black beans, and avocado. Red bell pepper and jalapenos give it flavor and kick. Try an alternative wrap made with almond, coconut, or cassava flour for a lower net carb count and chunky salsa for better durability.
Holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque provides the recipe for this fresh frittata, which has plenty of antioxidants from mushrooms, spinach, broccoli rabe, and basil. Slice it into individual portions for an easy breakfast on the go.
This vibrant smoothie from Levels advisor Dr. Mark Hyman contains an array of metabolic superfoods such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, and turmeric. Follow these instructions for smoothie ice cubes that you can prep ahead of time and whip out in the morning for a quick breakfast.
These vegan muffins use tofu instead of traditional eggs for an easy, protein-rich, portable breakfast. Chickpea flour and nutritional yeast add texture, while onion, garlic, and turmeric powders provide spice. You can use any veggies that you have on hand.
Beth Bollinger began experimenting with blood sugar-friendly recipes to manage her health challenges and has since helped many others lower their blood sugar and improve their metabolic health. These grain-free, gluten-free waffles use arrowroot and almond flour and are packed with protein from eggs and protein powder.
Budget Bytes has been one of my favorite resources for accessible, affordable recipes since college. This simple dish incorporates plenty of vegetables, lean chicken breast, and pesto for a simple and satisfying meal. Try using magnesium-rich pumpkin seeds instead of traditional pine nuts for a more affordable pesto base.
This antioxidant-rich chili boasts a variety of vegetables, such as kale, butternut squash, and tomatoes. Turkey and selenium-rich lentils lend texture and protein, while apple cider vinegar brightens the flavors. You can substitute crumbled tofu or mashed chickpeas for the turkey for a vegetarian meal.
This vegetarian recipe lowers the high carb count of traditional lasagna by using zucchini, which is rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and potassium. It incorporates brown rice noodles instead of conventional white flour noodles; if you want to cut carbs even further, try an alternative such as hearts of palm noodles.
This comforting stew swaps out traditional carb-heavy white potatoes for turnips and carrots and delivers protein from beef stew meat (generally chuck or round cuts). The hearty flavors are lightened by plenty of spices and aromatics, such as onion, garlic, parsley, thyme, and oregano.
I recommend Heather Christo’s cookbook Pure Delicious to my patients who suffer from food allergies and intolerances; she creates recipes free from major allergens such as dairy, soy, egg, tree nuts, and peanuts, as well as gluten and cane sugar. Ginger and tahini blend together in a flavorful sauce that coats shrimp, bell pepper, snap peas, and onion. This meal comes together in about fifteen minutes.
These nut-based energy balls have 4 grams of protein and a carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of 4:1 (as a general rule for stable blood sugar, I try to follow Levels advisor Dr. Robert Lustig’s recommendation that foods contain a carb-to-fiber ratio of less than 5:1). Roll them in hemp hearts or cocoa powder for an extra nutrient bonus.
Indulge your craving for a crunchy snack with these zucchini fritters. With only 2 net carbs per serving, they will help keep your blood sugar within a healthy range. Top with Greek yogurt or tzatziki for extra protein.
Trail mix can be a great option to fuel anything from exercise to travel, but it’s often loaded with sugar from additions such as chocolate candy and dried fruit. This keto version blends cashews, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds with unsweetened coconut and cacao nibs for a tasty alternative that won’t spike your blood sugar.
This creative alternative to traditional hummus gets its color from fresh parsley and basil and contains over 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of protein per quarter cup serving. Slather over blood-sugar-friendly chips or crackers for a tasty and satisfying snack.
These treats combine almond butter with coconut flour, coconut oil, dark chocolate, and erythritol, a generally well-tolerated sugar alcohol. You can use any nut butter, just be sure to choose one with no added oil or sugar.