Your freezer is probably the most under-estimated, under-appreciated, and overlooked appliance in your kitchen. It can save you a ton of time and money and can help make eating healthy much easier. It can also play a big role in the fight against eliminating food waste. But too often our freezers end up as a disorganized wasteland of ziploc baggies and tupperware containers containing freezer burnt who-knows-what.
Freezing food does not change it's nutritional value. And once the food is frozen, you do not have to worry about it going bad. So take advantage of this glorious machine! Today we're going to help you use your freezer like a boss so you can save time, money, the environment and your health.
Freezer Basics 101
#1. Some Things Just Should NOT Be Frozen
First of all, please know that not all things are frozen equally. There are two main categories of things we reccommend you do not freeze.
Fruits & Vegetables with a High Water Content: Raw produce that has a high water content tends not to do well once it has thawed. This includes stuff like lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, celery, peppers watermelon and lemon.
The one exception to this rule is if you are using the produce in soups, smoothies or other purées since the mushy texture will go unnoticed.
Stuff You Know You Won't Eat: Hey - we're all for reducing food waste but be real with yourself. If you didn't love the dish when it was fresh, odds are you really aren't going to like it once it has been frozen then thawed. So don't take up precious freezer real-estate if you have no intention of eating it down the road.
#2. But Some Things Are Awesome Frozen
With the above being said, keep in mind that the large majority of things can be frozen with great success. Some of our favourite things to freeze and eat later:
- Baked Goods (muffins, cookies, etc)
#3. Freeze it BEFORE it Goes Bad
You see those bananas going brown on your counter? Peel em', slice em' and throw them in the freezer! These are great in baked goods or smoothies down the road. Same goes for things like berries, spinach, herbs and any other freezer-friendly leftovers you have sitting in the fridge that just won't get eaten in time. Don't let your food get to the point of no return - especially with meat. When in doubt, just throw it out. A'int no one got time for Salmonella.
Note: Ice cube trays are awesome for salvaging things before they go bad. See more on this below.
#4. Know Your Freezer Storage Options
Choosing the right storage options when freezing is the key to preserving flavour and freshness over time. Here are some of our favourite freezer storage options:
Ice Cube Trays
Ice cube trays aren't just for ice cubes, folks. They are perfect for freezing little odds and ends of ... well, pretty much everything. The possibilities are endless! Buy a stackable set of ice cube trays to save space and keep things organized. Here are some foods and liquids that we love turning into frozen cubes:
- Tomato Paste
- Minced Garlic
- Grated Ginger
- Lemon Juice
- Leftover Coffee and Tea
- Vegetable and Fruit Purée (great for smoothies)
- Soup Stock
- Herbs with Olive Oil
- Fruit with Water (fancy ice cubes)
Some people will tell you not to freeze stuff in mason jars as they do have the potential to shatter. Well, that is true. In fact, we've witnessed it ourselves. But here's the trick: don't over fill the jar! Leave at least 1 inch of space at the top for allow the fluid to expand. Wide-mouth jars are your safest bet.
Stackable Pyrex Sets
Oh Pyrex! We just can't get enough of your storage containers. We love that these are made of glass, have an air-tight seal and are stackable. They are great for the freezer preserve freshness for a long time.
Note: We recommend steering clear of plastic containers and plastic wrap for storage as they may leach hormone-like chemicals (such as BPA, PBDEs and phthalates) into the food.
#5. Let it Cool But Not For Too Long
Always allow your food to cool down to room temperature before you put it in the freezer. But do not let it sit around in room temperature too long or else harmful bacteria may start to grow. If you place something in the freezer that has grown bacteria, it will not continue to grow but freezing won't kill it either. Whatever was in your food when you froze it will be there again when you thaw it. So again: when in doubt, throw it out! (Another reason to freeze things before they go bad.)
#6. Freeze it in Individual Portions
Let's face it. Sometimes you just don't feel like eating a whole casserole dish of shepherd's pie. Okay, well, maybe you do but you probably shouldn't. So instead of covering the whole thing and putting it in the freezer, divide it into single servings so you can thaw it out on an as-needed basis. This helps preserve freshness and flavour and also makes you more likely to eat it later on. We love doing this with soups as well. The 500 mL mason jar is our BFF.
#7. Label All the Things
Nothing fancy. Good old masking tape and a sharpie does the trick here. Label your freezer contents with the date and what's inside. Bye bye guess work! (Bonus: It helps you get a better sense of how long things tend to keep in the freezer!)
#8. Keep a Freezer Inventory
A while ago, we started keeping a freezer inventory on my iPhone in the note app and it has seriously saved us a ton of time and money. Gone are the days when we get to the grocery store and are left scratching our heads wondering, "Do we have frozen peas at home in the freezer?"
A freezer inventory also makes a huge difference when meal planning - especially when we have a busy week to prepare for. We can just pull up my Freezer Inventory note and plan to eat up the leftovers that we tucked away a couple weeks ago.
Tip for That Clean Life Members: When adding meals you have in your freezer to your meal planner, make sure to mark them as leftovers so those ingredients don't get added to your grocery list.
#9. When It's Time to Thaw
First of all, never cook meat from frozen. Also, do NOT leave meat on the counter overnight to thaw. Harmful bacteria can start to grow.
The best practice is to thaw frozen food is to remove it from the freezer and let it thaw in the fridge. Yes, this takes longer but it is the safest way.
#10. The Emergency Thaw
This is when things can get a bit hairy. You come home from a long day, have no food except what's in the freezer and you might starve to death before you can figure out a way to thaw it out. Sound familiar?
Here is what you need to know if you find yourself in this situation:
- You can thaw non-meat products like frozen soups quickly by placing the jar in a pot of hot water. Let it thaw to the point where you can pour it out into a sauce pan to heat all-the-way through.
- With meat, you can thaw it under a cold water bath (preferred) or a hot water bath.
- If you opt for the hot water bath, make sure to cook the meat as soon as possible.
The only time it is safe to re-freeze meat is if it has been thawed by the refridgerator method. Otherwise, do not re-freeze unless the meat has been fully cooked first.
Did we miss any pro-freezer tips? How do you run your freezer like a boss? Let us know in the comments below!