We had an extra freezer in the garage when I was growing up.
It was a beast of a freezer. One of those old school things where you had to lift the top and peer into an abyss to find what you wanted.
It was used for extra meat and frozen veggies and popsicles.
Lots and lots of popsicles.
When I grew up and moved out, I figured that is what a freezer was used for. Frozen meat, packaged frozen veggies and ice cream (I had graduated from the popsicles at that point).
Since it was just my husband and I at the time and we didn’t eat much meat, the freezer was kind of an afterthought. I relied on the refrigerator and pantry to store the things we ate on a daily basis, and I used the freezer only for the occasional Costco run and impulse buys.
While the freezer was somewhat barren, my refrigerator was a different story.
I had it packed with leftovers and half used containers of random ingredients I had used the night before.
I had a full drawer of cheeses I didn’t remember buying, and loaves of bread I was trying to keep “fresh” until we got around to eating it.
It seemed I was regularly going through my fridge to throw away anything that had expired or gone bad.
It blew me away how much food and money I seemed to be wasting with this endeavor, but I just couldn’t seem to avoid it sometimes. I just didn’t know how to use an entire can of coconut milk when my recipe only called for 1/4 cup.
Then I had what I kindly refer to as my Freezer Revelation.
I have no idea why I hadn’t thought of it before or what finally made me realize the value of the freezer.
It started with beans.
I read somewhere how easily cooked beans freeze, and I was literally blown away. I had NEVER thought to freeze beans before!
What else could I freeze and, by doing so, save both money and food waste?
It seems A LOT.
I am now a freezer maniac. I will freeze just about anything to try and extend its shelf life or simply prevent waste. While most things go really well, some have failed miserably. Most of all, I have found the freezer to be one of my best friends in the kitchen and a tool I use almost daily. I hope this list helps you save money, time and waste in the ktichen!
Money Saving Tips – Use Your Freezer to Save Money and Prevent Food Waste!
I already mentioned it, but cooked beans freeze beautifully! Fill a ziplock bag with your beans and lay it flat in the freezer. When you are ready to use them, simply break off the amount you want and thaw. I have also frozen refried beans and this works great as well. You don’t need to freeze them flat. I just put them in an airtight container.
You can actually freeze cheese! Grated parmesan works great with no change in texture. Blocks of cheese work as well, but they do become more crumbly after they thaw. My favorite thing to do is extend the shelf life of sliced sandwich cheese by freezing it. When I get home from the store, I pull out all the cheese and place small pieces of tin foil between them all. Then I put a few pieces in the fridge to use that week, and freeze the rest. You can take them out as needed, and the foil makes it very easy to take an individual piece out of the freezer. (If you don’t use the foil they stick together). I also use this process for tortillas in the freezer!
This is probably a given, but I freeze all bread products. It came from living in Hawaii where everything on the counter went bad or to the bugs in 2.5 seconds. I just pull out the loaf when we need it and keep it in the fridge. When I buy a special loaf from the store for a dinner party, I cut it into slices and freeze what we don’t use. It makes great french toast and homemade croutons. I also keep at least one batch of my Healthy Pancakes and Flourless Zucchini Muffins in the freezer at all times!
You can freeze most things in a can. I buy canned corn for one meal we make – only one – and I never finish it. I freeze what I don’t use and then thaw it again when I make the meal the next time. I already mentioned how well beans freeze, and leftover canned soup and broth freeze just as well.
Most fruit freezes really well! The texture will change slightly, but the taste stays fresh and sometimes even intensifies. We freeze all of our bananas when they start to turn too brown to keep on the counter. Just peel and put in a large ziplock bag. I highly recommend slicing them first or cutting them in half if you plan on using small pieces for smoothies or cooking. I’ve also cleaned and frozen strawberries and blueberries when I think they are on the brink of going bad and I’m afraid we won’t use them in time.
I made my veggie discovery out of desperation. We were going on a long trip and I didn’t want to waste all of the fresh produce I had in the fridge. I decided to throw the bags of spinach and kale in the freezer just to see what happened. While I would NOT use this for salads, it worked great in soup! Just put the frozen greens in the simmering broth and you are good to go. It would also work in smoothies. I’ve also shredded zucchini and frozen it. When it thaws, I squeeze all the water out and use it for my Addictive Gluten Free Chocolate Muffins. Not all vegetables freeze well, though! Lettuce is a definitely “don’t freeze” food, as well as mushrooms and tomatoes.
Leftover rice? Too much quinoa? Oatmeal no one wants today? You can freeze it all! Just thaw on the counter or in the refrigerator and eat as you normally would. I use this trick all the time when we order thai food for takeout. They always give us too much rice, so I put it in the airtight container and freeze it. Then I use it in the future in soups or casseroles.
Do you ever use an entire container of tomato paste? Enchilada sauce? Coconut milk? I don’t. It seems I always need just a little bit and end up with 1/2 can left that I won’t use in the next week. So I freeze it! The key here is silicone ice cube trays. I pour or spoon the leftovers into the trays and freeze it. Then I put the cubes in labeled ziplock bags. I LOVE this trick and it makes cooking so much easier! Anytime we have taco night, I pull out two cubes of enchilada sauce and put it in the simmering shredded chicken mixture.
I usually make large batches of food when I cook so we can have it at least two nights during the week. Occasionally we end up with even more meals out of it, but we need a break from the same food for the third night in a row. I like putting the entire portion in a glass container and freezing it. Then you can just pull it out, let it thaw and warm up in the oven. This works great for curries over rice, chili, shredded mexican chicken and beans and lasagna.
I can’t believe I’m including this one because I don’t even eat bacon, but it’s a new discovery for me! On Father’s Day my husband requested a wilted spinach salad, and it is traditionally served with bacon. I don’t eat bacon and I knew we would have a lot leftover. I cooked the entire package and let it cool. I used the two pieces I needed for his salad, and put the rest in a single layer in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer. For breakfast the other day I pulled out two pieces for him and just warmed it for amount in the oven. It was perfect!
Keep in mind when handling food that food safety is your primary concern. You wouldn’t want to freeze anything that has already started to go bad, as it will continue to harbor the bacteria. I make sure I freeze leftovers and cooked meat right away or the next day at the latest so they are as fresh as possible.
You also want to cool your food completely before placing it in the freezer. This will also help prevent bacterial growth. Take as much air out of the container or bag as possible to help prevent freezer burn.
While you can freeze many things, there are a few foods that just don’t lend themselves well to the freezer. I have read that people freeze cooked eggs, but they haven’t turned out well for me. Avocados worked ok when I turned them into guacamole, but I would definitely prefer them fresh any day.
Food and money waste are two problems we face everyday, but we can help prevent both through meal planning, buying smaller batches of food and using the freezer!
Have fun freezing!