Did you know that you could save hundreds of dollars a year simply by putting your freezer to work for you? It’s not just about buying extra peas on sale and freezing them. There’s a lot more to it than that. By extending the life of meals, freezing some foods you never thought about, and taking better care of your freezer, you’ll save a bundle on groceries and energy.
If you haven’t clicked on that little “Community” link at the top of this page, you’re missing out. Billleater readers have found several smart and affordable ways to store foods in the freezer. Here’s a sampling of some of their tips, along with some of our own:
Save Energy by Maintaining Your Freezer Properly
Don’t leave empty space in your freezer. The best way to avoid wasted space is to reuse milk and juice containers, or any other container you have on hand for that matter. Just refill them with water and place them in your freezer to take up extra space. This same trick is useful in the fridge and a freezer jug placed in the fridge will save you additional cooling costs.
Check your freezer seal to be sure you are not leaking cold air. If you can slip a dollar bill between the seal and frame, the door needs adjustment. Be sure to keep your freezer at the ideal zero degrees to maintain the quality of the food you are storing.
A clean freezer keeps bacteria from growing and creating odors that can ruin the taste of your food. Wash the shelves, racks and any food containers with soapy water seasonally to ensure that bacteria are not building up. Also, keep an open box of baking soda in the freezer to help absorb odors.
How to Prepare Foods for the Freezer
Each type of food requires different treatment to freeze well. Follow these tips to get the best taste from your frozen foods.
- Meat: Wrap in freezer-grade plastic, then newspaper or tin foil. Some people prefer freezer paper, which is a thick paper bonded to plastic. Don’t pre-season your meats. Some seasonings like garlic or pepper get more intense over time. Others weaken. Similarly, freezing partially cooked or uncooked food results in better flavor than freezing fully cooked meals, because freezing and thawing can alter the flavor.
- Vegetables: Buy frozen veggies on sale. Or get them fresh from your local farmers market when in season, and freeze them yourself. Vegetables must be blanched and then immediately cooled in ice water before freezing. The best freezing/blanching guide I have found is at http://www.gardenguides.com/416-freezing-vegetables.html. Some veggies don’t freeze well. These include scallions, salad greens, celery, radishes, whole tomatoes, and raw potatoes. Others freeze well commercially, but not in your slower-acting home freezer. Carrots, cauliflower, zucchini may come out rubbery if you freeze them at home.
- Fruits: Squeeze the fruit a little to draw out some juice before packing. Crush three 500mg Vitamin C tablets and dissolve in 1 quart water. Dip cut fruits in this ascorbic acid solution before freezing to prevent browning. Vitamin C can also be added to juices, purees and syrups but may cause them to have a milky appearance. You can also prevent browning with lemon juice, but it’s more expensive and doesn’t always work. If you’ll be using the fruit as a sweet topping for desert, follow the same instructions, but dip the fruit in sugar before packing. The sugar will draw out the juice in the fruit and create a natural syrup.
- Breads and grains: All breads freeze well, whether in baked or batter form. Rice also survives freezing intact. Breads and grains will keep frozen for three months.
- Liquids: Don’t leave fresh fruit juice off your “to-freeze” list. Many people assume only concentrates can be frozen, but fresh juice stays fresh for six to eight months. Remember that liquids expand when frozen. Leave some room for expansion lest the juice ends up splattered all over your freezer.
How Long Can I Freeze That?
Mark an expiration date on everything you freeze to help you keep things tasting fresh. The food will stay edible forever, but flavor does have a shelf life. The following is a list of different foods and the recommended time to keep them in your freezer. Print this food storage guide and tape it inside the cabinet where you keep your food storage supplies:
- Meat: Most meats will begin to lose flavor after six months and start to taste like your freezer after a year. Hamburger is good for about three months before it begins to taste funny.
- Leftovers: Keep leftovers and other cooked meats r meals are good up to four months. Alternately, you can prepare double batches of baked pasta dishes like lasagna or cannelloni and only cook one of them. Put the other one in the freezer for up to three months.
- Fruits and vegetables: These keep for six to eight months.
- Dairy Products: Dairy products with high levels of fat freeze well, like heavy cream and butter. Most frozen dairy products will last six to eight months. Dry and hard cheeses fare well for up to a year. Most hard cheeses will also freeze well, but many dairy products do not freeze well, mainly those with emulsion like cream, mayonnaise and milk (although some do freeze milk). Don’t trust those Gogurt ads saying you can freeze it. When we tried this at our home, my nine year old wouldn’t touch the thawed yogurt. Of course, my three-year-old barely noticed the difference. The freezing process breaks down the bond resulting in a lumpy mess. The flavor is usually fine, but most people are turned off by the texture.
- Eggs and Poultry: Yup, you can freeze eggs. Just crack each egg into an ice cube tray and freeze them. When they harden, pop them out and store them in freezer bags. They may stick to each other just like ice cubes do in the bag. So consider separating them with wax paper. Like poultry, eggs keep up to a year.
- Herbs: These can be frozen around six months or so. They lose some texture, so they won’t be good for garnish, but they work fine for flavoring. Herbs that stand up the best in the freezer include basil, dill, mint, oregano, sage, lemongrass, chives, tarragon, rosemary and thyme. Like other vegetables, they keep for six to eight months.
- Sauces: Grandma’s tomato sauce will fare well in your freezer, so will most others as long as they don’t contain flour, cornstarch, cream, sour cream, egg or mayonnaise. Sauces thickened with arrowroot or tapioca are much better and can be frozen for about three months.
Thawing Foods Correctly
Part of freezing your foods effectively includes knowing how to thaw them properly. The best way to thaw food and prevent bacteria growth is to let food thaw over night in your refrigerator, or at least for several hours. If your time is limited, let your frozen food sit in cold or lukewarm water for several hours. Be sure to keep changing the water every half our or so to speed along the thawing process.
Save Money on Freezer Supplies
No need to buy a ton of plastic containers. Freeze items in one or two containers lined with freezer plastic or thick tin foil. This is not an area to skimp on quality. Thin plastics and foils will not protect from freezer burn. Some people prefer freezer paper, a thick freezer-grade paper bonded to plastic.
When you line the containers, be sure the wrap over laps the sides of the container. Cover the top with another piece of foil or wrap to overlap the sides. Once it is frozen, take the item out of the container and seal the edges with the overlapping foil or wrap. Voila. Now you can reuse the container again instead of taking up useless space in your freezer… and you don’t have to buy a dozen of them!
You can make your own freezer paper with old newspaper and plastic bags by ironing the plastic onto the paper. Instructables has an excellent tutorial at www.instructables.com/id/Make-your-own-freezer-paper.