When I told my husband about this post I was writing about ice cube trays, he raised an eyebrow and looked at me like I’d lost my marbles. I mean – I (admittedly) am not the best example of normal, but these ideas are actually pretty genius, I swear.
It all started a number of years ago when I began making my own homemade bone broth on a regular, consistent basis.
It was around the time that we started our real food journey in 2008, but it really ramped up when we did the GAPS Diet for a while in 2010 (broth is a daily part of your diet on GAPS). I would typically freeze my homemade broth in large mason jars.
Unfortunately, despite trying all of the tips and tricks out there to keep the jars from breaking in the freezer (leaving head room, keeping lids loose, storing them in difference places in the freezer, etc.) I was left with broken jars and inedible bone broth far too often. I was super frustrated to see my liquid gold go to waste.
Then, one day I was reading online about intentionally making your broth more concentrated, and having it take up less room in your fridge or freezer. It reminded me of artificial bouillon cubes in the store which are super convenient, but not made from real food ingredients.
Dehydrating my broth and making my own bouillon cubes sounds like way too much work… so I thought, “Why not use an ice cube tray to make my own frozen version of bouillon cubes?!” Yep. Lightbulb moment! I make my broth highly concentrated by letting the liquid reduce by at least two thirds of normal, then pour my broth in jars and stick them in the fridge until they’re cooled, and then when I get a spare moment, I do the ice cube tray thing.
Now, I have no more broken jars, I use way less space in my freezer, and best of all: I always have homemade broth on hand to use in recipes, accessible in minutes!
To make a pot of soup, for example, I just grab 4-5 cubes from my freezer and throw them into a pot of water heating on the stovetop. I LOVE being able to do that.
Once I conquered that brilliant little hack, I realized that an ice cube tray can be great for more than just ice cubes!
Here are the 18 genius ideas I’ve gathered for how to use an ice cube tray in a real-food kitchen (and a few non-edible ideas, too):
1. Homemade bone broth
As I explain above, this is one of the very best real-food kitchen hacks that I have discovered. It is seriously life-changing, and I totally feel a small sense of victory every time I grab a couple of broth cubes from the freezer now.
Image via Flickr CC, Christine Wisnieski
2. Leftover meat drippings or gravy
This idea seems totally similar to doing broth cubes, right? I’m including it here anyway because it took me a full year after doing broth cubes to clue in that leftover meat drippings and leftover gravy from a meal didn’t have to go to waste either. Simply freeze those leftovers in an ice cube tray and toss them in with your next batch of soup or stew.
3. Paint palette
Despite the mess, I love letting my kids paint. It does my creative heart good to see them taking pride in their work and painting beautiful fridge-worthy works of art! One simple way to help keep the mess contained is to use an ice cube tray as a paint palette. The colours don’t get all mixed up quite as easily as when you use a plate!
4. Lemon and vinegar for the garbage disposal
Give your garbage disposal something fresh to crunch up to help clean and deodorize them. An ice cube tray is perfect for making an arsenal of these little pucks. You could also totally throw them in to a bucket of hot water for other cleaning purposes as needed.
Image via Flickr CC, Libby
5. Homemade condiments or salad dressings
We all know that homemade salad dressings and condiments are better for us, and often taste better too (homemade salad dressing will blow your mind if you’ve never tried it), but thanks to their lack of nasty chemicals and yucky other unpronounceable shelf-stabilizing/preserving/colouring/etc. ingredients, they go bad faster than their store-bought counterparts.
The solution? Freeze some in an ice cube tray. How amazing would it be to grab a couple of cubes of homemade salad dressing made with fresh ingredients whenever you feel like it? Just put them in a bowl a few hours before your meal, and toss your salad with the thawed result. Oil and vinegar based dressings would work especially well, but I’m planning to try my fave creamy poppyseed recipe soon!
6. Herbs in EVOO or water
I am forever buying fresh herbs at the store, and then letting them die a slow and painful death in my fridge. I have the best of intentions… but, well, ya know how it goes. They also usually come in pre-made bunches, which means I can’t buy just three tablespoons for my guacamole. I mean – so inconsiderate of the grocery store, right? (First world problems.)
Next time, instead of letting them wilt in your produce drawer, just chop up your extras and put them in an ice cube tray. Fill the tray with extra-virgin olive oil or water. (I like to use water because EVOO is actually not the best for cooking due to its low smoke point. You could use avocado oil or coconut oil, if you’d like!)
Believe it or not – leftover wine is not always an oxymoron. I had a particular bottle of white wine in my fridge recently that we didn’t care for, after trying it. I poured the remainder into an ice cube tray, and now I have wine cubes on hand for cooking! I love cooking with wine – it adds such a great depth of flavour to so many dishes.
Just note that the wine cubes freeze in a somewhat slushy state and they melt super fast, so don’t take the cubes for a 15-minute photo shoot. You know, because that’s a totally normal thing to do.
8. Leftover tomato paste or sauce
In my ideal world, I grow and harvest hundreds of pounds of tomatoes each summer, then can them in glass jars in various states so that all of my paste and sauce needs are adequately covered without a trace of BPA to be had.
Unfortunately, however, I still reside in reality, and my kitchen cupboards regularly hold canned tomato paste and sauce. When I open a can for any given recipe, I inevitably have a wee bit leftover, especially for tomato paste! It would be a shame to let it go to waste, so just pop it into a couple of ice cube slots, and store the cubes in the freezer until next time!
9. Leftover fruit for smoothies
I don’t know about your kids, but mine have this interesting little habit of starting a piece of fruit and then claiming that they are stuffed so full they couldn’t possibly finish the last two bites of banana, or slice of apple. The little weirdos. I love my kids, but they are weird.
Wasting fresh fruit gets expensive fast, so just pop those random bits and pieces into an ice cube tray to freeze for your next smoothie-making session! You can also freeze other smoothie ingredients, like spinach and kale, or other smoothie-friendly veggies (just make sure to do a quick google search to see if it’s a good one for smoothies. Don’t assume anything. And for the love of all that is green and delicious – DON’T put celery in a smoothie. Just… don’t.)
10. Aloe vera
This is one of my absolute favourites on the list. I’m a fair-skinned, blue-eyed, redhead with Irish ancestry. I’ve never tanned in my life.
Random side note: I was super excited when I thought I had a teensy bit of a sandal tan after living in Tanzania for three months, but it sadly washed off in the Nile River during a four-hour white water rafting adventure, including being dumped twice. Who knew the rapids were strong enough to wash off a tan?! (Errr… perhaps it was not a tan in the first place, but a result of having no running water and bathing with a bucket for 3 months… bah humbug.)
Anyway… yes, I don’t tan, I burn. Me and sunburns are on verrry familiar terms. I once had a third degree burn on my nose from the sun. I’m basically a pale sun-magnet lobster, which leads me to… aloe vera cubes!
SO BRILLIANT. Check out this tutorial to make your own aloe vera gel. Freeze the gel, and you have instant cold, medicinal sunburn relief available in your freezer all summer long.
Image via Flickr CC, Tess Watson
11. Almond milk
I love to make my own almond milk, but since I don’t add preservatives, it goes bad within just a couple of days. In order to not let it go to waste, just freeze it in ice cube trays. This is also super convenient to throw into a bowl of oatmeal to help cool it down for kids. Of course you can also do coconut milk (don’t waste the extras after opening a can), or even regular cow/goat milk.
12. Coffee cubes or chai
Freeze the remaining coffee from your pot in cubes to throw into your homemade iced coffee this summer. That way you’ll avoid the watered down coffee taste that you get when you use regular ice cubes! Of course, chai would be great, too, for your homemade iced chai. Mmmmm, chai.
There are tons of great dessert recipes out there that recommend keeping them in the freezer, especially ones involving coconut oil (the amazing superfood) because of its propensity to melt so easily. One such recipe is my homemade peanut butter cups, which would be absolutely perfect in an ice cube tray.
14. Punch bowl decor
When I throw a party, I love to make homemade punch using my mom’s recipe. I love to dress it up a little with some floating orange slices and fancy ice cubes. Just drop a berry in each cube, fill with water, and freeze! Mint leaves, berries, or even small lemon or orange slice wedges in the cubes all look lovely.
15. Cookie dough
This 20-minute Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookie recipe is dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that freezing the dough does little to stop me from going into a baking and eating frenzy and downing a whole batch in 24 hours. Just being honest, here, people.
Now, for you folks with a teensy bit more self-control than me, I hear it’s a brilliant idea to freeze your cookie dough in individual portions so you can bake/eat just a couple at a time. How quaint. If you are able to make the batch last longer than 4 days, I salute you. And I question your tastebuds’ sanity. Nevertheless… moving on to number sixteen.
16. Homemade granola bar bites
Small children often can’t eat a whole granola bar, so why not make them cube-sized? It’s also a fab idea to have a bunch on hand in the freezer to grab-n-go when needed. Ice cube trays, to the rescue, again! Here’s my healthy homemade granola bar recipe, posted two years ago, and still one of my most popular posts. They’re chewy, yummy, and super easy.
Image via Flickr CC, MealMakeoverMoms
17. Snack tray for toddlers
I have been a long-time fan of using a muffin tin to serve snacks to my kids, as I talked about in this post. Those things are magical, I’m telling you. But for the toddler crowd? An ice cube tray serves the same purpose, in a smaller format. Genius and simple hacks for the win!
18. Leftover icing
When we make our favourite icing, there’s inevitably just a bit left over. Enough for, say, a dozen medium cupcakes lightly iced.
Why yes, I have had a lot of experience in this matter. I’m pretty much a cupcake/icing eating expert. I’m always open to expanding my knowledge, too, because I’m a life-long learner like that.
Anyway, as I was saying – when you make my favourite Angel Feather Icing (which is fluffy and sweet, reminiscent of marshmallow fluff), you can freeze it for later. Woohoo!
What have you used an ice cube tray for lately?
This is such a great list! I will definitely use a lot of these ideas. The only thing I have used my trays for that is t on the list is freezing yogurt for smoothies. I really like freezing broth in cubes too, for when you only need a small amount for a sauce.
On another note, we love putting celery in our smoothies! I buy a lot and freeze it in sections right away. What makes you say not to do it?
I cube everything too!
My last bright idea was to to freeze my fresh squeezed lemon juice for my warm morning lemon water. Last time I decided to add honey to my lemon cubes either to suck on as a sore throat remedy or to improve a strong herbal brew or even to make an iced tea.
I also make my own herbal shampoo and I like to freeze the extra herb infusion to use as a hair treatment.
Pesto, since basil is seasonal I make batches of pesto and freeze in ice-cube tray, then empty into a container and continue to store in the freezer, they thaw easily and they taste exactly the same as if it was fresh, they may go a little darker when thawing, but that’s just because the air makes it go a dark green, but it taste just the same as if it was a light green.
Great post! Wish I had a cute ice cube tray like that though! I love to do tomatoe sauce, coffee and lemon or lime cubes…. The smoothie cubes are daily! I take them out and put them in baggies to make way for more “cubes” 🙂
I keep an ice cube tray in my jewelry box to hold earrings, it fits perfect and keeps them organized!
I have several different types of trays. I put fruit and water to make a nice addition for my water for summer so that I get my fruit, and it’s refreshing. I add slices of lemon, and lime along with the water for a nice citrus cube. I freeze my mint in with water for minty cubes for a nice refreshing water addition. I do whole milk to add to recipes, and my bath. The list goes on.
I love these ideas. I also store leftover tomato paste, measured in 1 tablespoon portions. It has saved me a trip to the store numerous times. How do you store all the cubes? I they don’t really fit into quart mason jars that well, but bags just look so messy to me. How do you keep all the cubes organized in your freezer? Thanks for a great post!
I love this post and all your great ideas. I have made your granola bars (best recipe ever!!) and now I will make the granola bites in an ice cube tray. The one I have is hard plastic on the top, silicone in the bottom of the cup so it is SO easy to pop out. Thank you.
While you kind of touched on the idea of this, I freeze the juice from lemons and limes to mix in recipes when I peel them for my natural cleaning recipes. I actually found a jelly-bean sized tray that makes cute little droplets that I freeze and then put in bags so I can drop them in my recipes. Awesome!
I have many great uses other then ice. We grow our own garlic (both greman white and elephant) and I chop ou the fresh garlic and mix it with softened butter. I fill up the ice cube trays and after they freeze Ipop them out and put them either in double freezer bag or glass mason jars. I use the jars so the great garlic smell and taste doesn’t permeate all the other food in the freezer. I also take the scapes and chop the daylights outta them and freeze them. They are great when you want to make fresh pesto. You can also do the same with any other herb that you want..
I never thought to make PB cups! Genius. We also store our homemade broth in ice cubes for easy use. Sounds like I need to get creative this summer to stay cool using the ice trays.
1) citrus juicing as well, then my citrus is about to go bad, and I just wont use it in time… juice, put into ice cube trays, freeze, pop out and put into another storage bin/bag in the freezer.
2) eggs – yes crack an egg and put one egg in each hole, freeze and pop out and use as need for recipes or directly onto a hot pan/grille.
3) left over pancake/waffle mix – yup, pour into the tray and pop out as needed to make a waffle/pancake onto a hot pan.
4) fowl treats. chop up fruit/herbs like mint/ and water, pop out and give to your chickens/ducks/geese during the hotter days. give them something to do (peck at it) and the fruit and herbs feed them. put 1 cube in front of each fowl and have a race to see who gets to the fruit in the middle first.
5) cleaning pucks – take vinegar and baking soda and mix (it will foam up so pour in the vinegar slowly….) after mixed pouring to ice cube tray and let it dry (maybe the oven will speed it up) pop out and toss into your bathroom toilets.
5) homemade dishwasher pucks – there is a recipe online about it – google it.
I’m sure there are other ones out there. 🙂
I use ice cube trays for several things:
Lime juice: I squeeze a bag of limes at a time, pour the juice into the tray, let it freeze, and pop the cubes into a zip-top bag. I never have to worry if I have a lime in the refrigerator – I just pop a cube in whatever I am making (for me, 1 cube is ALMOST 2 Tablespoons. I really should measure and put 1 Tablespoon of juice in a cube, but I don’t). And, if the limes were organic, I zest them (before squeezing) into little piles of 1 lime each, and wrap the piles in parchment pouches, and freeze that, too.
Lemon juice. See above, just with lemons instead. And Meyer lemons, too.
Roasted garlic. I buy bags of garlic heads at Costco and slow-roast ALL of it (in lots of oil, so I wind up with garlic-infused oil, too). Then after making a HORRENDOUS mess by squeezing out all the creamy cloves, I toss then into the food processor with whatever oil clings to them, give it a whirl and then pack the paste into the ice cube trays. I usually measure here – 1 Tablespoon paste into each well. Freeze, pop into a bag and use in all sorts of recipes (it’s even great in vinaigrette). Note: the roasted garlic is sticky, even when frozen, so a quick wrap with some cling film will save your sanity. Or, just dedicate an ice tray and wrap the whole thing.
lovin all these neat ideas for ice cube trays – they are great for portioning out pesto cubes too! 😉
so hate to spoil the good cubage… But have to share something discovered by accident, via pure haste/laziness: got excess lemons & limes? chuck em in the freezer whole!! when you need zest, you can grate the rind off easily while still frozen, and then either wait patiently to thaw ( or cheat & zap with micro-nuker if you are not adverse to using them) then squeeze. I dunno, maybe the freezing breaks down the cell walls or? but you will be amazed at how much juicier they will be! and no washing of trays 😉 yep- pure cheat/ lazy inspired! 😀
Beth I totally remember our Tanzania tans washing off in the Nile. That was so much fun! Great ideas with the ice cube trays. Living out here in the desert, I am always looking for ideas like this. Thanks!
Erin Long of Home & Grace
One of my goals for this week is to make a batch of soap nuts liquid and freeze it in ice cube trays to throw in with each load of laundry. The liquid needs to be refrigerated and I have more freezer than fridge space!
I will definitely be making granola bars and similar things in ice cube trays. Thanks for all the great ideas!
I am a really lame ice cube tray user, but now I am motivated to do better. What about mini Popsicles made from leftover smoothies?
Life Breath Present
These really are great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing, lady 🙂 I certainly look forward to thinking of my ice cube trays in a different way now!!
Another thing I use for ice cube trays is baby food storage. My Maria would eat a lot of food but definitely not an entire sweet potato or yam. So I would make the entire thing and throw it into a blender and then freeze it in cubes. I did get to the place where I could make full meals and make a chicken breast and peas and carrots etc… And then freeze them in separate cubes but together in a tray. Tadaa… Instant baby meals.
Kelly @ The Nourishing Home
What an awesome post, Beth. I love making jello in ice cube trays and a lot of the things you’ve mentioned above. When my kids were infants, I made all their baby food from scratch and used ice cube trays to freeze it. Totally awesome way to store and portion it out. 🙂
I use them for onions! I chop an entire bag of them at once, since they make me blubber and cry all over myself! I make them into ice cubes of oniony goodness, then use them in soups and all sorts of dishes! The same method works for celery!
Here are some ideas that might help with your onion problem:
1 – Refrigerate the onions first. When onions are cut, enzymes that were previously isolated are released and react chemically to make a sulfuric compound. This wafts into the air and joins with the water in your eyes to create sulfuric acid, hence the pain. Chilling the onions first slows down these chemical reactions.
2 – Make sure your knife is really sharp. Sharp knives don’t crush the onions as much, so fewer enzymes are released.
3 – Cut them outside or use good ventilation. Keeping the vapors away from your eyes is key.
4 – Use one smooth, slicing cut instead of sawing. Using a large, sharp, non-serrated chef’s knife is very helpful in keeping onion damage to a minimum.
5 – Cut the onions under water. I haven’t tried this, since it sounds rather difficult and the previous methods have been enough for my needs. I keep hearing it, though, and it does make sense. What I have done once was dice a large onion, tossing the bits into a bowl of water as I went. It seemed to help some.
6 – Wear airtight safety goggles. Again, I haven’t tried this (I don’t own any). I’m sure it works for as long as you keep the goggles on. But again, you’ll need enough ventilation to clear the fumes out by the time you take the goggles off.
I hope these suggestions help! 🙂