Thanks to my friend Danielle for the following guest post! She is a savvy shopper here in the DC metropolitan area and she is on a mission to cook healthy meals for her family. I’m always amazed by her creativity in the kitchen and am excited to share some of her tips on using your freezer to save time and money. Enjoy!
Believe it or not, one of the best birthday presents my husband ever asked for… was a chest freezer. What began as a solution to his need to feed himself inexpensively and easily as a busy college student has now become one of my top tools for saving time and money on groceries. And four moves later, we’re still making room for this gem- it’s worth every square foot!
There are some great books, online resources, and older, wiser cooks out there that know a lot more about this topic than I do, but over the past few years I’ve learned enough that it’s made a significant impact upon my grocery budget and the time that I spend in the kitchen, so I thought I’d at least share some of my favorite tips.
- Buy meat in bulk when it’s on sale.
Many local stores not only have great meat sales, but they also discount meats that are nearing their expiration date. If you know that you’ll have time to deal with them that day, bring them home and repackage them into serving sizes that you would use, then freeze. Or better yet, pre-cook the meat and package it in useful serving sizes. I’ve had great success doing this with ground beef and chicken. Ready-made taco meat and diced, cooked chicken for soups or chicken salads are a great place to start. (Hint: bone-in chicken pieces cook up to be very tender without any effort in the crockpot.) Take a look at your favorite recipes and think about how to make this work for you.
- Cook twice as much as you need and freeze the leftovers.
Meatballs and meatloaf are two standbys that I always try to keep stocked in my freezer. I like to make them in 3-5 lb. batches so that I always have something ready to go in a pinch, and I find that the meatballs especially are a very versatile item for creating a meal on the fly; they can go into soups, on subs, with spaghetti, or even with dipping sauce as an appetizer. Casseroles and soups also freeze very well, and are great for spontaneous entertaining. Other things that I’ve enjoyed always having on hand are baked goods- or even some pre-baked goods. Cookie dough balls are one of my favorites. Mix up a batch of your favorite drop cookies, scoop into balls on a cookie sheet, and freeze the pan overnight. In the morning, scoop the balls into a large freezer bag and label with directions. Then enjoy freshly baked cookies anytime you want! This is an especially great way to use up too many eggs.
- Buy produce in bulk when you find a good price, or just freeze extra amounts that you won’t be able to use fresh.
My local Harris Teeter often has a cart of produce labeled “For Today’s Consumption” with deeply discounted produce that is still very nutritious but needs to be used quickly. Good candidates for the freezer would include: tomatoes (blend whole to use in soups, dice to use as canned, or juice and simmer into sauce), celery (chopped), carrots (peeled and chopped), zucchini (shredded), onions (diced or pureed), peppers (cored and chopped), winter squash (roasted and pureed), berries (washed and frozen on a tray, then bagged) and really ripe bananas (peeled and frozen whole or in pieces). Lemons and limes can be juiced and the juice frozen in ice cube trays then bagged until needed. Freezing does alter the texture of the produce, so you won’t be able to use it as you would if it were raw, but frozen prepped veggies make for very easy soups, stir fry’s, omelets, or meatloaf. Frozen fruit makes wonderful smoothies, or it could also become sweet breads, muffins or pancakes as well.
That’s not by any means an exhaustive list for how to use a freezer, but hopefully that at least gives you a few fresh ideas for how to make yours work harder for you. It’s always nice to have some extra help in the kitchen!
Do you have any freezer meal tips to share or any recipes that you find freeze really well? Leave a comment and let me know!