If you are wondering whether a deep freeze is worth it consider these advantages:
- it makes a monthly meal plan and grocery shop possible – yup that’s right. With my freezer I only need to grocery shop once a month. Which means way more time for the people and things I love, including myself!
- it saves money by offering space to buy in bulk and take advantage of store specials
- it makes getting a wide variety on meals on the table a snap and reduces cooking frequency
- it allows some favourite seasonal food items to be available year round
It is so essential to our functioning as a busy family that when we moved from our tiny apartment to a somewhat bigger house, it was our first purchase – and many months before the couch, the kitchen table and chairs, and patio furniture. But – we had a few things to learn to get the most out of it. Here are a few key pointers to optimize your deep freeze:
1. Get the right freezer
When purchasing your freezer you need to consider:
- Energy efficiency – there are many excellent, second hand models available as boomers downsize, but if it’s not energy efficient it could cost you more than you save over the life of the freezer. To be sure you are getting a good deal look for an EnergyStar Freezer.
- Upright or chest – Chest freezers are more energy efficient, offer more usable space per square foot, and are less likely to cause freezer burn. Uprights take up less floor space, offer a flexibly organized space and provide easier access to items.
- Freezer size – A freezer that is too small, will limit how you can use it. A freezer that is too big will not be energy efficient. To figure out the right size consider how much space you have, how you will use it (e.g., for bulk purchases, seasonal food storage), and what goals you have for the number of ready to go meals. Finally, make sure it will fit through all the doorways it needs to pass to get to where you are going to store it.
2. Optimize storage for energy efficiency
To run your freezer so that it is energy efficient:
- Fill it – Full freezers are more energy efficient because there is less space for warmer air to rush in when the door is opened. But you don’t have to fill it with food. Buy a few bags of ice, or make your own by filling ziplocks, empty yogurt or ice cream containers with water. Newspapers and packaging also work.
- Locate it away from heat sources, including hot sun, and not right against a wall
- Defrost any ice build-up greater than 0.6mm
- Cool food before storing it in the freezer
- Keep your freezer -18 C (0 F). As a rule of thumb, if ice cream is too hard to scoop, your freezer is too cold.
3. Store Food For Freshness
The key to avoiding freezer burn and deterioration of flavours is making sure that any contact with the air is minimized. You don’t need the gold standard vacuum sealer to preserve the freshness of your food:
- Freezer zipper seal bags come in different sizes and are great for flat freezing sauces, soups, stews etc. To minimize air contact individually wrap items like cookies, fishcakes, or burgers in freezer plastic wrap and then store in a zip lock bag being sure to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
- Freezer plastic wrap can be pressed against the surface of items stored in containers such as casseroles, before covering with an airtight lid. It is also great for individually wrapping items (e.g., burgers, baked goods, chicken pieces) before storing in a zip lock. On it’s own, it should only be used for very short term storage as it is not air tight
- Air tight freezer friendly plastic containers are great for protecting foods that can be crushed such as cookies, or pies, although they take up more space.
- Heavy duty foil provides an extra layer of protection around plastic wrapped items, although it is also not air tight, so it is a shorter term option.
- Buy foods already packaged in individual portions. For example – Costco sells salmon in individually sealed portions.
4. Organize Your Freezer
Digging through piles of food to find something is a big waste of time, can damage the food by jostling it around, and freezes the fingers. Avoid this by:
- Store your food in usable portions: individually wrap chicken breasts or group a small number of chicken thighs together before storing in a large ziplock. Store sauces in the quantities you will use it. If freezing something like tortillas or pancakes separate the number you would typically use with a bit of parchment or wax paper so that they don’t stick and break.
- Label items: You can get fancy with pretty printer labels, but masking tape and a sharpie do the job just fine.
- Invest in some crates: It doesn’t need to be anything fancy – three of the large boxes of almond milk from Costco fit perfectly across the width of my freezer and separate my meats, fish, soups and stews (flat packed and stored upright), and veggies and frozen berries. My breads and baked goods are stored on top in a cloth bag that can easily be lifted up to get at what’s below. For something more aesthetically pleasing, I love this idea of using bins from the dollar store.
- Group similar items together: Have a designated place for each type of food and create a little map of this and post it on the door of your freezer. It’s a good reminder for you, but especially a good reminder for anyone else in your family that is going to be putting things into the freezer or taking things out.
5. Track what you put in and take out of your freezer
While food in your freezer will be edible for a long time, maybe even for years, the flavours will fade and the textures will not be at their best. Keep a list of what you are putting into your freezer with the date it was made and a use by date. As you remove items, take them off the list. The most convenient way I’ve found to do this is just to use the Notes app on my iPhone. When I’m doing my meal planning I review it, and it’s at my fingertips if we’re out and need to make a decision between something readily available at home versus dinner out.
6. Use it in coordination with your refrigerator freezer
The freezer on top of our refrigerator freezer is the little buddy to our deep freeze. At the beginning of each week, I transfer the meals we are going to eat that week from the big freezer downstairs to the freezer right in the kitchen. Dinners, lunches and breakfast items are all there – a conveniently close reminder to take items out to thaw the night before.
7. Train others in your house hold on how to use your freezer system
You’ve created a great system – now help others in your family to follow it. Explain your tracking system and post the plan of where to find things (and put them away) on the freezer door so that they can do their part to make the system work.
Now that you have a plan for the freezer, on to the fun work of filling it.
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