With this week’s theme of “Outsourcing”, I thought that it would be helpful to talk about stocking your and organizing your freezer. You need to have room for all those make-and-take meals, right?
Spending some time on organizing your freezer is worth the effort so that you are not throwing out food that has been freezer burnt or just too long in the freezer to be good anymore. Using your frozen food wisely can save you time and money.
First, you want to know the suggested time frames for keeping your frozen foods:
True confession time, I have 3 refrigerator freezers and 1 stand up freezer – all full. Ridiculous, right? Like a lot of things in a busy life, organizing the freezer falls to the bottom of the list. There’s been more than one time that I’ve found meat that has a sell by date that is more than 2 years old. The main way to prevent freezer waste is to not buy what you don’t need in the first place. I find my meal planning helps a lot with buying “just in time” inventory, but I still find myself stocking up on a sale of our favorite items or meat on sale. One of my freezers has a turkey that was on sale for $.99 a pound.
The first step in stocking your freezer is having a plan. Don’t buy in bulk just because you see a good deal. You need to know you’ll be able to use what you buy within the time frames listed above. If you are not, then your are wasting any savings that you think you might be getting by buying in bulk or on sale.
Stocking your refrigerator top/bottom/side freezer:
Meats – Keeping a package of ground beef and a bag of frozen chicken tenders or breasts are useful for the base of many meals.
Vegetables– Personally, I don’t cook any frozen vegetables, but I do use frozen spinach in a couple recipes, so I will keep a box of spinach in the freezer. If you do use frozen vegetables, try to limit it to 2 or 3 bags that you can use and replace on a rotating basis.
Fruits – I use frozen blueberries in my pancakes, and I like to have frozen strawberries for occasional smoothies or margaritas. Limit your frozen fruits to 1 bag of 2 types of fruit unless you know you are going to use the fruit immediately for a recipe.
Dairy – I never froze dairy before my mom started freezing butter and cheese. Unless you do a ton of baking, I don’t recommend using precious freezer space for butter and cheese.
Meals & Leftovers – Freezing leftovers or made-ahead meals can be such a great strategy for a quick week-night meal. Make extra of a meal and freeze half. Soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce are good candidates for freezing. Here are some tips to follow:
- Freeze soups, stews, or other crock pot meals in gallon freezer bags laid flat. When the contents has frozen you can stack them or store them vertically:
- Invest in some square containers for leftovers. They stack nicely and you can make different serving sizes for lunch or dinner:
- Also, investing in a couple glass casseroles that can go from freezer to oven. This way you can make double servings of lasagna, macaroni and cheese, or other casseroles.
- Labels – labeling the items in your freezer is a main component of successfully using the food in your freezer before it goes bad. Most meats today have a sell-by date on the package, so you don’t have to label them, and the freezer bags have a place to write the contents and date on the bag (you just have to remember to do this!) for other containers you would want to invest in some labels. These are erasable, so you can reuse them.
Other: You’ll have room left for ice cream, juice, and the occasional frozen pizza or Lean Cuisine.
Stocking your stand or chest freezer:
You’ll have a lot more space in your stand or chest freezer. You can hold all of the refrigerator items above, plus lots of stock up and storage. Some ideas for stocking your chest/stand freezer:
- Chicken or turkey stock. Use the flat freeze in a bag method to freeze in different sizes – 2 cups, 4 cups, etc.
- Spaghetti sauce – next time you make sauce, make double and freeze half. You’ll be glad to have home made for other recipes.
- Pasta – I stock up on frozen ravioli, tortellini, and pierogis.
- Bread – it’s nice to have an extra loaf of sandwich bread, bagels, and hamburger buns.
- Speaking of hamburger buns, include a package of frozen burger patties.
- More meals! But, these don’t have to be meals you cook – you can buy a family size lasagna, fish sticks, chicken pot pie, chicken parmesan entrees, and frozen pizzas.
- Snacks – frozen chicken fingers, appetizers, and pizza rolls.
The key to making the most of your large freezer is to keep an inventory, but it needs to be easy to do and use. The best idea I’ve seen (but, I admit, I haven’t tried it myself) is to use a dry erase board on the freezer to list the contents. Just keep it simple with only a few categories and a list. When you take something out, erase it from the list, and when you put something in, add it to the list. At least then you know what you have before you go searching. I even saw some examples of using dry erase marker directly on the freezer, but if you are nervous about that (I would be), this magnetic dry erase board would be super easy: http://mywhiteboards.com/magnetic1.html. Add a magnetic dry erase marker and eraser so that you never have to go hunting for them, and your inventory is sure to be a success.