The next time you walk by your freezer, open it up and count the number of bags, boxes and containers of frozen foods that now call your rectangular tundra home. Freezers are a great asset to any kitchen, and not just to store popsicles, frozen pizzas or ice cubes—they’re also an incredible time and money saver.
Fruits and vegetables
Many fresh fruits and vegetables can easily be frozen and used again in recipes or as a healthy accompaniment to any meal. Of course, there are a few that simply don’t make the cut and are better off eaten fresh from the store or garden. Here’s the breakdown:
Fruits: Peaches, berries and apples
Peaches and just about any berry freeze well and can be used again in hot cereals, to make smoothies or in your favorite fruity dessert recipe.
Before freezing peaches, you’ll want to slice and skin (optional) them. After they’re sliced, and similar to berries, lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place them in the freezer until they’re frozen. Transfer from the pan into a freezer container and store up to nine months.
Apples freeze best as sauce. While the process to make apple sauce may sounds laborious, it only takes about 10 minutes. Simply peel, core and slice the apples before placing them into a steam pot. Steam the apples until soft (about five minutes). Transfer the apples and ¼ cup of the water used to steam them into a blender and puree. After the sauce is the consistency you desire, store in smaller freezer-proof containers. Applesauce tastes great on its own or used as a substitute sweetener for a healthy breakfast in oatmeal or plain yogurt. Your kids will love it.
Vegetables: Corn, peas, onions, peppers and tomatoes
Corn and peas are two of the easiest vegetables to freeze. In fact, corn can be stored on the cob straight from the grill or stove. The key is making sure both of these vegetables are cooked before freezing. Immediately after they’re cooked (preferably through steaming) soak them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Before they’re ready for the freezer bag or container, remove as much moisture from the vegetables as possible. It’s as simple as that.
Onions, peppers and tomatoes, on the other hand, are a great addition to recipes, such as chili or casseroles, but don’t lose their texture when thawed and eaten on their own. Onions and peppers don’t need to be cooked to freeze and often make a great pair to freeze together. All you need is a sharp knife, cutting board and a freezer bag and voila, your veggies are ready to store.
Tomatoes can be stored whole (peeled or unpeeled) if they’re firm or as a cooked puree for a tasty sauce later on. If you’d like to store whole tomatoes, freeze them on a cookie sheet individually before transferring to a freezer-safe container.
Double that batch!
Fruits and veggies aside, there is a lot to be said for a recipe that has all the makings of a delicious leftover entrée. Preparing a meal with the intent of storing half of it for dinner next week or next month is probably the easiest way to take the stress out of a time-crunched day. Plus avoiding a trip to the grocery store leaves your wallet intact. More importantly, if the junior-level taste testers in your home already gave it a thumbs-up once, you know it will be a hit again.
Here are a couple of recipes to double up on that the whole family will love—fresh or frozen.
Traci Danielson Mitchell is a Chicago-based nutrition coach and health writer. She provides family nutrition services through her company, DM Nutrition & Fitness. Reach her online at dmnutrition.com.
1 cup chopped onion
1 ½ cup chicken, shredded
1 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
1 cup salsa
3 oz. cream cheese, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin
1 ½ cup taco sauce
8 6-inch whole grain tortillas
Lay out tortillas on flat surface. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion and cook until transparent. While cooking onion, mix chicken, cheese, salsa, cumin and cream cheese. Stir until a creamy mixture before adding to onions. After cheese begins to melt, spoon about 1/3 cup of mixture into each tortilla shell. Roll up the tortilla shells and place them in 9x13 baking dish. Drizzle remaining mixture and taco sauce over tortilla rolls.
If freezing, cover container and place into freezer. Thaw before heating. If cooking immediately, bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
This sauce is great to pull out of the freezer to use on pasta or for lasagna.
28 oz. + l small can of tomatoes (or 5 cups of pureed tomatoes)
1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey
1 cup beef or turkey broth
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. chopped basil (preferably fresh)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
Heat oil in pan. Sauté onion and garlic. Stir in garlic, basil, cayenne and 1 tsp. oregano. Add beef or turkey and cook until browned. Set aside.
In a large sauce pan, add the tomato, broth, Worcestershire sauce and remaining oregano. Heat until mixture begins to simmer and add the beef/turkey.
Cover saucepan and lower heat to medium-low for about 30 minutes. If serving immediately, season as desired with salt and pepper. If freezing, do not add salt and pepper until re-heated. Cool completely before placing freezer portions in containers.
Tips to save money
Smart shopping ideas from Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game:
Stockpiling vs. need shopping
Buy more than you need of a fairly priced item to save the most. Stockpile those items that are useful to your family, even if you don’t yet need them.
Going to a number of markets to use coupons each week is not productive. Each major supermarket will run most of the same sales on the same items within a few weeks of one another. If you choose the right market for stockpiling, all the best deals should eventually come to you in one weekly stop.
The coupon file
Get your coupons from the Sunday paper and supplement with some online coupons.
Toss out expired coupons as well as those you will never use. Use a simple canceled check file to organize your select coupons.
Be careful to read everything on the coupon. Look for phrases like "good on any ..." of that manufacturer’s products, not just the pictured item featured on the coupon. Some of the best deals are found when a coupon may be honored for an item less extravagant than the featured item.
In most areas, the best days to shop are on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Most markets’ sales weeks begin on Wednesday and end on Tuesday. Since new coupons arrive with the current week’s sales on Sunday, wait until then to shop.
More tips can be found at TheGroceryGame.com. Membership is not required to access tips.