When I got an upright freezer (yay, Craig’s List!) a few summers ago, the idea was for it to replace my mini chest freezer, the kind just tall enough for a kid to climb in and that’s it. I’d had that freezer, a gift from my parents when we first got a house in 2005, as my only “extra” cold space beyond the regular kitchen fridge/freezer combo. Even then I stored a lot in there, but it never seemed enough.
I used to joke, “I’m going to go freezer diving,” when I needed to extract some meat or broth for dinner, and sometimes I’d need to wear oven mitts just to get to what I needed because I had to move so many cold things out of the way!
It was very exciting to have a bigger freezer. I had visions of perfectly organized shelves, everything easy to find, being able to simply open the door, grab what I needed, check it smartly off my freezer list and, smiling, continue making dinner.
I suffer from “grass is greener” syndrome a lot.
People. It’s a serious condition.
I always think it will be better IF…
And then it’s usually not, because I’m still unorganized to an extent, and if you build it, they will come.
That applies equally to lush green baseball fields and empty freezers with 4 shelves full of promise.
Within a week after buying it we made a run to a chicken farm on the way to blueberry picking, and the freezer looked like this:
You guessed it. I hadn’t moved anything out of the former freezer yet.
And two and a half years later, I still have both freezers running happily along, full as full can be.
So what is IN there, you ask?
I had a list – used to be chicken scratch:
Now it’s chicken scratch on a nicely printed table, divided into categories. It’s way overdue right now to be copied onto a clean sheet of paper because there are more things crossed off than left behind, but I’m waiting for a weekend when I can defrost freezers so everything comes out and can be re-indexed and accurate.
Fun weekend activity, right? (The freezer printable comes with one of my favorite cookbooks, Better Than a Box, by the way. I wrote it, and I use it allllll the time. My husband has even used it without me around lately and he says it taught him to cook! I think he might just be being nice though…)
Methinks soon after that I’ll be having some sort of “cook from your freezer” challenge on the blog.
Anyway…I have a LOT of wonderful real food in there, a mix of ingredients, whole foods convenience foods, and homemade food, frozen for later.
Real Food in the Freezer
- Pre-cut onions – My kids have been able to help me keep those stocked a little bit, although I admit that we eat so much these days that it’s almost easier to just cut onions as needed. When we really get going using this onion cutting trick for no tears, we might get a half a quart bag in the freezer. But when my kids were younger and I was able to prep ahead more – because meals were smaller and had more pasta and fewer veggies – frozen diced onions were an integral part of my sanity!
- Bell peppers from the summer farmer’s market, bought by the bushel basket and sliced. Some are diced, but usually I’m running out of time and don’t want them to go bad! If I was really low on time, I’d just halve them.
- Spicy peppers for $1/quart instead of $1 apiece. I simply wash and halve jalapenos and more from the market in the summer, and then I use them for cooking recipes like this awesome dip or this dressing all winter long. I’ve never run out!
- Celery. We don’t eat a lot of raw celery, so that’s definitely something at risk of turning to mush in the fridge if I didn’t freeze it. I have one bag for dices and one for big chunks. The latter mostly goes into homemade stock, or gets cut up when I run out of dices! It’s all about when do you have extra time to save yourself time later? Not always…
- Zucchini, shredded and diced. We were working through the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse this summer when zukes were high in season, and I bought some humongous ones for super cheap and enlisted my 10-year-old’s help to stock the freezer. He got to use both his sharp knife skills and food processor skills (guess which one he likes better) and we put many 8-cup bags of shredded zucchini in the freezer. We’ll add that to soups, randomly, as well as make recipes with it throughout the winter. (Note to self: Plan zucchini pizza)
- Easy homemade yogurt starter. This is like an insurance policy – I have a quarter cup of plain yogurt, frozen, plus a little jar of a special countertop culture that I got from a friend in there, in case I ever mess up my batch! I don’t ever want to lose the countertop culture…I should probably get a jar in someone else’s freezer too!
- Frozen strawberries. When we pick them, I love to blend and dehydrate homemade fruit rolls and we also freeze whole berries, green parts included (yes really!!), to throw into green smoothies.
- Frozen blueberries. U-pick. 6 people picking = 47 pounds or so? ‘Nuf said.
- Frozen fruit from the store. We can’t u-pick enough to fill our homemade yogurt and smoothies all year long, so we do have bags of mixed berries, pineapple, and sometimes strawberries once June’s bounty runs out. Costco is my friend on that.
BONUS: Leftover smoothie frozen in Squooshi pouches for lunches or quick toddler snacks! You have no idea what a lifesaver not only the fill-your-own Squooshi pouches but the sip’n top has been. One-year-old can’t squeeze the puree out all over himself! Love it!
- Frozen veggies. I don’t bother cleaning and blanching veggies myself, because there would be zero cost savings to buying my own (and possibly a cost loss on top of a definite expenditure of time!). I love Costco again for this, as well as ALDI. Frozen veggies allow me not only to grab a side veg at any given moment and have it ready in 5-10 minutes, but also to make beautiful side/main dishes like this one, from the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse:
- Home-cooked beans, in two or four-cup portions. When I cook dry beans, I cook as much as my pot will fit, and then I freeze them for super easy meals later. I’ll use cottage cheese or sour cream containers which equal about “one can” worth, or use quart bags for 4 cups (2 cans).
- Bones. If you’re a real food cook, you probably know what I mean. Beef bones that came with our portion of cow purchase, chicken bones that didn’t get made into stock quite yet, and turkey bones from Thanksgiving that my neighbor brought over. ‘Cause I attract weird offers like, “Hey, do you want my turkey bones!?”
- Homemade stock. What freezer would be complete without this nourishing foundation? I don’t have a pressure canner yet, and I waffle between, “I wouldn’t take the time to fill it with water and process,” and, “I think someone said it’s not that much water and really easy, so maybe I want one…” I freeze stock in glass and have learned how to freeze in glass jars without breaking any too many, ever. You can also freeze stock flat in zippered bags, but cool it first.
- Stock veggie bag. When I’m cutting veggies I’ll save onion, carrot, garlic and celery ends, leaves, skins, etc. in a big bag in my main freezer (so it’s close to the cutting board and quick!). Whenever I make stock, the first and second batch usually require no additional veggies, saving me time and also money. Win-win!
- Shredded cheese. We shred our own, most of the time, because it tastes better and avoids some random ingredients in processed shredded cheese. That way when Paul gets a hankering to make cheesy taco dip on a Sunday afternoon, we’re ready for him:
He learned to make a basic roux/bechamel during the kids cooking class, and then he was inspired to add new ingredients – salsa and leftover taco meat – to make it his own thing. Love it!
- Leftover cooked meat. When we have taco meat, when a Costco-sized package of sausages gets opened and might not get finished, on the rare occasions that we have leftover bacon or ham – into the freezer it goes! I love to be able to pull out cooked meat for dinner or even just a half cup to add to eggs or something like Paul’s cheese sauce or this crustless quiche.
- On purpose leftover cooked meat. When we have roasted chicken, anything with homemade sausage, or anything with browned ground beef, I always make double or quadruple what we need. I’ll thaw four pounds of ground meat, cook it up all at once, use 1/2-1 pound of it for dinner and freeze the rest in half to three-quarter pound packages. Then it’s ready for any soup, casserole, or to throw into jarred spaghetti sauce for a super quick meal (ahem, last night’s dinner!).
- Raw meat too! Even when I am not buying a portion of a cow or pig from the farm, I buy lots so that I never have to worry about what’s for dinner. There’s always something available in the freezer! Salmon too!
- Home-ground flours. Since I have a Nutrimill grain mill, even flour is “something to do.” I’d much rather grind once and use twice and store extras in the freezer than have to get out the grinder for every cup of flour I need. All the bags are labels and crammed in there! John loved helping to make this healthy pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving; he was so proud to tell everyone about “his” pie!
- Citrus juices and zest. You might remember in my citrus goal for 2016 post that I was committing to trying to use lemon and lime juice and zest more, which necessitates me having some in the freezer. I freeze juice in 1-Tbs. portions in ice cube trays and zest in little baggies.
- Nuts. Nuts are shelf stable, sort of. Walnuts especially, but other too, have oils that can go rancid. I prefer to freeze them to be safe, especially once they’re made into crispy nuts, which are primo delicious but not if they get stale.
- Homemade breads and pancakes. Less and less these days, but when we have enough rolls or pancakes leftover at breakfast I love to freeze them for emergencies later! I was able to stock my freezer with homemade tortillas for the first time in years after Leah learned how to roll and fry them up. It’s a super time-consuming process, but she does amazing:
- Homemade muffins. When I make these grain-free coconut flour muffins, I always do at least a double batch. They thaw SO nicely, and they are a great emergency addition to a lunchbox or for an afternoon snack.
- Extra soup. Soup is my favorite. Can I marry soup? Oh right…I’m already married. I love to make soup, because a huge batch appears and feeds us for many meals without me having to do crazy things like juggle 3 casserole dishes! When I can free 6 cups or more, I know that will make an acceptable emergency meal for us!
- Other pre-made meals. I haven’t made time for freezer cooking in a long time, but when I can sneak in an extra meal as I’m making dinner, I love myself later. My favorites is when I can make 2-3 meals using similar ingredients, freeze some and have one for dinner that day. I did that in under an hour with these freezer-to-slow-cooker beauties and these freezer-friendly casseroles.
Was that an exhaustive list?
Not quite, but I’m not going to tell you about the almost-expired-on-sale-at-Tropical-Traditions butter I stocked up on or the ice cream that fills some remaining space…
I’ve been very grateful to have food in the freezer this past month as I’ve been working hard to get the eCourse ready for the world AND juggling holiday gatherings and weird shopping schedules. I’ve hardly had to buy anything at the store other than lettuce, cucumbers, and bananas, because everything is in my freezer. And I’m even more grateful that my kids are both old enough and skilled enough to help me keep up on the constant flow of food needed to feed them all! There are some borrowed extra children in the photo below; I have 4 that are rightfully mine, ages 1, 4, 7 and 10.
It was out of near-desperation that I decided they needed to learn to cook, and then I realized that it was a really good idea for their sake, too, not just mine.
We worked really hard over the summer to add skills to their repertoire (over 30 of them!), and now I’d love to teach your kids, too. We’ll be releasing our free Knife Skills series again in May, so don’t miss out.
Now let’s dish on YOUR freezer! Please tell me sometimes it’s hard to find things?
Disclosure: Squooshi is a January sponsor receiving a complimentary mention in a post.