… let’s talk about freezers.
If there are more than two people in your household, and especially if you have children to feed, you must own a freezer. I mean, a separate freezer. Not one that hangs out over your fridge and launches that same bag of frozen peas at your head every time you have the audacity to open the door. No. A separate freezer. A BIG freezer.
But, I can hear you whining, I can’t afford a freezer!
I am here to tell you that if you’re on a tight budget, you can’t afford not to have a freezer. Start saving your pennies now.
Think about it: When you’re buying groceries, which packages of meat are the cheapest per pound? The single-serving steaks? Or the family packs of pork chops? Right. The more you buy, the more you save. And don’t be shaking your head and wandering off because you’re a vegetarian; meat isn’t the only reason to have plenty of cold storage.
Setting aside meat and its inbred cousin, the plethora of faux-meat products (it’s bacon! only not! in case you feel like just pretending to ingest animals!), there are plenty of other foods you’re going to want to put in your freezer. Really. Really really really REALLY. I promise.
Let’s start with some things you expect to find in your freezer.
- Vegetables. For some things, yes, I prefer fresh. But for most vegetables, flash-frozen tastes just as good as fresh—at a fraction of the cost, and without melting into viscous goo in the bottom of the crisper drawer when you forget about it. These also have the advantage of going on special at the grocery store every so often, so you can stock up when the price is right.
- Frozen pizza. If you have children, don’t even try to tell me that you don’t have a frozen pizza or three in your house. It’s junk. I don’t advocate feeding it to your family every day. But even the really good ones are less than half the cost of delivery, and you can lock it up and label it “Break glass in case of emergency” if it makes you feel better. But if you’re anything like me, you want to have a few of these on hand, and they’re big enough that they’ll totally screw up your feng shui in a regular fridge/freezer combo.
- Your ice cream maker. You don’t have an ice cream maker? We’ll talk about this another time. Don’t think we won’t. But most have cylinders/bases that require a day or more of chilling prior to use. Again, you probably could stuff it in your regular freezer, somehow, but why not have a regular home for it where you can just leave it when it’s not in use?
- Fruits… berries, in particular. You’re going to need them for your ice cream (raise your hand if you’ve ever had the Ben & Jerry’s Cookbook raspberry sorbet… oh, nevermind, I can tell which of you have just from the look of rapture on your faces). Also, if you’re like me, some favorite grows locally that begs to be hoarded during the growing season. I live in New England; my children live for blueberry picking (fun and delicious). On the rare occasions when I manage to snatch some berries away from them before they snarf them all down, I freeze them. Then we have them for pancakes and whatnot long after they’ve gone out of season.
- Popsicles and other child pacifiers. Maybe if you live in Alaska or Siberia you can skip this one. My personal experience is that hell hath no fury like a child who has been sweltering outside and now discovers there are NO FROZEN CONFECTIONS to be had. I absolutely advocate making your own (both to control content and to keep the cost down), but sometimes you just want a nice frozen hunk of sugar and chemicals. And they tend to be a lot cheaper in packs of four gazillion.
- Juice. We’re actually not big on juice at my house, but if you have a large family and/or you really love juice, frozen concentrate is your friend.
- Ice. I know, I know… DUH. But what about… ice packs? We use them for everything, from boo-boos to bag lunches to toting picnics. I have a whole mess of ’em in various sizes. And if I didn’t have a second freezer, I wouldn’t have any room for them.
- Prepared/convenience foods. I’m not a huge proponent of these (beyond your emergency pizzas, natch), but if you use them you’d best be buying them on sale. And you’ll need the room to stock up when they’re on special.
Now let’s think about some things you sometimes forget you can keep in the freezer.
- Butter. I don’t know about you, but I was a teenager when the health community decided that Butter Is Bad. I wept real tears into my margarine for years. And then, glory to God in the highest, They (whoever THEY are) recently recanted and said that, Haha! Our bad! Actually, butter is okay! Or, at least, margarine is equally bad! So! But real butter can be pricey. My grocery store will put it on deep sale (a dollar off, or two for one) a couple of times a year, and then I’ll buy… well… never you mind how much I buy. The important thing to know is that you can pop those puppies into the freezer, and move to the fridge (or your cookie batter) as needed.
- Bread. I’m of two minds about freezing bread. On the one hand, every time I try to stock up on regular wheat sandwich bread in my freezer, it seems to have soggy spots and hard spots when I defrost it. Which, yuck. On the other hand, english muffins and bagels—both items that I only buy on sale—freeze wonderfully and toast up without any residual effects.
- Cheese. My kids are big fans of “shaky cheese” (parmesan). We put it on pasta, and I cook with it a fair bit, besides. The tubs of fine shreds can be used directly from the freezer—just a few seconds on the counter and a quick shake of the container is enough to loosen it up. Packages of shredded mozzarella or cheddar freeze fine, as well… though you’ll have to transfer them to the fridge a bit further in advance of intended use. Ditto for blocks of cheddar, swiss, etc. Just use your head. Don’t go sending me indignant hate mail about how you froze your camembert and it’s ruined. Don’t freeze fancy cheeses; I’m talking about the stuff you cook with and put on tacos.
- Baked goods. I like to bake (and eat) as much as the next person, but the fact remains that I’m not the sort of mom who’s whipping up cookies every afternoon. I don’t have time. So when I do make cookies (or pie, or muffins, or any of the other things I claim I’m making “for the kids” and then steal into my kitchen to eat over the sink, under cover of darkness, after said children are in bed), I always make extras. And then I freeze them. DO NOT SKIMP on good food wrap; use storage bags meant for the freezer, aluminum foil that didn’t come from the dollar store, etc. Properly stored, your goodies will keep for up to 6 months (as if I ever manage to keep cookies that long).
- Entire meals. Yeah. That’s right. Cookies aren’t the only thing I make extras of—we’re a family of three and I own a 6.5-quart crockpot. Do the math. When I fix a meal in the crock, or when I make lasagna or some other labor-intensive, largish dish, I make at least twice as much as we need. Then I freeze half for another time. And squeal with joy when I discover one of our favorites tucked away in the freezer (labelled! always label with date and contents!) on a day I really didn’t feel like cooking.
Now. Do you live somewhere that’s critter-prone? Have you experienced the unmitigated horror of a Weevil Showdown? Are you acquainted with my arch-nemesis, the grain moth? Do the wee adorable and germ-infested field mice sometimes decide to come visit you? There is nothing sadder in the entire world than being a faithful frugal stockpiler and then having a pantry infestation. It’s happened to the best of us.
Here’s the fun part. Did you know that you can freeze…
- Rice? Good to go, straight from the freezer.
- Cereal? Don’t freeze the open boxes, of course; keep those in the pantry. But stock up when it’s $1 or $2 a box, and stash the extras. Remove from freezer at least the night before you plan to eat it.
- Raisins and other dried fruits? My kids love those little snack-packs of raisins. So do insects. Lesson learned.
- Dry goods? Cake/pancake batter, oatmeal, sacks of flour, etc. Keep the packages in current use in the pantry (in sealed containers); store the extras in the freezer, where they will remain blessedly bug-free.
The point is—just in case I haven’t been clear, here—you need a freezer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chest freezer or an upright, although it must not be a “frost-free” version. Frost-free is nice for your everyday freezer because, well, it keeps things frost-free. But it does this by periodically warming the interior to melt any accumulated condensation, and this both shortens the lifespan of the contents within and promotes freezer burn. If you want to sit down to a delicious dinner of hardened grey chicken and dessicated green beans, be my guest. If that doesn’t sound very yummy, make sure to avoid the frost-free models when you’re shopping.
If there’s some interest in it, I’ll post a guide to shopping for a large appliance such as a freezer at a later date. For now? Either start really utilizing your existing freezer in ways you hadn’t been, or start planning to purchase one. I pinky-swear your grocery budget will thank you.