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As wonderful as meal planning is, let’s be honest, it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we don’t make the time to create a plan, and other times that plan just doesn’t come to fruition the way we’d hoped it would.

We all have something we keep on hand for situations when we need a backup menu. We loved taking a peek into women’s pantries to see what they usually keep stocked so much that we wanted to know what they keep in their freezers too.

While ice cream, French fries, mashed potatoes, and waffles made the list, we saw that even a last-minute meal or snack can be well balanced and healthful. We hope that some of these ideas will inspire your next grocery store visit to make even your just-in-case plan a yummy and nutritious endeavor.

The whole shebang

A couple of women told us they keep entire meals in the freezer. Some are fully cooked meals made in advance, like soups or quiches for quick dinners. Other easy-to-freeze leftovers include pasta sauce, red cabbage, and homemade applesauce.

Another woman spoke highly of pre-packed freezer meals from recipes by the blogger The Family Freezer. As our contributor explains, “The idea is to mix all ingredients (meat, veggies, spices, etc.) uncooked in a Ziplock bag and freeze. I usually do 6 to 10 meals at a time. Then when you’re ready to cook, thaw in water or in the fridge and pop into a slow cooker (or oven, skillet, or Instant Pot).” For the most part, these meals are crafted to be complete on their own, though you may choose to add a side salad or fresh bread to serve.

Try: Make-Ahead Italian Sausage Casserole

Chicken, two ways

The next item on our respondents’ list was chicken, either individually quick frozen or as breaded nuggets or strips. As regards the former, one woman told us, “I can take out exactly what I need depending on how many I’m feeding. They're flexible to use—I can use them whole, cut in chunks or strips for stir-fry, or cook and shred them for use in tacos, sandwiches, and casseroles.” She recommends boneless skinless breasts for ease of use.

Chicken nuggets don’t even really need an explanation. The women we polled claimed they were largely for their children, but we’re not judging if a couple extra happen to find their way onto the sheet pan and then your plate.

Try: Italian Breaded Chicken Strips

Perfect pasta

It’s no surprise that pasta made the list, considering the praise this Italian staple received in our pantry survey. One woman keeps store-bought tortellini on hand because, “it feels like more than just pasta. Cooking a handful makes a quick lunch. It pairs well with lots of food. Eat them cooked hot or cold. Super versatile!” Another woman preps several batches of homemade manicotti at once and freezes the rest for later. Genius.

Try: Tortellini with Two Sauces

Garden spoils

Both fruits and vegetables retain much of their nutritional content when frozen, so we were happy to hear that produce has a place in many of your freezers. Broccoli is a good choice to add to “any dish,” one woman told us. Another likes steam-able vegetables in particular, “when I need a quick side, or even just to eat straight out of the bag for dinner on nights when I get home late and didn’t meal prep.”

As for fruit, blueberries and mixed berries were popular choices for smoothies or to “toss in oatmeal or add to pancakes.” Buying a bigger bag often gives you a better deal, so this is a good instance to buy bulk, if you can.

Try: Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

A well-stocked freezer means we can take care of ourselves, whatever the circumstances of our days. When we make use of contents as balanced as our plates ought to be, we can continue to be our best selves and not get stuck in a too-busy-to-eat-well rut.

Excuse the pun, but I think that’s pretty cool. 

These recipes came from past Verily Table newsletters. Every week, subscribers receive five of our favorite recipes from around the web, as well as podcast recommendations to listen to while cooking. To learn more about Verily Table, or to start your free trial, click here.