You know the freezer saves you time when it comes to meal prep, but did you know that you can use ice cube trays to make that meal prep even faster? The concept sounds so simple, it's a wonder that ice cubing your food isn't more of a trend by now. That square silicone tray in your freezer isn't just for water anymore, and we've got all sorts of way to use ice cube trays to their full potential to help you out in the kitchen for busy weeknights.
Even if you have an automatic ice maker, keeping a couple of ice cube trays is helpful. There are so many kitchen hacks that start with a little bit of something like herbs, stock or milk, but it's a pain to start each of those things from scratch every time you cook. So the best kitchen hack of all is a way to keep these things on hand for whenever you need them.
Before you get started, though, here are a few things you should know. If you're going to use ice cube trays for food storage, get something that's dishwasher safe. Get something that's food safe, too. If it's plastic, we recommend something that is BPA free. Food-grade silicone ice cube trays are great for freezing food and the flexible silicone is often easier to get the food cubes out of.
You can also use ice cube trays with lids if you're going to store the frozen food long-term in the trays; the lids keep other odors out of the food. Stackable ice trays are nice if you're going to do big batch cooking and freezing. Oxo makes a baby food freezer tray with a silicone lid that works for more than baby food.
Large ice cube trays are great for cookie dough and sauces, or anything you want a larger serving of. And in a pinch, you can use pretty much any food safe storage container to stand in for an ice cube tray. You can also use ice molds or cute silicone molds that make fancy ice cubes (like the ones that make the Death Star from Star Wars), but since you're going to plop these ice balls into something other than a drink, it's probably not worth it.
Here are 15 of the best ice cube trays hacks you need to make meal prep easier.
Pour old (or fresh, if you want to make a new batch) of coffee into ice cube trays. Freeze overnight and pop into your morning iced coffee. Gone are the days of watered-down iced coffee on your commute!
Upgrade your coffee ice cubes even more by alternating coffee and milk in your ice cube tray if prefer a lighter iced coffee.
2. Leftover Sauce (Gravy)
Sometimes it's easier to just make a big batch of Sunday tomato sauce (or gravy) than to try and parse down the flavors. There's really nothing like that 28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes.
So what if you can't use all your sauce? Freeze it in ice cube trays for individual servings that can be used for an easy weeknight pasta meal. All you'll have to do is brown some ground beef and boil your pasta!
The last thing you want in your pitcher of sangria or in your cocktail glass is too much water, which dilutes the flavors you've worked hard to create.
Solve this problem by freezing whole fruits in ice cube trays, either surrounded by water or alone, to easily pop into your drink or pitcher. Frozen raspberries are great for red sangrias, while grapes are perfect for a white sangria.
This is also a great tip for when you've gone a tad overboard at the grocery store or farmer's market. You'll feel fantastic taking full advantage of money-saving deals when you know you can purée that fruit and freeze for later.
When buying fresh herbs, sometimes it's hard to get just the right amount. If you find yourself with a few leftover, pop them in trays, submerge with water and freeze. Mint is a great addition to any glass of water and also works well in cocktails, too.
Rosemary tastes delicious with a splash of lemon in water, and can also be frozen in olive oil with sprigs of thyme for an easy roast chicken weeknight dinner.
Speaking of herbs and sauces, when don't you need pesto in your refrigerator? Make a huge Sunday batch of basil pesto and freeze servings in an ice cube tray for easy access.
There's nothing better than realizing on a Tuesday afternoon that the ravioli you have at home already has the perfect sauce pairing in the freezer.
6. Cookie Dough
Crave cookies often? Make a whole batch of dough and freeze in ice cube trays for individual cookie servings you can pop on a baking sheet any time the craving strikes.
Freezing chicken, beef, or veggie stock is a great way to be sure that you're taking advantage of the last bit of stock in the carton.
If you make your own stock, this also saves storage space in the refrigerator and once again, makes it easy to grab a cube or two when you want to bulk up the flavor of a dish on the fly.
8. Yogurt + Fixins'
Make-ahead smoothie packs are a great idea for breakfast, but if you prefer a simpler shake, freeze yogurt and the fruit of your choice together in a tray. When you're ready to whip one up, add milk, a fresh banana, and blend!
The best fried chicken is marinated for about 12 hours in buttermilk. If it's not something you keep on hand, that requires buying a carton of it.
Save your leftover buttermilk by freezing it in an ice cube tray and be ready for the next time you want something crispy and fried.
10. Caramelized Onions
Oh caramelized onions. They can't be replaced and if you want that thick, syrupy caramelized taste, they can't be rushed. So include a batch of caramelized onions in your weekend prep for weekdays, and freeze them right in the ice cube tray.
Use them on sandwiches, in vinaigrettes, on homemade pizzas, and the list goes on and on. You'll be surprised at how versatile they actually are when you have them on hand.
Ginger is a flavor that is, let's face it, better freshly grated whenever possible. However, get the next best thing by freezing puréed ginger in ice cube trays for easy use.
Your soups, stir fries, and macaroni and cheese (I said it!) will thank you for having it on hand.
12. Aloe Vera
While it's a known fact that aloe vera is a miracle worker for sunburns, did you know that you can ingest it for similar healing properties? Hello Glow recommends finding unsweetened, pure aloe juice and freezing it for a splash in your daily water intake.
13. Leftover Wine (or Champagne)
It happens to the best of us - sometimes, we just can't finish that bottle of red or white wine. Instead of stomaching it down the next few nights one glass at a time, bust out that ice cube tray.
Wine ice cubes can be used for icing sangria, and are also the perfect pan deglazing tool. While it will take a second longer than pouring a splash in at the end of cooking to loosen the golden browned bits, it's better than opening a brand new bottle jut for that.
No, not that Sunday sauce gravy we mentioned earlier. I'm talking gravy gravy. Why would you want to make gravy ice cubes?
Well, to insert in the middle of your fried chicken right before frying. So that picture above happens.
15. Brown Butter
Another sauce-style element that freezes perfectly is brown butter. If you've never used brown butter while baking in place of regular butter, or if you've never used it in a sauce, you are missing out on some serious flavor.
Its rich, nutty vibes upgrade any dish to seem like a luxurious treat.
This article was originally published on October 28, 2016.