Family cooks often have to make big meals on the fly, which is why I have a list of seven essentials I keep in the freezer at all times.

It’s not something I ever considered before kids. Back when I was cooking for one or two, it was a pleasure. You too? Maybe you used to stop at the store on the way home from work to pick up a piece of fancy cheese or fresh fish. You got home, slipped on your stretchy pants, and poured something cool and refreshing to drink before preparing a beautiful meal.

Cooking for a family is a whole different ballgame.

It might even be a literal ballgame, if your kids kick a soccer ball around the kitchen like mine do.

But you don’t need a stash of full frozen meals to make your life easier, just a few essentials to help you put meals together more quickly and easily.

Top image: Rice and vegetables © Anne Wolfe Postic 

Related: 6 easy breakfast for dinner recipes that go way beyond pancakes. 

7 freezer essentials for family cooks that make mealtimes easier |  Frozen waffles, like these from Kashi, or you can make homemade

1. Breakfast food, like pancakes or waffles
Mornings can be hectic, and a box of whole grain waffles like the ones from Kashi (above) can save the morning. If you prefer to make your own waffles, freeze a few extras the next time you’re whipping them up for brunch. They toast just as well (and as quickly) as store-bought.

2. Pre-soaked or fully cooked beans
Sure, you can also keep canned beans on hand, but it’s so easy to pre-soak your own and freeze them for later. When you’re ready to use them, you can cook them in stock for more flavor, adding seasoning as you go along.

3. An assortment of frozen vegetables
Fresh is best! Or is it? When it comes to veggies, frozen vegetables can include plenty of nutrients.  You can use them to make omelets, quiche, risotto, soup – literally anything that requires vegetable!

In my home, our own essentials to keep in the freezer include spinach, corn, peas, broccoli, and edamame. In fact, I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that one of our favorite quick, easy meals is boxed mac and cheese gussied up with frozen vegetables and the occasional can of tuna. Just keep whatever you use most often in the freezer and you’ll find it saves you more than you realize.

Related: Scrumptious side dishes using frozen vegetables to make mealtime easier

! | Chicken stock photo by Anne Wolfe Postic |

Making chicken stock | Photo © Anne Wolfe Postic

4. Stock
You can easily keep a box of store-bought stock in the pantry, to be used as a base for soup, to make an easy risotto, or to add flavor to rice. Before you make the stock, I suggest keeping a container in the freezer with vegetable scraps like onion, celery leaves, and carrots, and use them to make stock (without or without bones from chicken or another meat) when the container gets full. I look at this as basically free food, since I make it out of stuff I was going to throw away.

5. Frozen rice or quinoa
…or farro, or whatever grain you like to use as a base for a meal. The next time you make some, triple what you need and freeze the extra in meal-sized portions. Think about it: You could take that cooked rice, some frozen vegetables, a little chicken stock, and maybe your frozen beans, add a few spices and call it a meal. All right from the freezer!

6. One or two fully cooked meals
Bringing meals for a friend in need is a lovely tradition. I’ve been on he receiving end and I like paying it forward, which can be hard to do with a busy schedule. I try to keep at least one full meal in the freezer at all times, because it’s just as easy to make two casseroles as it is to make one.

And there are certainly nights when you’re the friend in need and not having to cook saves the day! Even if you don’t have room for a full casserole, you can always make a double batch of pasta sauce to freeze.

Related: 6 DIY freezer meals that save us — and will save you too — on busy back-to-school nights.

7. Butter
I always seem to need butter, and it actually freezes well. Maybe we eat too much butter (though doubtful!) but I can’t live without it. Whether I’m using it to slather on bread, or to whip up a quick tart crust, I need butter. So I always have at least a few sticks in the freezer, making it one of my top freezer essentials.

PS Making a tart crus really is easy. Here’s a great all-butter pie crust recipe, or try my own homemade pie crust that uses one surprise ingredient. You can even toss some of those frozen vegetables into it, add some cheese, and call it supper.