The freezer is my favorite kitchen appliance; mainly because it's the only appliance that can help me save money. Here are just a few ways that I use my freezer to save my family money on food:
1. Buy produce in bulk
My husband and I prefer to eat fresh produce versus buying the pre-frozen vegetables. However as most people are aware, fresh produce can sometimes be more expensive. When I used to buy produce I would go ahead and make my menu plan, go grocery shopping, and buy whatever fruits and vegetables we wanted to eat that week. Now what I've started doing is going to the store and seeking out what fruits and vegetables are on sale and buying a large quantity of that produce that week. So for example, if broccoli is on sale this week, instead of buying just one or two crowns to go with one or two meals for the week, I would buy 5, 6, or 7 crowns (whatever I can fit into my weekly budget). Now if I were to put all that in the refrigerator and just try to eat it up quickly, it would definitely go bad and be a waste of money. So instead when I get home from the grocery store, I take the time to prepare that extra broccoli for the freezer. A lot of fruits can just be cut up and frozen. Some vegetables can as well (peppers and onions being a good example). However many vegetables need to be blanched prior to going into the freezer. Here is a link for a blanching timetable that I use http://www.dinnersinthefreezer.com/blanching_chart.htm from a good freezer cooking blog I have followed.
2. Buy meat in bulk
Now I know this is no new concept. Buying meat in bulk more often than not equates to some good savings, however you want to make sure you do this correctly. We often assume that just because something is packaged as "bulk" that it must be cheaper to buy it that way than in individual packaging. For example buying 6 pounds of ground beef at once must be cheaper than buying 1 pound in it's own package. And usually this is true to some extent. Manufacturer's can save money themselves by using less packaging for bulk meat products and so they usually trickle this savings down to the customer, but sometimes the savings isn't always worth as much as we think. This is where we need to pay attention to unit prices! If you look at the price per pound on a bulk package of meat you might find that you are only saving a few cents per pound (which is fine since it's good to save what little we can), however this might not be worth it to you for the amount of time and effort that will go into preparing the meat once you get home to be properly frozen and preserved. For maximum savings it's best to look at your grocery store's weekly ads and look for those "loss leaders" in the meat department. Grocery stores will usually run one or two different meats a week on super sale because they have purchased an overabundance of that products and now need to unload it before it goes bad (which would lose them money anyway). So they decide to take a small hit and drastically drop the price of the meat and make good relations with customers. Each week when you go shopping, you want to look for these items that will often be marked down $2/pound or less, which is a significant savings on meat. When you get home, make sure to portion these cuts of meat off into 1 pound portions and freeze them and then you will always have a freezer stocked with different meats with which you can plan your weekly menu, and be saving money in the process.
3. Freeze leftovers
Leftover are a huge area in money waste for many of us. Whether you have a large or small family most of us tend to have some type of left overs throughout the week that sit in our fridge for a few days and then get tossed because no one is eating them. We aren't only tossing out food but hard earned money! So if know your family members are not likely to touch those leftovers withing the next few days before they go bad, it's better to pack them up and freeze them. Many leftovers can be re-used in conjuction with other food to make a whole new meal. Or once you have a bunch of leftovers stocked up you can pull them out, reheat them and do a leftover buffet night for dinner to use everything up. Get creative, but try to have a "no food waste" policy in your house and see how much money you can save!
4. Freezer cooking
Freezer cooking is one of my favorite ways to save money in the kitchen, especially since I'm busy working full-time outside of the home. It's great to come home at the end of a long day and just have to grab an already prepared meal out of the freezer and just pop it into the oven; no food prep. Freezer cooking can be daunting for some people as while it might save you time in the long run with cooking each week, it usually takes a good chunk of time to get all those meals put together and in the freezer. If you don't have the time or energy to spend 5-6 hours on a weekend making all your meals for the week, you can still do some freezer cooking on a smaller scale, and it will still help you to save time and money. The first thing you can do is look at what food prep you will need to do for your meals in the coming week and do some of the smaller tasks ahead of time. For example, I like to save money on my beans by buying them dried instead of canned. Of course this might mean money saved, but it also means more time in preparing them (something I'm willing to sacrifice for this particular task). So to try to save some time, I make a large pot of beans ahead of time, and pre-portion them off and freeze them. That way when I have a recipe during the week that calls for beans, I just have to pull them out of the freezer instead of going through the hours it takes to cook them then. Cooking double batches of meals is another way to do smaller versions of freezer cooking. When you are making a meal that you think will freeze well, just make a double batch of it and stick one of them in the freezer. For example if you're making a lasagna, save yourself some money by buying some of the ingredients in bulk, make two lasagnas, one gets cooked tonight and the other goes in the freezer for a later date. If you practice this one or two times a week, you will always have a few meals in the freezer that you can just pull out when you don't feel like cooking.
5. Package properly!!!
After all your hard work using these techniques and your freezer to save you money, it would be a big waste if all the food you froze went bad. Yes, food can go bad in the freezer. Items can get freezer burn, and meats can actually rot in the freezer. You can prevent this by making sure you always package items properly and label and date the food you freeze. I choose to use zip-lock bags for most of my freezing as it saves me space in my small apartment freezer versus using tupperware. When freezing food, I always make sure to have a permanent marker handy so that I can write the name of the item and the date it's going in the freezer right onto the bag. Then when planning our weekly menu, I always make sure to check the freezer, and the dates, and use things that have been in there the longest.
These are just a few ways in which you can use your freezer to help you save money with your grocery budget. If you have any ideas to share in regards to what your family does, please leave a comment!