Today the Eat Well, Spend Less series continues, and we’re talking about food storage. My chosen topic is how to make the most of the freezer space you have if you’re without a deep freezer, and tomorrow I’ll share everyone else’s post on storing food from Costco to dry bulk storage!
Back when I taught (live) coupon classes, I always got a few gasps when I mentioned I didn’t have a deep freezer. How can one stock up on good deals without a gigantic freezer?!
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s possible to live life without a deep freezer – and it can almost be a better life, I think! Here are my tips and suggestions for living life without a deep freezer, and why I think it keeps my family eating healthier.
Full disclosure: in anticipation of someday purchasing a cow, we did purchase a very small deep freezer a few weeks ago! It’s not even turned on yet, though, so I’m still writing this post from the perspective of not having a deep freezer! ;)
The freezer is an amazing tool for eating well and spending less: it allows you to preserve many fresh, whole foods with very little effort, and it enables you to prepare healthy foods in advance so that they are as convenient as frozen dinners – and much tastier and healthier!
But, it can also be a tool for storing junk food – frozen pizzas, anyone? Awhile back, I discovered something about myself: when there are frozen pizzas in the house, I magically do not feel like cooking. I have basically no self control when it comes to food that’s in the house – I can resist in the store, but not once it’s in my house – so when I buy frozen pizzas, we eat them right away.
I realized that by not being able to stock up when frozen pizzas went on sale because we simply didn’t have enough space in the freezer, we were actually eating them less often than we would if I had ten of them stored in a deep freezer! But, because we have limited freezer space, I have to be much smarter about what I purchase for the freezer, which in turn forces me to be healthier, too!
Tips for life without a deep freezer
Here’s some strategies I’ve learned about ways to best utilize whatever freezer space you do have.
Process your food before you freeze it.
Not only are you much more likely to use food if it’s ready or almost-ready to use after thawing, it also takes up less room in the freezer! Instead of freezing a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts; take out the portions that you’d use for a meal and slice, chop, trim, pound, or do whatever you’d normally do to get it ready to cook.
You can do similarly with frozen fruit like strawberries or bananas – if they’re already sliced or pureed before you put them in the freezer, they’ll take up less room!
Use bags instead of containers.
Containers are easier to work with, but take up much more room. I’ve found that plastic bags generally work the best for freezer storage, with the exception of liquids – I’m always too scared to try that for fear of a bag ripping!
Smash it flat, break it up!
Instead of letting food freeze in chunks, try to smash it flat – things like tomato paste, ground beef, etc. It’s easier to stack, and thaws faster, too!
If you’re freezing chopped items like onions or bell peppers, you can throw them in the freezer in a bag, and then an hour or so later, check back in and break it up so that it doesn’t freeze in chunks. You could also freeze it on a cookie sheet first and then put it in a back, which would prevent clumping together, but most of us don’t have room to do that if we don’t have a deep freezer!
Take food out of boxes.
Yeah, so frozen pizzas aren’t the healthiest thing in the world, but I’ll bet you eat them from time to time, too. My freezer, in it’s side-by-side-with-refrigerator setup, has just barely enough width to fit a pizza box. I can stack maybe two or three on a shelf if I’m lucky (and there is actually a shelf open).
If you take the pizzas out of the boxes, they take up about half as much space! I can cram frozen pizzas in many more places once they’re out of their box. Just remember to write the cooking instructions on the plastic! I would guess you could do this with other kinds of frozen food, too, and unless you leave it in there for a long time, I wouldn’t worry too much about freezer burn.
Evaluate the product value versus the freezer space value.
When you’re dealing with limited freezer space, there are just some things that aren’t worth that valuable space, no matter how cheap it is. If both bread and meat are on sale and you want to stock up on both, but don’t have room in the freezer, evaluate which product is actually worth that space.
If it would cost you $1 more to buy bread when it’s not on sale, but $3 more to buy meat when it’s not on sale, the meat is probably a better thing for your freezer space.
Check the dates to see if you even need to freeze it.
A lot of people freeze food that they probably don’t even have to! Some people freeze things like cream cheese without realizing that it usually has a shelf life of several months. I started to freeze some cream cheese once, and then realized I would use it up before the “best by” date on the package!
Test it out before you freeze it.
Before you go to the work of making a bunch of something and freezing it, make sure it’s something you actually like! I’ve felt so smug about filling my freezer with pre-made meals before and then when we actually ate it, I found out no one liked the recipe!
Once I invited a friend over to make gnocchi, and we slaved over it all morning, only to later pull it from the freezer and discover that it was nasty! I was slightly embarrassed and emailed my friend right away to say “don’t plan on eating that gnocchi!”
Taking something out of your freezer and realizing it’s inedible is never fun. Some things just don’t freeze well (homemade salsa, anyone?), so before you go to the work of freezing something, especially in large quantities, test it out and make sure you’ll eat it after it’s been frozen and thawed.
What I’ll be freezing this year
This summer, I have grand plans to fill up that small chest freezer we bought – I’m not sure if it will be with beef after all, because I have a whole list of things that I will be purchasing when in season and freezing:
Strawberries – and I’ll be making strawberry freezer jam, too!
Raspberries – these are a little bit fragile for freezing individually, I might make freezer jam instead.
Hatch Chiles – we’ll buy these when they’re in season, then roast and freeze whole.
Applesauce and maybe Apple Butter – this is one thing that I need to “know what freezes well”. I’ve made applesauce in the past, and no one was crazy about it. I need to test out a good recipe, and then make a bunch and freeze it!
Chives – I’m a miserable gardener, but I do have a thriving garden of chives, and like last year, I’ll be chopping them and freezing for use all winter long.
How about you?
Do you have a deep freezer? How do you make wise use of the space you have?