Dinner Diva: How to maximize freezer space

If there’s an avalanche of food spilling out of the freezer compartment of your refrigerator every time you open it, or if stuff is buried so deep in your chest freezer that you’ve stopped even trying to search for things, it’s time to get your freezer situation under control!

dinner diva leanne elyWhen your freezer is not organized into an efficient, usable space, you’re likely to allow the following to happen:

  • You’ll buy groceries you don’t need, forgetting that you have plenty of chicken buried in the freezer.
  • You’ll be less likely to use your freezer when it’s messy because it’s an unwelcoming environment. (Never mind the fact that you can’t fit anything else in there.)
  • You’ll be more likely to have spoiled food on your hands because when your freezer isn’t organized properly, it doesn’t keep things at their optimal temperature and frozen food won’t last as long as it should.

Your freezer is an essential tool and, like with any other tool, in order to get the most out of it, you need to use it properly.

The best way to optimize the space in your freezer—whether you have a chest freezer, upright freezer or over-under fridge/freezer—is to freeze things flat.

When you freeze pasta sauce, soup, ground meat, hamburger patties, fish fillets, sliced chicken or prepared-in-advance future dinners, freeze them flat in heavy-duty zipper bags. This way, you can stack those frozen items nice and neatly. Make it a habit to use a marker to jot down the name of the item and the date it’s been frozen on the front of each bag.

Not only will more things fit in your freezer when flat, but they will also thaw much more quickly. Picture, for example, a bag stuffed with six chicken breasts all stuck together and a bag with those breasts laying flat in a single row. Which do you think will be easier to thaw?

I do this with soup in single servings so that I don’t have to thaw out an entire batch of soup when I know I’ll just end up getting sick of it. Using single serving bags, frozen flat in the freezer, I can easily pop out the flavor I’m in the mood for and quickly thaw it in a bowl of cold water so it’s ready to be heated up for lunch or dinner.

Keep an inventory log near the freezer with a list of items that are in there, crossing items off as you use them. This way, you’ll know when you have six servings of chicken soup on hand, when you’re out of pork chops or when you only have one roast left.

When your freezer is in control, you’ll also be much better equipped to plan meals using what you have on hand.

Here’s a great freezer meal from our Saving Dinner Freezer Club Meals.  Enjoy!

 

Quick Beef Stir Fry – Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 pound flank steak, sliced

1/2 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon dry sherry, (or use low sodium beef broth)

1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce

 

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

To Assemble:  In a large bowl, add ingredients and mix well.  Place contents of bowl in a 1-gallon freezer bag and seal, squeezing out excess air.

To prevent freezer burn, place the filled bag in a second 1-gallon freezer bag; carefully squeeze the bag to force out any air, then seal. On the outside of the bag, label with the recipe name and date of preparation; place it in the freezer.

 

THAW:

Defrost your freezer meal the night before in the fridge. If you don’t have a full thaw at cooking time, remove it from the bag from the holding bag and place it in a sink of water to speed-thaw your food. New rules allow for thawing in hot water (100 degrees) with no issues regarding quality or safety (old rules said to use cold water for thawing; this isn’t necessary, hot water is fast, effective and safe).

 

COOK:

At time of cooking ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled

1 (8 ounce) package cremini mushrooms, sliced

 

3 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

 

Cooking Instructions:  In a large sauté pan, over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add ginger and the thawed beef and cook until browned. Transfer beef to a bowl and set aside, but discard the ginger.

In the same pan, add remaining olive oil and the mushrooms; cook for 8 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and brown. Add soy sauce, butter and garlic; cook for 1 minute. Add beef and cook until warmed through. Serve with brown rice and steamed snow peas.

Always know what’s for dinner, and let us handle the menu planning at www.savingdinner.com

Leanne Ely is a NYT bestselling author and the creator of SavingDinner.com, the original menu planning website, bringing families back to the dinner table for over 15 years.



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