Stocking up on foods when they’re at their cheapest is a big part of how we keep our grocery bill down, and that makes our freezers an important part of our savings strategy. In addition to the freezer that’s built into our refrigerator, we have an upright freezer and two chest freezers in our basement. Here’s a look at what we keep in our freezers, including detailed instructions on how we package specific foods.
I’ve linked to recipes and freezing instructions throughout.
I make my own broth; then, I freeze it in pint and quart size freezer jars, so it’s easy to grab just what I need for a recipe. I usually keep chicken, turkey and ham broth on hand. (Ham is my favorite because it’s so flavorful).
When I get overwhelmed by produce in the summer, I make vegetable broth to use up the excess veggies.
To keep from being tethered to the stove, I make my broth in a crockpot or turkey roaster. I just throw the ingredients in in the morning, and I have flavorful, nutrient-packed broth at the end of the day.
When life gets especially hectic, I freeze bones, until I have more time to deal with them. They can go right into the crockpot or roaster frozen. In the meantime, I save all my veggie scraps in a bag in the freezer. Carrot ends, broccoli stalks, potato peels and other veggies bits you’d normally discard can all be used to flavor broth and boost the nutrient content. By the time I get around to making broth, I usually have plenty of veggies to toss into the pot.
This mainly consists of vegetables that I froze in season (whether from our own garden or a friend’s). In most cases, I flash freeze vegetables on baking sheets. Then, transfer them to freezer bags, once frozen. This keeps the veggies from freezing together in clumps, so it’s easy to reach into the bag and grab just what I need.
I chop onions and peppers to the sizes that I regularly use in recipes, so they can go straight from the freezer to the pot.
And when I get overwhelmed by tomatoes, I freeze them whole. They can be pulled out of the freezer at a later date to make sauce, etc.
Since it isn’t considered safe to home-can pumpkin, I also freeze my homemade pumpkin puree. I use pint-size freezer jars. One jar is the equivalent of one store-bought can.
Homemade salsa and corn relish (frozen in freezer jars) rounds out the frozen veggies that we keep on hand.
We mostly freeze fruits that we grew or picked ourselves – things like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peaches. These are all flash-frozen; then, transferred to freeze bags, so they don’t clump together.
I stock up on fresh cranberries when they’re in season, and freeze them in the bags they came in. We also freeze overripe bananas for use in smoothies and baked goods.
I keep knobs of fresh ginger in a freezer bag, so I always have some on hand when a recipe calls for it. There’s no need to thaw the ginger out before you use it (in fact, it’s actually easier to grate frozen ginger).
Dried beans are superior to store-bought canned beans in every way. They’re cheaper, tastier and more nutritious. But it isn’t practical to soak and cook beans as you need them, so I cook up big batches a few times a year, and freeze them in pint freezer jars. Since one pint jar is the equivalent of one store-bought can, I just have to thaw as many jars as I need for a recipe. Easy.
I typically keep kidney beans, black beans, chick peas and refried beans on hand.
To extend shelf life and avoid pest problems, we keep our rice in the freezer. It can go straight from the freezer to the stove, so it doesn’t add any extra steps. We generally keep brown rice and wild rice on hand.
We also keep our flour in the freezer to keep it fresh and bug-free. I’m not big on specialty flours, so we usually just have a bag of all-purpose flour and a bag of whole wheat flour tucked inside the freezer door.
Freezer Jams, Fruit Butters and Chutneys
While I do a fair amount of canning, I prefer to make freezer jam. It’s fresher, easier and more nutritious. I also freeze all of my fruit butters and chutneys. We usually have strawberry jam, blueberry jam, blackberry jam, apple butter, pumpkin butter and cranberry chutney in our freezer.
I buy a year’s worth of butter around Thanksgiving or Christmas, when it’s at its cheapest price of the year. We keep a pound in the fridge, and store the rest in the freezer. I just stick the box in the freezer as is. There’s no need to do any special wrapping or repackaging.
I make all of our tomato sauce. When I have a lot of tomatoes to work through, I also make our crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes and stewed tomatoes. They’re all surprisingly fast to make –
especially if you eliminate the step of canning them. I simply fill half-pint, pint and quart freezer jars, and pop them in the freezer.
Since nuts contain a lot of oil, they don’t keep for long in the pantry. So, we keep ours in the freezer, where they’ll keep indefinitely. I stock up at an Amish salvage store (where they’re dirt cheap), so I always have a wide variety on hand. This is particularly handy when I’m doing my holiday baking.
To save money on meat, we buy all of our chicken breast and ground beef at Fresh Market. They have a $2.99/lb. special on Tuesdays. We don’t have a Fresh Market in our town, so we just stock up a few times a year. We usually call ahead to place our order, and it’s ready when we get there. My favorite part is that they wrap everything in freezer paper. This means our purchase can go straight into the freezer when we get home, without any additional prep.
We don’t buy lunch meat (because it costs more per pound than steak). Instead, we stock up on turkeys at Thanksgiving; and roast them throughout the year for lunchmeat.
We also cruise the meat department for reduced-price stickers when we grocery shop. This yields the occasional roast, which also goes into the freezer, until we’re ready to use it.
All of our bacon comes from Dollar Tree. The Jennie O turkey bacon is extremely lean. It seems to be popular, so I stock up, whenever I see it. The pacakges are on the small side – 5 oz., instead of the typical 16 oz. – but that’s perfect for us.
When apples and cherries are in season, we make up big batches of pie filling, which we flash freeze in glass pie plates. Once the filling is frozen, we transfer it to freezer bags. This allows us to pop one of the frozen rounds into a pie crust and right into the oven. So easy!
Pie Crust and Cookie Dough
While there’s nothing hard about making a pie crust or a graham cracker crust, I’ve come to realize that I’m much more likely to make pie, if I get to skip this step. So, I keep a stash of store-bought dough and crusts in the freezer, and enjoy homemade pie more often. These ingredients go on clearance after the holidays, so I stock up then.
If I have a bit of extra dough left over after rolling out a pie, I freeze it to use later. After a few pies, I have enough scraps for another pie.
When I have time, I also make cookie dough, and freeze it. This makes it easy to bake cookies on the fly, and is especially handy around the holidays. You can freeze slice-and-bake logs, or scoop out dough, and flash freeze it on a cookie sheet, so you can bake as many, or as few, cookies as you’d like. Just add a couple minutes to the bake time to compensate for the frozen dough.
When we come across a great deal on bread, whether it’s at Dollar Tree, or the reduced-price rack in our grocery store bakery, we stock up, and freeze the excess. Since we know where going to end up using it sooner, rather than later, we don’t do anything to repackage it. It just goes straight into the freezer as is.
I always snatch up pita bread and croissants, when I find them on the reduced rack. The pita bread is great for making personal pizzas and the croissants are great for making breakfast sandwiches.
When we have the time, we also stock the freezer with homemade rolls and pizza dough.
The herbs in my garden usually survive until Thanksgiving. To enjoy fresh herbs between then and spring, I freeze some of my herbs during the summer, when they’re plentiful. For woody herbs, like rosemary and thyme, I simply flash freeze the herbs on a baking sheet; then, transfer them to freezer bags. For delicate herbs, like basil and cilantro, I chop them up; pack them into ice cube trays, and cover them with a bit of oil or water.
Leftover Bits and Bobs
When we have a bit of extra broth, wine or tomato paste after preparing a meal, I freeze the extras in ice cube trays; then, transfer the cubes to a labeled bag, once they’re fully frozen. These cubes are the perfect start to a meal. Just toss one or two in a pan for a burst of flavor. Since they’re small, they’ll melt, while the other ingredients cook. One cube is the equivalent of one ounce or two tablespoons of ingredient. Here’s how to use your frozen cubes, if your recipe calls for a larger amount:
• 2 cubes = 1/4 cup
• 4 cubes = 1/2 cup
• 6 cubes = 3/4 cup
• 8 cubes =1 cup
I also use ice cube trays to freeze extra eggs, when a recipe calls for just the yolks, or just the whites.
Ingredients like enchilada sauce, cream of mushroom soup and cream of chicken soup are an integral part of many dishes, but the store-bought versions tends to be full of questionable ingredients that I don’t want to feed my family. As a work around, I make my own. Sometimes I make these things as I need them, other times I make them in advance and freeze them.
Frozen Meals and Desserts
When I’m developing a new recipe for the blog, it usually takes many batches to get the recipe just right. To avoid food waste, we freeze the extras. Sometimes that means we have lots of dinners in the freezer, other times it means we have lots of desserts.
Store-Bought Frozen Foods
I rarely venture down the frozen food aisles at the grocery store. Aside from the occasional bag of hash browns or package of puff pastry around the holidays, there are only a couple things that I buy regularly. Those include: ice cream, cheddar jalapeno poppers (Aldi) and baked pretzels (Dollar Tree). That section of the store is just kind of lost on me.
How I Keep Our Freezers Organized
To stay on top of what’s in our freezers, we have specific things that we store in each freezer. Our kitchen freezer only has things that we’re currently using – open bags of fruits and veggies, frozen ginger, herbs, etc. Our upright freezer contains meal starters – things like beans, broth and jam. Our small chest freezer (it’s apartment-sized) contains bread and occasionally ice cream. Our large chest freezer contains meat, fruits and veggies, nuts and bones that are waiting to be turned into broth.
Since things tend to look different once they’re frozen, we always label things before they go into the freezer.
These printable freezer labels are a big help.
So are these freezer meal labels.
To keep up with what’s in each freezer, I printed three copies of this freezer inventory list, laminated them to make them reusable, and attached one to each freezer.