Tasty Trash: The $55 million Squawkfox Food Waste Challenge is a series aimed at helping your family save up to $1,500 this year by reducing food waste. The environment may also thank us. To start from the beginning, read the introduction.
Winter is coming. I’m not talkin’ about toboggans, toques, or Zambonis, people. Nope. And you don’t need to be a Canuck to feel this chill. That’s ’cause I’m squawkin’ about the cool winter stuff trapped in disarray in your single-season appliance — your freezer.
Here’s the thing about winter in an ice box: It doesn’t matter if your deep freeze is a chest or an upright model (although owning both is nice). Your freezer is the place where meal plans can get organized, grocery hauls can be preserved, and food waste is eradicated. Not bad for a cold dark place, eh?
A well organized freezer can also help you save money. See Use your Zombie-free freezer to save a lot of cold cash for the wallet de-whomping details. All zombies allowed.
The above post is TOTALLY serious. You don’t want zombies cashing in on your freezer mistakes. Exactly.
Now, onto ways to keep your freezer organized and in tip-top frugalicious shape.
Step One: Dump, Defrost, and DealWhen was the last time you dug into the depths of your freezer and dealt with the daunting items hiding in the dark? I thought so.
Spending good money to store undesirable, expired, or freezer burnt items is silly. So get off the interwebs and clean out your freezer already! Sheesh.
Here’s how to get the freezer clean up done:
- Deal: Remove everything from your deep or upright freezer. Scrutinize food for freezer burn, decades old expiry dates, and other undesirable qualities. The FDA has a handy freezer storage chart outlining suggested freezer storage times.
- Dump or Compost: Some food just ain’t fit to keep. When freezer burn turns your food foul, you probably have to compost the compostibles or dump the dubious. Be sure to mark all your waste in a food waste diary — you don’t want to repurchase those items you didn’t eat in the first place.
- Defrost: If your freezer is full of icicles, do yourself a solid by melting the mass. Check out Defrost your freezer and warm up to cool savings for the simple steps, and make your freezer space a more energy-efficient place.
Step Two: Pack Flat, Compartmentalize, Label
With a fresh freezer ready to rumble, here are a few strategies for packing your perishables safely away.
Pack it flat, compartmentalize.
Round, irregularly shaped objects are nearly impossible to keep organized in a freezer — you’ll end up stacking them oddly, with lots of wasted space in between. Flat packages are ideal since they can be stacked in a larger bin, on the freezer’s bottom, or they can be placed in a basket standing upright like file folders in a filing cabinet. Flat containers also tend to freeze faster than a big clumpy old lump of food.
Newer freezers often come with a light storage system, including: baskets, bins, and drawers. Use them. Our chest freezer has two levels of hanging baskets, and these work well for separating meat, fruit, vegetables, and our homemade ice cream. Smaller baskets are ideal for items that would otherwise get lost in the shuffle.
Bin there, busted that. Before loading up your freezer bins, make sure you can still lift the lot. Light wares fare better in top freezer shelving. Also, be wary of buying a new freezer with too aggressive of a storage system — too many bins can greedily eat into your valuable freezer space.
Always group your leftovers or freezer cooking ingredients together where you can find them. You’ll thank yourself when in a mad dash to get dinner done.
Keep the air out.
Are your freezer bags full of hot air? It’s time to deflate those balloons. Air is frozen food’s worst enemy — enough of the oxygenated stuff can slowly lead to freezer burn. Read more about the wasteful burn and my nasty zombified freezer here (pictures are kinda gross, sorry). A taste is below …
To keep the frozen freeze out, be sure to double-bag your prepackage foods and remove all air from your Ziploc freezer bags.
What’s in that funky freezer bag? Stop the guessing game already and either write on the packaging, or download my handy freezer labels.
Free Download: Printable Freezer Labels (pdf)
Use permanent marker (washable markers will wipe off), print on colorful paper, or use adhesive-backed paper to keep your food from getting lost in the shuffle.
Cut out a stack and keep them handy in the kitchen or wherever you load your freezer. Easy.
Step Three: Make a Map
When you need a GPS to locate the frozen chicken somewhere in the mess of freezer burnt strawberries, packages of pot pies, and busted bags of veggies, you know it’s time for a plan of attack. Dinner needs to get done, and no one wants to go cave hunting in that disorganized space called your freezer.
I hated the mess Carl made of our deep freeze, and Carl despised were I buried his bread. The only way to come to an agreement was to make a map.
Free Download: Freezer Map (pdf)
I know you are totally giving me the side eye right now. A household map… for the freezer? Why yes. Perfect for homes with multiple roommates (everyone picks a section), and an argument ender when a spouse needs to search for (and locate) that last bag of broth. Freezer maps are also great for unpacking the groceries and keeping things tidy.
What goes where? I like to store meats in the far left quadrant, fruits and veggies on the far right, and my prepared leftovers right smack in the middle where I can see them. Ice cream and treats fare well in our top baskets. Your map is allowed to be different from mine.
So grab your spouse(s), roommate(s), or just tap into the analytical side of your brain and plan out your freezer space before jamming the lot back into the cold.
Team up your freezers: If you have a small freezer in your refrigerator and a larger chest freezer in the basement, get super organized by giving them separate roles. Use your smaller kitchen freezer for everyday food, such as: leftovers, ice cream, and smaller delicate items (like herbs) which can easily get lost in a larger deep freeze. Your larger freezer (perhaps located in the basement) can then play the role of storage for bulkier items.
Keep an Inventory
Now that your freezer is in tip-top shape with everything in the perfect place, it’s time to take inventory of what you have chillin’.
Why keep an inventory?
A freezer inventory details what you have stocked, tells you what needs to be added to your grocery shopping list, and may inspire you to make meals with the ingredients you have on hand.
Free Download: Printable Freezer Inventory (pdf)
Keeping a freezer inventory can help with meal planning since you’ll know what’s in stock and what needs to be replenished. An up-to-date inventory can also make shopping less wasteful, saving you big money on your grocery budget. Who knows, maybe you can skip a supermarket trip!
What to record:
- Item: What’s in your freezer? List frozen meats, bagged vegetables, garden harvests, leftovers, your freezer cooking, and even soup broth.
- Quantity: How much is in stock? Do you have enough leftovers for dinner? Quantity is an ongoing itemization of what you have in stock and what is about to run out. Make sure the kids update this column too!
- Item Cost: You keep your grocery receipts, right? Go ahead and list the money spent on your food. It’s easiest to update when you’ve just done the groceries and restocked your freezer. This column can be a real eye-opener when you add up the total cost.
If you’re loving this level of organization, go ahead and check out this very popular post on refrigerator organization.
Your turn: How are you doing during our food waste challenge? Any surprises lurking in your refrigerator or freezer? Are you (still) throwing out some food?