You were kept late at the office, and there’s no time to cook a healthy dinner. If you’d known that traffic would be so bad, you would have planned a slow cooker meal for today, but you thought you’d have a whole hour to whip up some chicken and couscous. You’re tired, hungry and don’t want to stop by the grocery store on the way home. Ordering a pizza it is!
Sound familiar? Unless you have unbelievable discipline, you’ve probably been there numerous times. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Cooking and freezing ingredients in advance will help you have something to throw together for those late and inconvenient nights.
You probably already have an emergency stash of frozen veggies, and you may even have cooked and frozen some diced chicken if you’re an omnivore, but you may not know that you can also cook and freeze whole grains to add to your late-night stash.
There’s no need to resort to expensive pre-bought frozen grains or pricey, preservative-laden boxed blends when you can cook and freeze your own grains for pennies.
How To Freeze Them
Pick a day when you’re going to have enough time on your hands to cook up plenty of grains. In general, larger grains like quinoa, millet, brown rice and barley freeze best; small grains like amaranth have a tendency to turn into mush when frozen, although you’re certainly welcome to try.
Cook up a big batch as you normally would. Once the grains are done cooking, run them under cold water to cool them off; not only will that keep you from burning yourself as you portion out the grains, but it’ll keep warm bags of grains from thawing and spoiling other food in your freezer.
Drain out any excess liquid. Measure out the grains a cup or two at a time and put each serving in a freezer bag or other airtight container. Label the bag with the type of grain, the amount inside, the date you cooked it and pop it in the freezer.
Voila! An easy, healthy grain side that keeps for up to a year.
If you’d like, you can experiment with flavors as well. Cook the grains in chicken stock instead of water, or add a handful of herbs after you rinse and drain them. Just make sure that you identify any added flavorings on the bag; you really don’t want to mix your special sage and thyme Thanksgiving mix into a Tex-Mex chili bowl.
Easy Portion Control
Freezing your grains in advance does more than save you time and money; it can also help you with portion control. By storing the grains in clearly labeled one or two-cup portions, you ensure that you only thaw out as much as you need.
If you’re cooking for one, an entire box of rice mix can tempt you to overeat. By preparing your one-cup bag of brown rice instead, you guarantee that you won’t eat more than that one cup.
How To Cook With Frozen Grains
Once you’re ready to eat those frozen grains, just put them in the microwave and defrost them as you would any other leftovers. If you’re mixing them into a soup or stew, you can add them directly to the simmering liquid in the cook pot. Because the grains are so small, they’ll break apart in the liquid and thaw quickly. (Think of how you throw a cup of frozen peas into your stew without worrying about defrosting them first.)
Freezing whole grains is a wonderful way to ensure that you aren’t stuck with that greasy pizza after a long day at work. It’s healthier, you’ll feel better and your pocketbook will appreciate it, too!