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Eat Well, Spend Less: Life Without A Deep Freezer

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!
Blueberries
Blackberries
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?

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Comments

  1. We got a small deep freeze a little over a year ago – it was wonderful to have all that extra space! I would freeze all sorts of pre-cooked meals and browned ground beef! I had such big plans…

    Now it’s all a muddle and digging around to find something I just KNOW is in there, if only I could find it! I’m trying to eat up some of our freezer stash this spring and early summer so I can rearrange/organize and get ready for the surplus fresh veggies and fruit I know are coming later in the summer!

    Good luck with your deep freeze!

  2. We have only the fridge freezer, too, but it’s very useful. I love the convenience of freezing vegetables in the quantity needed for a recipe. Some of them, like kale, can be used on a whim without defrosting. When 5-pound bags of organic carrots are on sale, we put a pound in the fridge to eat fresh and grate and freeze the rest. I just recently tried Kitchen Stewardship’s tip of freezing chopped onions (because Vidalias were half price!) and it’s been great–so many of my favorite recipes start with cooking some onions in oil.

    I save the liner bags from cereal and crackers to freeze food in. They’re nice and tough, and there’s enough slack at the top to fold over and make it airtight; I put a rubber band around.

    I know what you mean about the frozen pizzas! My six-year-old adores them, but he does understand the limited freezer space, so “We can get a bag of frozen blueberries if we don’t buy more pizzas,” is effective.

    Frozen entrees have a similar lure, since they’re so convenient and I like having a hot lunch at work…but they cost about 3x as much as leftovers. So I’ll buy some on sale, but I don’t let myself take one for lunch unless we’re out of leftovers!

    • Interesting! I’ll admit I am not very good about reusing plastic bags other than grocery bags, but I have at least been saving bread bags and newspaper bags for dirty diapers lately! I can totally see how cereal/cracker bags would be nice for freezer use.

      • Sharon W says:

        Aha! My husband and I thought we were so smart to use empty cereal boxes, Kleenex boxes etc to put dirty diapers in. But we never thought to use bread bags or newspaper bags. I’m so glad you mentioned that!

  3. Stephanie says:

    I take leftovers and flash freeze them in the container my husband will take them to work in. Once frozen pop food out and put in a ziploc, when he is ready to take it to work we put it back in a container that can go to work. It works well for us to pull it out at nite and it is still partially forzen in the morning but heats and eats well at noon.

    I too only have a fridge and freezer combo and I have to really want something to let it take up valuable space in the freezer.

  4. Wow–great tips for organzing/fitting a lot into a freezer! We do have a chest freezer, but I try to keep the stuff I use frequently inside, and right now it’s a mess :) I had a thought about the applesauce you mentioned–I don’t know how you made yours, but it tastes significantly better if you use multiple kinds of apples in one batch. I made some last year with Rome and Golden Delicious, and it tasted as sweet as dessert. Then I made more with just one or the other, and it was not nearly as flavorful. And it froze pretty well too. Happy freezing this summer! I know you’ll love your new freezer :)

    • Oh, great tip! I think when I’ve made it before it was with just one kind of apples – I can totally see how it would be better with a variety. I’ll have to test it out with a small batch to see which combinations we like!

  5. We have a small deep freeze and it has been awesome. We hunt and last year my husband bagged an elk – even though he shared some with two of his buddies, the meat ended up using up half of the freezer! I also like to do make ahead meals from the book Fix, Freeze, Feast for those weeks when my brain just doesn’t seem capable of meal planning :) We also shop Costco for frozen veggies and fruit and I break those up into smaller bags using a vacuum sealer so I can just grab small bags to cook with. To keep it organized in there we keep the meat on one side, organized by type, then the make aheads on one side and veggies in between. Smaller items like bread or cheese fit into the baskets up top.

    When we lived in MN we had a huge raspberry patch – more then we could eat and share so I flash froze the individual berries to use in recipes and what not – just rinse berries, lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze until no longer squishy (a couple of hours), then remove from cookie sheet, bag, and put in freezer. I’m hoping our garden here will do well again this year so we can freeze some veggies.

  6. I do not have a deep freeze and have been hounding hubby for one. But, after reading this, I am reconsidering. I guess I never thought of it that way. We DID have a BIG one years ago but when it failed, we lost a lot of food. I have a side-by-side now and when packed properly, it actually holds a lot of food. Freezer cooking is something I’m just really getting into so we’ll see how much I can store. That was my rationalization about having a deep freeze…the deep freeze would hold my stockpile and my side-by-side would hold my ready-to-(h)eats.

  7. I prefer to can applesauce. It’s quite simple. Northern Churches Care is going to be offering a canning class in August, I think. —and saves freezer space :)

    Absolutely must have frozen corn. We purchase a “sackful” from a farmer in Pueblo, blanch it, cut it off and freeze it in freezer boxes. SO much better than anything you can purchase at the grocery store.

    Another idea is to make your fresh fruits into pie filling and freeze in the amount needed for one pie.

    • Hmm, classes on canning might be helpful! Feel free to send over the info when you know more about it! My only issue with canningn is the initial output of money for jars, but I know if I found it easy, I would use the jars over and over again.

  8. Instead of freezing applesauce and apple butter, you should try canning it. It is soooooo easy! It is just a simple water bath method. You can find lots of help on the web.

  9. I noticed a few people mentioned that they “lose” stuff in a deep freeze. I found the same thing happened with mine as well, too hard to dig to the bottom. I would forget I had certain things in there and find them too late and they were no longer good. Then when we moved we got a fridge style deep freeze. It is AWESOME. I never lose stuff, I don’t have to strain my back leaning over the edge trying to dig to the bottom. Love it!!

  10. I started using containers for all my food when we lived in
    Alabama and had BUGS. My husband loves ice cream. The plastic tubs are great for all kinds of things. I have stored my cereal in them for years. I really like the new square ones. I use them in the freezer to sort smaller things. In the refrigerator freezer, one holds the packages of meat for lunches, one holds muffins, etc. They also work in the big freezer for keeping track of smaller packages.

  11. We own 2 freezers, one for meat. We split 1/2 a cow and a pig with our son. This fills one freezer and veggies and fruit in the other one. I never buy prepackaged foods, can’t stand them. I chop onions and celery and peppers and freeze bags for easy food prep. I also always make extra broth when I boil chicken and freeze this. I often double the main dish and freeze 1/2 for another meal. My freezer helps me make quick nutritious homemade meals.

    • I like the idea of being able to put certain types of food in certain freezers – that would make it easier to stay organized!