By Jenni Wolf
We are talking all things freezer this month.
With the combination of colder weather and COVID, comes fewer trips out of the house to the grocery store. So, now is a great time to learn how to put your freezer to work for you!
Here are seven tips to get you started:
• Go all out. And by all out, I mean take everything out. Start by emptying the contents of your freezer. Toss what is expired and icy beyond salvaging, and move older items, which need to be eaten, to thaw in the fridge for meals over the next week.
• Fix up your freezer. I always say my freezer is where things go to die—can you relate? It’s a dark, boxy space with little-to-no organization in place. But we can change that! Pick up a few bins to create zones in your freezer—one for frozen veggies, one for meat, etc., so things don’t get lost or forgotten. Label any leftovers, homemade items, or purchased items that are not in original packaging with the item name, date frozen and date to be used by. Use a sharpie to write directly on the container or bag, otherwise I recommend freezer tape to ensure the label sticks.
• Use the rule of two. Freeze items in two layers of packaging to protect against freezer burn. Most frozen items come equipped to be frozen as is, but homemade items or items out of their original packaging may need a little extra attention.
• Freeze flat. Plastic freezer bags work great for freezing items like soups, stews, sauces and pulled meat because they can be frozen flat and then stacked or ‘shelved’ to save space. Freezer bags already offer an extra layer of protection so no need to double bag unless you want to take some extra care!
• Buy “freezer fresh” produce. Whether I chalk it up to fewer trips to the store for fresh produce, or fewer items being in season and affordable here in Minnesota, I find my fruit and veggie intake dipping a little in the winter months.
So, I reach for frozen fruits and veggies to help me make balanced meals during this season. Not only are they just as nutritious as fresh, they are also tastier this time of year because they were picked and frozen in-season. They also have a long shelf life so you can always keep a fruit or veggie option on hand and often require zero-to-minimal prep!
My favorites to keep stocked are sliced carrots and diced onion to use in soups and stews, chopped spinach to stir into curries or layer in lasagna and broccoli or green beans for roasting with garlic and olive oil.
For fruits I tend to pick berries to top off a warm bowl of oatmeal or throw into a batch of muffins. Stocking 100% fruit and vegetable juice concentrate in the freezer is another helpful way to get some produce in during the dead of winter.
• Freeze your MVPs. Having more of the most common things you eat on hand means even fewer trips to the store. And the freezer will keep large quantities fresh! Things you’ll always find in my freezer: a loaf of bread, sliced bell pepper, bananas, chicken and a batch of some sort of curry or soup. Oh, and obviously, ice cream!
• Don’t forget to thaw. Keeping a freezer inventory list on the fridge and planning menus can help make sure your frozen goods are thawed and ready to go come mealtime—want the chili for dinner Tuesday? Be sure to transfer it to the fridge to thaw a couple days before so mealtime is a breeze. One handy bonus tip: it is not safe to cook frozen meat in a slow cooker, but you can do this safely in a pressure cooker such as an Instant Pot.
Jenni Wolf is a Como neighborhood resident and a practicing registered dietitian who is passionate about helping others nourish a positive and balanced relationship with food.