How to Stock a Freezer

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If you’re looking for a guide on how to stock your freezer, I share my tips and tricks below for keeping it organized with all the essentials. Just like having a well-stocked pantry and well-stocked fridge, keeping key staple ingredients in the freezer can help you make a quick and healthy meal in a pinch and minimize trips to the grocery store. Plus, it can allow you to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet without a time limit for when to consume them by.

Yumna stocking a freezer.

With few exceptions – notably creamy things, soft cheeses, and lettuce – almost everything can be frozen. You can buy many of the items I include below frozen, or you can properly freeze them yourself with many guides I have on freezing things like garlic, berries, and bananas. If you don’t see something specific below that you’re interested in freezing, please leave a comment, and I will address it 🙂

Tips for How to Stock Your Freezer

Before diving into the list, here are some things to keep in mind as you’re stocking your freezer.

  1. Invest in a thermometer: The FDA standard dictates keeping your freezer at 0˚F or lower. Pick up an inexpensive refrigerator/freezer thermometer for some cheap insurance that all is well.
  2. Wrap it right: The label “freezer” on plastic bags, food wrap, or containers indicates that they can stand up to cold temps, keep moisture out and flavors in.
  3. Check your glassware: Freezing in glass? Choose canning jars that are made from tempered glass or containers marked “freezer safe.” Leave at least an inch at the top for expansion.
  4. Think squares and rectangles: If you have a choice, square containers will stack more efficiently. Fill freezer bags efficiently by filling them and laying them flat on a baking sheet to freeze them into thin rectangles that can be stacked – unlike blobby water balloon shapes.
  5. Portion it out: Portion as you would use, i.e., if you bring home a 12-pack of boneless skinless chicken breasts but tend to cook only four at a time, freeze in four-packs. Smaller packages defrost more quickly as well.
  6. Give room to breathe: When initially freezing something like a big lasagne, give it space so cold air can circulate around it and freeze it quickly. Once frozen, then, food can be packed in closer together.
  7. Label and date. This will come in handy for keeping up with expiration dates. Most items can be frozen for up to 3 months, and others longer as indicated on packages. And, if you have a big freezer, consider keeping a separate list of what’s in there. No more mystery meats or burritos forming their own Ice Age at the bottom.
  8. Limit air exposure. This will help prevent freezer burn. If you’re freezing items in bags, remove as much as possible before sealing. If possible, double-wrap items by first wrapping them in plastic or aluminum foil and then placing them in a freezer-safe container.
  9. Don’t refreeze anything that was thawed once. The quality of the item just degrades, and in some cases, with meat and poultry, it could introduce bacteria to the food.
  10. When in doubt check: The FDA and the National Center for Home Preservation are all authoritative resources for food safety questions.

Freezer Items to Purchase

This is a list of ingredients that you can buy frozen or with the intention of freezing them. These are the most common frozen ingredients that I stock in my freezer.

Meat, Poultry, Seafood

Buying from the frozen aisle? Throw those packages right in your freezer being mindful of use-by dates. Vacuum-packed items are also ideal for freezing. Meat in freezer-safe paper right from the butcher can be covered with a second layer of aluminum foil. Products packaged on styrofoam plates covered in plastic wrap are okay but should be used in about a month. Times noted below in months are for optimal flavor. Theoretically, food frozen that is stored below 0˚F can last indefinitely.

  • Beef (steak, lasts 6 months;  beef strips, 3-4 months; beef stew meat, 3-4 months; ground beef, 3-4 months.)
  • Chicken (breast, thighs, drumsticks – all parts good for 9 months; ground chicken, 3-4 months.)
  • Seafood (cod, 3 months; Mahi Mahi, 3-6 months; shrimp, 3-6 months, salmon, 3 months; halibut, – 4 months.) As a rule of thumb: leaner fish outlasts fatty fish (like salmon) in the freezer.

Fruits

When buying frozen fruit, look for bags where you can feel the individual pieces in the bag. Big frozen clumps indicate the bag may have defrosted at some point. The FDA does not have guidelines for storage limits on frozen fruits and veggies, but most foodies say use frozen fruit up within a year, if not sooner. Frozen fruit has the best texture before it is completely thawed. These are some I usually have in my freezer.

Vegetables

These are the nutritional MVPs of your freezer section, and since they are frozen when picked, they are loaded with vitamins and recipe-ready. Most last about a year, so stock up on your favorites. These are the ones I mostly use in my recipes.

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower (riced and florets)
  • Corn
  • Edamame
  • Green beans
  • Onions (peeled, chopped)
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (yellow and sweet potatoes)
  • Bell peppers (sliced or chopped)
  • Spinach
  • Vegetable scraps (to make broth)
Freezer full of stackable containers and other organized containers full of fruits, veggies, and other freezer friendly foods.

Breads and grains

From supermarket loaves to fancy bakery offerings, bread freezes so well it is something I definitely try to buy in duplicate and freeze, room permitting. You can buy frozen rice and grains or freeze leftovers.

  • Bread
  • Puff pastry
  • English muffins
  • Phyllo dough
  • Tortillas

Nuts and seeds

Because they could get rancid. I recommend freezing nuts that you don’t eat as often. I especially do this for pine nuts since I only reach for them occasionally in some recipes. These are the four types I usually buy in bulk and freeze to always have extras.

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Pine nuts
Freezer door organized with ice cream, breads, snacks, and jars of spices and other foods.

Dairy

Not all dairy is freezer-friendly. But butter and hard cheese can definitely be frozen. I like to buy a few extra packages of really nice butter when it is on sale. Soft cheeses should not be frozen, and in general freezing cheese can alter its flavor and texture. Packages of grated cheeses such as mozzarella will fare the best. They must be thawed in the refrigerator. These are the four groups of dairy I store in my freezer.

  • Butter
  • Hard Cheese
  • Shredded cheese
  • Ice cream (and yogurt tubes)

Pre-cooked or ready to cook meals

This could be frozen ready-to-heat meals, food items ready to be thrown into an instant pot or it could be meals that you doubled up on or made extras of to have on hand. This works really well for lasagna, breakfast egg cups, or sweet potato muffins.

Foods to freeze for later

While you can buy all of these foods already pre-frozen, there is a benefit to also freezing your own food. It could be because you have an excess amount that you can’t use up all at once. It could be because you found a great deal on produce when it was in peak season. Or it could be in preparation for an upcoming event. Whatever the reason, see below for an outline or how to best freeze these major food groups.

How to organize a freezer.

Fruits

Whether you are freezing strawberries, bananas, or pineapple, I recommend the same method. First, be sure to wash and cut the fruit as if you were going to be eating it or using fresh. Then place whatever you are freezing on a baking sheet in a single layer. This allows the individual pieces to freeze solid on their own instead of in a massive glob.

Now, you can transfer the frozen individual pieces into a freezer container or freezer-safe bag and store for up to 3 months. This makes it easy to use a certain portion for smoothies, baking pies, or making quick breads without the need to thaw a big blob of frozen fruit into a watery mess. Be sure to remove as much air as possible to limit freezer burn.

Vegetables

If you want to know how to stock your freezer with your own vegetables, you must blanche – briefly boil and then immediately plunge into ice water – the vegetables before freezing them. Blanching banishes any bacteria and stops enzyme actions in the vegetables that can affect taste. Correct time is very important.

For green beans and broccoli florets, wash and cut as if for cooking, put in boiling water, start a timer when the water reaches a boil again, cook for exactly three minutes in boiling water, then plunge into ice water. When cool, dry and place on a baking sheet to freeze. Finally, store in a freezer bag. For more different veggies, see this chart from the National Center for Home Preservation

Grains

Almost every grain can be frozen in its uncooked state – even flour!  The Oldways Whole Grains Council, a consortium of bakers and whole grain manufacturers, say the freezer life of uncooked grains is about six months.

But freezing cooked portions of rice, quinoa, or oatmeal can be a real time saver, as well. Store rice and quinoa in freezer bags. Freeze individual portions in muffin pans and then throw the oatmeal pucks in a freezer to be microwaved for breakfast.

Garlic

Garlic, the most elemental of ingredients is very cooperative when it comes to freezing in almost any form from whole bulbs to unpeeled or peeled cloves.

My favorite way to freeze garlic (complete tutorial linked) is to take four to five cups of unpeeled cloves – I buy them at my local healthfood store – and pulse them into a paste in the food processor. I then freeze in small plastic bags with one inch portions (equal to about a teaspoon of minced garlic) marked off. So easy.

Herbs

Do you ever buy a bunch of fresh herbs for one recipe and then let the rest go bad? It happens. Next time, you can wash, separate, and freeze individual stalk and leaves using the same method as freezing fruit that I shared above. Then move the frozen leaves to a freezer bag and use like fresh herbs in recipes.

Herbs, like cilantro and basil, are great done like this and added to stews, soups, and pastas. I always have frozen cilantro in my freezer for my Arabic stews. I also make herb-heavy basil pesto, which freezes beautifully.

Broth

Homemade broth elevates any dish it’s added to. Always make sure you cool the broth to room temperature before popping in the freezer. A large container of hot food can raise the temperature in the freezer and compromise the other food.

Freeze in the proportion you usually need for your favorite recipes, whether that is a quart for soup in a large mason jar. Leave at least one inch at the top for expansion. You can freeze small amounts in ziplock bags. You can even freezer smaller amounts in ice cube trays. Once frozen in the trays, transfer to larger bags so they’re all stored together. Broth should last up to six months.

Baked goods

Baked goods including cakes, quick breads, muffins, brownies and cookies freeze nicely as long as they are tightly wrapped. Defrost on the counter in their wrapping. Raw cookie dough is especially easy to freeze. Portion out the cookies, but instead of putting the baking sheet in the oven, slide it into the freezer. Store frozen cookies in a bag and cook from frozen. They will take a few minutes longer. Muffin batter works the same way. Longevity varies by recipe.

For more freezing resources:

Some of the best resources on freezing food are classic, encyclopedic cookbooks. Two great ones include:

A fantastic book with a section about freezing food but, also, simply a lovely, comforting source that answers any conceivable question about housekeeping in general, is Home Comforts. Author Cheryl Mendelson’s introduction will make you feel good about life.

For more cooking resources:

Whether it is cooking ahead for a big party (freeze that lasagna), saving half a batch of cookies for later, or part of your weekly meal prep, the freezer is a cook’s best friend. A well-stocked freezer is just as important as a well stocked fridge and pantry

If you find these tips for how to stock your freezer useful, I’d love to hear from you! And if you snapped some shots of your well-stocked pantry, share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!

This article originally appeared on FeelGoodFoodie and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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