Today’s post is moving us in a new direction. So far I’ve shared adventures in my faith walk and in trying to exercise and lose weight. Now I want to start to share a new adventure with you – the adventure of homemaking! We will start in my favorite room of my house, the kitchen!
Many of my friends and family have asked me a lot of questions about how I manage my kitchen, from grocery shopping to meal planning to pantry organization to freezer management. I’m going to start with freezer management because it generally gets the most questions. There’s a lot to share so this will be the first in a series of posts. If your question isn’t answered today, be sure to ask me in the comments area so I can be sure to cover it in a future post.
Freezers are generally used for two things: keeping frozen items like ice and popsicles frozen and preserving other foods like meats and vegetables until we are ready to eat them. Freezer management is just using the functions of your freezer in the most frugal and efficient ways to make meal times easier to manage. We will start with the preserving function of the freezer and at the end of the series, I will share several recipes for frozen treats so you can stock your freezer with yummy stuff to keep you cool this summer.
I started out small in freezer management, using my freezer as a storehouse for meats when I found a great deal. When I shop for meats, I go to the grocery store searching for markdown stickers. Grocery stores will lower the price of fresh meats when they are close to the sell by dates in order to move them out the door. You can buy these markdowns at a great discount and stick them right into your freezer until you are ready to cook them. For example, on my last meat shopping trip, I found one pound packs of ground chicken regularly $3.69 each with $3 off markdown stickers. There were nine packages marked down and I grabbed them all at $0.69 each. Later I will show you how to bring your meats home and prep them into a meal or main dish before freezing (I’ve got an 1/8 of a cow coming in a few weeks!), but for now just focus on adding to your freezer stock. Once your freezer is stocked with markdown meats, you can plan your meals based on the meats you have on hand and start lowering your grocery bill.
Another way to stock the freezer is with fruits and veggies. First, go through your fridge and pull out any fruits or veggies that are just slightly past their prime. These are foods like limp celery or apples that aren’t as crisp or very ripe berries that need to be eaten quickly before they spoil. Instead of losing these foods to the garbage disposal, save them while they are still viable and get them in the freezer. I chop things like onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, and bell peppers into very small pieces (usually with a food processor – I’m all about working quickly!) and then spoon them into ice cube trays. Put the trays into the freezer until the veggies are frozen solid, then pop them out and put them into freezer ziploc bags in the freezer. When you are making dinner and you want to add a little something to a sauce or rice, grab a couple cubes from your freezer stock and toss them in the microwave for a minute to thaw, then it’s ready to add to your recipe. You can also slice veggies and freeze to add to pizzas or stir fry – just slice and place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen, then remove and put them in freezer ziploc bags. The same procedure can be used for fruits like apples, peaches, berries, even bananas – just peel, slice and freeze on a cookie sheet then bag them. Berries, grapes and pineapple chunks make a great frozen snack – they taste like bite-size popsicles and they’re healthy too! Once your fridge is cleaned out, head to the grocery store and scope out the markdown produce. Many grocery stores will pull bruised or very ripe produce off the shelves and bag it up to sell at a deep discount. Just take it home and process it for the freezer right away and you can enjoy lots of produce for really low prices. You can do the same thing when you find a great deal on in-season produce like a bushel of peaches.
The last way to stock up the freezer is with baked goods. Most grocery stores will markdown breads, cookies, bagels, and pies that are nearing their sell by dates. Once you get them home, wrap each item in foil before placing in a freezer ziploc bag. I will often separate things like bagels, pies and cookies into individual serving sizes and put each serving in foil then a sandwich bag and then put all the sandwich bags into a larger freezer ziploc bag. Then I can easily pull out a bagel or dessert to add to my hubby’s lunch, make a quick breakfast or serve to a visiting friend. The rule of thumb here is to not just throw the baked goods into the freezer in their original packaging. The packaging is meant to keep it fresh but isn’t designed to protect against freezer burn, so be sure to wrap it then bag it before you freeze it.
A few important things to note here:
1. Use name-brand freezer ziploc bags. This isn’t the time to cut corners with off-brand bags or using storage bags instead of freezer bags. You’re preserving food so use the best quality stuff to do it and you will get a better result.
2. Don’t skip the ice cube tray/cookie sheet step! This allows the food to freeze in separate pieces before you bag it so the pieces don’t stick to each other. If you skip this step and throw it all into the bag and then freeze it, you will end up with a big frozen chunk that’s only useful if you are going to use it all at once and have the time to thaw it.
3. Be sure to label and date everything. If you are going to go through the effort of preserving the food, make sure you can identify it later or you won’t ever use it.
4. Organize your freezer. Keep all your meats in one section, your fruits in another, your veggies somewhere else, etc. This is easier to do when you have a full-size upright freezer but it can still be done if all you have is the freezer above your fridge. When you keep like items together, it’s easier to see what you have and find what you need so you can use what’s there and not forget about any of the frozen treasures waiting to be eaten.
The next post in the series will cover utilizing big batch cooking and #10 cans to stock your freezer. As always, comments make my day! Be sure to leave your questions in the comments so I can cover them in future posts.