Consider a well-stocked freezer to be your secret weapon in preparing healthy meals speedily. For busy parents juggling life, your freezer, if not already is your new best friend! I strive to keep a well-stocked freezer with all five food groups including meat, fish, vegetable, fruit, dairy, and grain products for quick meals. Below is a helpful guide in keeping your freezer working for you in any situation by category.
Includes beef, chicken, and turkey in my household. I used to make the mistake of overbuying fresh meat and freezing it, then having to throw it out once it has sat for over a year covered in freezer burn. My freezer back then was so unorganized, and food was just lost. It was such a waste! What I do now, is keep an organized freezer in sections (in 5 food groups) and portion out my meats based on what I am cooking. For example, if I purchase a large tray of chicken breast, I separate the chicken into meal-sized portions and cut them into strips, filets, or cubes based on the recipe I am working on. I don’t always marinade these individual bags because I don’t have the time but in an ideal world, I would portion them out, marinade, and seal them before freezing. Check out my tenderizing chicken marinade which is a huge hit for chicken strips, schnitzel, and barbequed chicken.
How long should you keep chicken in the freezer? Best to consume meat products within 3-6 months of freezing.
If you purchase fresh fish from your local fish market or grocer, I recommend marinating, portioning, and preparing before you freeze. I usually purchase fresh fish when I know I can commit 40 minutes that day or the next to prepare – I typically buy in bulk as for one, it can be less costly and two, I have a 1–2-month supply in the freezer for a meal that can be whipped up in minutes.
My boys enjoy fish sticks, so I try to always have homemade fish sticks on hand. And yes, there are times I have the store-bought ones because we can’t always get homemade food on the table. So, I am grateful for the packaged ones, but I have a wonderful baked fish stick recipe that my kids enjoy – they are crunchy, baked versus fried (less oil and mess😊), and significantly healthier. I also know what ingredients go into it which gives me peace of mind. Remember when you are freezing prepared food, place it in a freezer-safe bag or container and be sure to label it with the date and content.
Aside from fish sticks, you can marinade any fish your family enjoys, portion it in freezer bags or freezer safe containers. Unless you are cooking it right from the freezer (I do that with fish sticks), be sure to thaw your fish in the fridge – luckily doesn’t take long but I find it’s safer than countertop thawing.
How long is it safe to keep your air-tight fish in the freezer? If well sealed, it should be consumed within 3-6 months.
Frozen vegetables are a great way to get speedy homecooked meals on the table. I personally prefer purchasing fresh produce however for certain recipes such as broccoli soup or cauliflower fritters, frozen vegetables are a simple and quick substitute. When I don’t need as much of a vegetable for a recipe and I know I won’t use it before it goes bad, I cut, wash, and dry and place in a labeled freezer bag – helping reduce waste.
How long should you keep your vegetables in the freezer? Veggies along with fruit can last over a year if well sealed.
You can do so much with these vitamin-rich natural sweeteners! Anything from berries, pineapple, banana, and mango is great for smoothies, crumbles, and oatmeal bowls. Frozen fruit is also amazing for homemade jams and compotes. When certain fruits are in season and you have an abundance sitting in your fridge you can wash, cut, and freeze them on a lined tray. Once frozen, place in a freezer-safe bag and label. The fruit I do this often with our peaches in August. And remember, when you freeze fruit, they hold just as many nutrients and vitamins as you would expect in fresh form.
Duration for frozen fruit? As mentioned above, if well sealed, frozen fruit can last well over a year.
As surprising as it sounds you can freeze hard cheese and milk if needed. From the dairy category, I freeze butter and ice cream. Frozen butter can last up to a year in the freezer so you can always purchase your family’s favorite brand when on sale and store it, be sure to label the date you freeze so you can track which to use next.
How long should you leave dairy in the freezer? 12-18 months.
Keeping a few loaves of bread from your local bakery is a great way to always have bread on hand. Frozen pastries are also key for a last-minute meal idea. Anything from chocolate mini croissants, mini cheese danishes, and savory appetizers such as bourekas and cheese phyllo rolls that can be table ready in less than 30 minutes.
How long is it safe to keep baked goods? 1-3 months for baked bread. Frozen, uncooked loaves are best baked within 1-2 months and frozen pastries within 6-12 months.
Freezing is great to get those healthy meals your family loves. To have your freezer working for you, remember these simple but important tips:
- Label your food before freezing this includes the date as well as the content, for example, marinated drum sticks 12/12/2021
- Freeze your food in freezer-safe containers or bags that are well sealed. Less air the better to reduce freezer burn. Also, be sure not to overfill your packaged bags or containers, I prefer flattening the content and freezing flat, this helps stack your food as well as helps speed up defrosting.
- When freezing liquids such as soups, remember that liquid expands so be sure to leave room for this or you may end up with a cracked container and spoiled food.
- Consume food within a reasonable time and don’t overstock.
- Don’t refreeze food that was previously frozen, this reduces the quality of food.
- Most importantly, keep an organized freezer by category so you can see what you have.
Following these tips can surely help you get homemade meals your family will love!