It can take time to perfect your freezer game, but a freezer can be a budget shopper's best friend. Nix the three-year old meat at the back behind the blueberries, wrapped in layers of frost. Outlaw everything haphazard, everything unlabeled. The goal, rather than a very cold version of the very forgotten back corner of your pantry, is to create a perfect array of entrees, sides, and kitchen staples that save you time, effort, and money.
5 Ways Your Freezer Can Save You Money (And Time)
Here are five things that belong in your freezer and that can save you money in the kitchen.
1. Marked-Down Meats and Seafood
On the off-chance that you have just two seconds to read this article, I’m dishing my number one tip right away: buy marked-down meats and freeze them. This simple trick can shave dollars off of every meal. I asked the grocer in my grocery store for tips and he told me to head to the deli section in the morning for marked down meats. They are often at one or both ends of the meat section.
→ Freezer tip: If you’re feeling inspired, prep the raw meat before freezing—rub it in spices or marinate it and then freeze it flat in freezer bags. The night before you plan to use it, pop it in the fridge to thaw. (See more on how to quickly brine and marinating meats.)
2. Sides & Fillers
If you’re like me two months ago, it never occurred to me to freeze cooked pasta or rice. Instead, I habitually returned home after a 13-hour day, or stood numbly in the kitchen on a Sunday, and felt I could not possibly rally the energy to put on a pot of rice or water to boil for pasta. Don't judge—I was tired. But pasta and rice are the godsend of every finance-strapped menu.
→ Freezer tip: On a day when you do have the energy for mundane tasks, cook a giant batch of rice and a giant batch of pasta. Divide into serving sizes and freeze in plastic zipped bags. At the beginning of your next week or day, pull out whatever you need and let it thaw for almost-instant sides. (Here's how to freeze brown rice. The same method works for other grains too.)
3. Double Batches
This one should be a given, but it's not yet a habit so I still need reminders. Nothing is simpler than doubling or even tripling a batch of chili, butternut soup, or meat sauce for spaghetti. (See tip #2 and make the spaghetti ahead too. Instant Meal 101.) There is nothing—nothing—like that Sunday-afternoon realization in the middle of a deadline push or exam week that your meals are already cooked for you.
→ Freezer tip: Here are some great freezer meals. Try 10 Pasta Sauces to Freeze For Easy Weeknight Meals and Cook Once, Eat Twice! 15 Dinner Recipes to Double and Freeze.
4. Summer Fruit
In May, buy armfuls of $0.99 pineapples, dice, and freeze in freezer bags. In June, stash your strawberries for September and October. In July and August, snap up all of the dollar boxes of blueberries. Fruit gets pricey (and weird) midwinter, so I often rely on frozen summer fruits to get me through.
→ Freezer tip: The key to freezing berries while avoiding giant clumps frozen solid, is to rinse and let dry before freezing. (See how to freeze fresh fruit.)
5. Frozen Veggies
Although I firmly believe that nothing beats a basket of veggies from a summer roadside stand, recent research claims that frozen vegetables are as nutritious as fresh. They are also cheap and pre-prepped for stir-fries and soups and other dishes calling for veggies, making them an easy way to keep the bills low while maintaining your veggie intake.
→ Freezer tip: See the smart way one of our writers stacks frozen vegetables in her freezer to keep it neat and organized.
Do you use your freezer to save time and/or money? Share your favorite tips in the comments below.