When we have guests over, it's incredibly common for someone to get a glimpse of my pantry. It never ceases to start a conversation and a round of questions about why I have so many jars of nuts, rice, flours, pasta. You name a basic and I likely have it in there.The pantry conversation is nothing compared to the freezer conversation though. If someone gets a glimpse inside our freezer, then proceed to ask a slew of questions about what we could possibly store in there.
While it might look like a mess or a lot of food that we will never eat. It is actually the source of probably 50% of the meals in our house. We've got a mix of bulk frozen ingredients and individually packaged leftovers. Sometimes it the basis of a meal with a whole serving of protein I bought in bulk or just pulling out 1 frozen chipotle pepper. Other times, it is as easy as pulling out leftover ragu and a package of single-serving frozen pasta.
All my tips, tricks, and wisdom on making your freezer work for you is below. Bye-Bye to the "I have nothing for dinner" excuse. In fact, you might have a whole meal that doesn't actual require any cooking and is faster than take-out.
Keep A List
We have a small whiteboard attached to the side of our fridge listing every inside. We list each item and the quantity.
We organize the list by which shelf they are on to limit some of the frustration of rooting around the shelves. Yes, this does require us to stay on top of the list by wiping off the dry-erase number and marking it down by one. More often than not we are successful at keeping the list up to date.
Label, Label, Label
This is a simple step, yet somehow I am terrible at it. Label each and every item that you put in the freezer. It might be easily identified as chili when it is defrosted, but when it is frozen it could be any number of things. Either write directly on the container or buy a roll of freezer tape. Either way, take the 10 seconds to label.
Have a System
I only recently started doing this, so I will have to come back and give an update on my progress. I think this is going to be a gamechanger. Start labeling items by batch with Ground Beef 1, Chicken Broth 3, Chili 1, etc. That way you can be sure to find the oldest pack and be sure to use it first. I used to label by date, but then I never knew if there was something older or not and just started ignoring the dates. If the date works for you, then that is another great way to do it.
Organize the freezer regularly
I have to be honest. This isn't my job. Michael takes full responsibility for the freezer, mainly because I am awful at organizing it efficiently (similar to my inability to load a dishwasher).
With that being said, we sit down quarterly and take everything out of the freezer. I wipe the whiteboard clear and as Michael organizes, I write down what we have stocked in the freezer. It is a great way for me to mark down which items I want to use in the next week or two and work them into my meal plan to ensure nothing stays in the freezer too long.
We generally end up needing to throw out one or two items that I tucked in there but realize I am never going to use or didn't like that meal.
.... Hey, not trying to give the illusion of perfection over here.
Flash Freeze Items you want to Break apart
When it comes to fruits, vegetables, or any item that you might want to use in a smaller quantity it is best to flash freeze.
Flash Freeze anything that you want to be able to pull apart easily. This means that you spread out the fruits, vegetables, etc in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and place the whole tray in the freezer. You want to minimize how much things are touching. Remove from the freezer after a few hours and, if needed, break apart into individual pieces. Transfer to bags, containers, jars and place back in the freezer.
I freeze extra liquids in silicone ice trays -- coconut milk, chicken broth, tomato paste, pizza sauce, canned chipotle peppers wine, coffee. The list could go on and on. I tuck them all in bags in the door of my fridge with a list of what is in there. I always double check the list before I open a new can. This also allows me to just pull out 1-2 tablespoons of something for a recipe and not waste an entire can.
Individually Wrap/Package Items
For a while, I was freezing breakfast burritos and sandwiches for quick breakfasts. It's been a few months since I have done it, but it did work great when I was.
Would love to know what else you are individually freezing!
Pasta and Rice are easy meal staples to cook extra of and freeze in individual servings. This allows us to grab out leftover ragu and have the pasta ready to go. I suggest cooking the rice and pasta al dente. Both will continue to cook when you reheat them.
Cook Double and Freeze in individual portions
When I meal plan, I tend to plan 1-2 meals a week that would do great in the freezer. Soups, stews, chili, pasta, most things you cook in an Instant Pot or slow cooker tend to do well as frozen leftovers. I will cook double and freeze in individually portioned vacuum seal bags for quick lunches.
Freeze food Properly. No one likes Freezer Burn.
I have a whole post next week about the proper containers for freezing.