Although most folks don’t think of frozen dinners when they think of healthy eating, there are many ways that your family freezer can help with healthy and economical meal planning.
Routinely and systematically freezing food can save you time and money. Sometimes larger quantity of food items have lower prices. For instance, buying the jumbo 3 or 5 pound package of ground turkey will be cheaper than buying individual one pound packages. (And, if you live in an area with sporadic pandemic food shortages, you may have a challenging time even finding one pound packages!)
Likewise you can save money by buying fresh produce in season and then freezing to use all year round. Or, perhaps you just want to stock up on your favorite fruits to make sure you have them available when you want them.
And, having a well-stocked family freezer can help you get dinner on the table faster. Check out the tips below to see how you can make the most of your family freezer. (Also be sure to check out our quick-start guide to making family freezer meals!)
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How to Use Your Family Freezer for Best Results
- Portion out food before you freeze so that you only have to thaw or reheat exactly what you need. You don’t want to re-freeze items a second time. Even when you can safely re-freeze, the food quality will deteriorate.
- Always use freezer-safe storage containers and bags. Freezer bags are thicker than regular plastic bags and they are designed to keep moisture in and odors from other foods out. Also, you want to use glass or plastic freezer containers that are designed for the freezer so they don’t crack or deteriorate over time.
- To avoid freezer burn, you want to remove as much air as possible before sticking your items in the freezer. That means selecting the right size food container so that you can eliminate or minimize excess space. Likewise, you should remove all air from your freezer bags before sealing. If you will be doing a lot of freezing, consider getting a budget-friendly vacuum sealer.
- Always completely cool your food before freezing, so it freezes faster and stays fresher. In addition, if you freeze baked goods before they are cooled, they retain moisture and can mold easily.
- Label all your frozen items. Take note of the contents, portion and the date you made the item. That way, you can keep track of food that needs to be eaten before it expires. If you use freezer bags, many versions come with a dedicated space to record this information. But for those that don’t, and for freezer containers, you can find removable labels that work well for this purpose.
- Thaw food safely. To thaw most frozen foods, you can just leave in the refrigerator overnight. If you forget however and need to thaw in a hurry, you can use a microwave. But you have to be careful so that you don’t actually cook the food rather than thaw it. Most modern microwaves have preprogrammed defrost functions. But, if yours doesn’t, remember to use reduced power of 50% or less. And meat should be cooked immediately to avoid build up of unhealthy bacteria.
Related Content: Best Microwave Convection Ovens
For A Family Freezer Filled With Fresh Produce
Remember that even though the majority of fruits and vegetables are freezer friendly, they won’t be exactly the same as fresh. The taste should be very similar but the texture could be considerably different. If you have an overabundance of fruits and vegetables, however, freezing them is one way to store them for long-term use.
Fruits that freeze well
- Berries of all kinds
Fruits that don’t freeze well include watermelon and citrus fruit sections. While you may find these fruits frozen, you will notice the texture is totally different when thawed.
Tips for Freezing Fruit
Items such as berries and grapes should ideally be flash frozen. This will allow you to more easily use them later without encountering large hunks and clumps.
To flash freeze, line a cookie sheet or other large shallow pan with wax paper or parchment paper. Spread out the fruit in a single layer. Cover with plastic wrap and stick in the freezer for a couple of hours. You can even leave it in overnight. Once you remove the pans, package the fruit into freezer bags in your preferred portions.
- Pit cherries before freezing
- Remove grapes from the vine
- Peel and slice bananas
When you do freeze fruit, it will retain its quality for 8 to 12 months. After that the quality begins to degrade. Fruit packed in sugar or sugar syrups will keep longer than unsweetened fruit that is frozen.
Vegetables That Freeze Well
- Beans – most varieties
- Greens (Kale, mustard and turnip)
- Peas (black-eyed and green)
- Sweet potatoes
- Rutabagas and turnips
- Summer squash
Vegetables that don’t freeze well include lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, endive, parsley and radishes.
Tips for Freezing Vegetables
Don’t forget that when freezing vegetables,
Many vegetables are not good for long-term storage because they contain water. Water expands when frozen and breaks down the cell walls. When the produce is thawed, it results in a much softer texture. To avoid this, partially cook the vegetables before freezing them.
Specifically, you will want to blanch them first, drain them and then put them in the freezer.
Blanching involves placing the vegetables in boiling water or steam for a few minutes and then quickly placing them in ice water to prevent it from cooking all the way through.
Most vegetables can be frozen but the texture may be off when you thaw them. When this happens, it’s better to use that batch of frozen vegetables in soups or casseroles.
Frozen vegetables will remain good for 12 to 18 months.
Freezing Meals Now for Future Eating
Have you ever wished you could fill your freezer with meals that are already prepared and ready to heat and eat? Oh, yeah, those are called TV dinners, but you’re not convinced they’re that healthy or they don’t come in the foods your family likes. You could make your own freeze-ahead meals and sauces. It will take some time but it can be so comforting knowing you have those meals for those evenings you simply don’t want to cook.
The simplest way to make freezer meals is to double up when cooking up your family’s favorite recipes. Then, you can eat what you’d like and then divide the rest into appropriately portioned packages and freeze. This route will take longer to stock up your freezer over time, but it requires very little in the way of advanced planning.
Alternatively, you can map out a plan to cook and freeze several days or weeks of freezer meals at a time. This requires several days of cooking and very careful and strategic planning. There are several websites that share information and plans for larger scale freezer meal projects.
Freeze-ahead meals can be so helpful when you’re rushed for time. The effort at the beginning of the process might seem excessive but the time is definitely well worth it.