How to Use Your Freezer for Faster, Cheaper Meals

By: Tami Fertig

freezer_foods

Got more kale than you can handle? Enough chili to feed an army? Fear not! You can save just about anything if you freeze it for later. The trickier part: not neglecting what you’ve frozen. (Icicle-flecked mystery soup in the back of the freezer, we’re looking at you.) Turns out, taking care to properly prepare, pack, and stash what you freeze can pay off big time on hectic weeknights. “Having frozen options on hand allows you to fit in veggies you might otherwise skip,” says nutritionist Cynthia Sass, RD, author of S.A.S.S.! Yourself Slim. “It allows you to eat a fast, nutritious meal rather than relying on take-out.”

Plus, no more tossing leftovers: “Freezing food is the simplest way to make sure it doesn’t go bad—and to avoid spending money on food that you ultimately throw out,” says Dana Gunders, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s good news, because according to the USDA, Americans trash up to 40 percent of their food, amounting to the average consumer wasting roughly $390 every year. You’ll be doing your wallet, your diet, and the planet a favor by making 
the freezer your best friend. Get started with these simple tricks and ideas:

1. Mind Your Portions
Divide food into single servings before freezing—no Tupperware crammed with a year’s worth of quinoa allowed. 
“I like to freeze whole grains in individual portions so I don’t have to thaw 
any more than I need to add to a casserole, stew, or stir-fry,” says Sass. Want dinner on the table in a jiffy? Small helpings of frozen lasagna defrost faster 
than a whole tray, and provide portion control too. “When a family-style-sized dish is sitting in front of you, it’s easy to sneak extra forkfuls and lose track of how much you’ve consumed,” notes Sass. “When you only have one portion, 
you can’t mindlessly continue to nibble.”

Try this Freeze leftovers in a muffin pan, suggests Gunders. Fill 
the pan cups with soup or sauce, and stick in the freezer. 
“A few hours later, I pop the food out and put the perfectly sized portions into a freezer bag,” she says.

2. Don’t Get (Freezer) Burned
Avoid that moisture-sucking, flavor-zapping frost called freezer burn by removing as much air as you can 
from freezer containers, and sealing them well. “No matter how good your packaging—unless it is truly airtight—there will eventually be some drying out 
of food,” warns Elizabeth Andress, PhD, project director at the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation. Using freezer bags? After filling, press out the air, then flatten for easy storage. Prefer glass? Wide-mouth pint-size Mason jars work well for saucy stuff, especially if you can build a moisture barrier to keep the burn at bay. Think beans covered with cooking liquid, canned tomatoes with juices, and fresh herbs with oil. (And don’t forget to leave some head room for liquids to expand as they freeze in the jar.)

Try this You don’t need a vacuum sealer to close freezer bags like 
a pro. “Just using a straw to suck out as much air as possible extends food’s frozen lifespan,” says Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland and founder of wastedfood.com. Close the bag except for a slit, slide in the straw, suck until the bag shrinks, remove the straw, and seal.

3. Stash With a Plan
Never toss bags and jars willy-nilly into the freezer. Instead, keep masking tape and a Sharpie nearby (or invest in erasable food storage labels), and label everything with name, date, amount, and any important instructions. Next, group items. “I tend to keep ‘like’ things together,” says Sass. “Veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils, herbs, entrées. It’s just easier to be able to reach into the freezer and know exactly where to find what 
I need.” Bloom, meanwhile, favors “the first in, first out method,” placing older foods up front as a visual reminder. Psst: now’s a good time to go through your freezer and purge any ancient artifacts that you know you’ll never eat.

Try this Keep a detailed freezer inventory on your freezer door, recommends Andress. “I use a full sheet of paper, so there’s room to write a brief description of how every food was prepared,” she says. Tech-y option: download the free GroceryHero app to your smart phone to keep track of what goes in and out of your freezer (and fridge and pantry too).

4. Make Haste
Don’t wait forever and a day to defrost your frozen goodies. “Actually use what’s in your freezer, so you’re not just constantly adding to it,” says Bloom. For best flavor and texture, VT food editor Mary Margaret Chappell advises eating what you freeze within three months: “It’s fine for up to six months, still edible up to a year. After that, I get rid of it because even if it’s safe to eat, it probably doesn’t taste as good as it should.” No rush if your freezer doubles as storage space for nuts, seeds, flours, and the like. In airtight containers, pantry staples will freeze well for one year.

Try this For faster turnover, try incorporating your freezer into mealtime. “I’ve made the freezer a regular part of my what’s-for-dinner fridge assessment,” says Gunders. “I sometimes also plan ‘freezer night’ to make sure nothing gets lost in there for too long.” Plan a day ahead, and you can defrost any food you need in the fridge overnight.

Ready to freeze? Try these freezer-friendly VT recipes:

Indian Samosa Casserole

Indian Samosa Casserole

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

Freezer-Friendly Basil Pesto

DSC_0889

Vegetable Pot Pies

Vegetable Pot Pies

 

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    Popcorn poppers and microwaveable bags are convenient, but they’re not necessary. Here’s how to get perfect results when you pop your own kernels (plus recipes for gourmet flavor combos!). READ MORE

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    How to Edit Your Cookbook Collection
    By: Jolia Sidona Allen | Comments (2)

    Is your cookbook collection starting to take over valuable real estate in your kitchen? The holiday season is high time to donate or re-gift some of your lesser-loved volumes. Here are 5 rules for deciding what should stay and what should go. READ MORE

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    Veg Celeb: Cartoonist/Illustrator Harry Bliss
    By: Amy Spitalnick | Comments (0)

    The cartoonist/illustrator/children’s book author, who’s a New Yorker contributor, reveals why he gave up eating meat, what he loves to cook, and who makes him laugh. READ MORE

  • Say Cheese
    How to Buy Veg-Friendly Cheese
    By: Tami Fertig | Comments (4)

    Surprise! Parmesan isn’t the only cheese that can be off limits to vegetarians. 
Many cheeses contain animal rennet—an enzyme that helps milk separate into curds and whey. Here are a few simple cheese-shopping tips for the holidays and beyond. READ MORE

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    Our Holiday Best: 20 Top Veg Thanksgiving Recipes
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (1)

    Not sure what to make for your Thanksgiving feast? Don’t worry! Just in time for the big day, we hand-picked the best VT holiday recipes for a new Kindle e-book. READ MORE

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    Should You Soak Nuts, Grains, and Beans?
    By: Dawn Jackson Blatner | Comments (1)

    Is it true that soaking these foods boosts their nutrient values? We asked a nutritionist for the low-down, plus tips on how to soak nuts, grains, and legumes like a pro. READ MORE

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    How to Make Foolproof Vegetarian Gravy
    By: Mary Margaret Chappell | Comments (2)

    Even the most accomplished cooks have experienced gravy failure at one time or another (probably more than once). Fear not! Here are 5 easy steps to get perfect results for your Thanksgiving feast. READ MORE

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    Happy Vegiversary to VT Reader Alessandra Seiter!
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (0)

    Each month, we highlight a different reader’s “vegiversary”—the anniversary of when they went veg. Read this one, then share your own. READ MORE

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    TV Talk: Fox’s Cause for Paws, An All-Star Dog Spectacular
    By: Amy Spitalnick | Comments (0)

    When you’re feeling all warm and glowy after feasting with family and friends this Thanksgiving, consider tuning in to this show, which spotlights rescue dogs. Here’s our Q&A with executive producer Michael Levitt. READ MORE

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    What Do I Do with Pippins?
    By: Amy Spitalnick | Comments (2)

    Once fall is in full swing, we start scouting markets for this apple variety: beloved for its crisp bite and earthy, molasses-like sweetness and citrusy notes. Here’s how to use pippins in your holiday baking (recipes included!). READ MORE

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    How to Pick, Prep, and Cook With Butternut Squash
    By: Matthew Kadey | Comments (0)

    With its smooth texture 
and a taste reminiscent of a buttered 
sweet potato, butternut squash is the go-to gourd 
for fall recipes. Here are our tips for using it while it’s in season. READ MORE

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    4 Veg-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving
    By: Aurelia d'Andrea | Comments (0)

    From adopting a turkey to visiting a farm sanctuary to dining out at a veg restaurant, here’s how to give the holiday a compassionate revamp that benefits humans 
as much as the (spared) animals. READ MORE

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    TV Talk: Saving Africa’s Giants with Yao Ming
    By: Amy Spitalnick | Comments (0)

    Premiering this Tuesday on Animal Planet, Saving Africa’s Giants with Yao Ming doesn’t flinch from showing the mutilation perpetrated by poachers of ivory and rhino horn. But it also offers hope in the form of animal survivors of black market profiteers, and the people committed to rescuing them. Using the READ MORE

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    Skip the Can! Make Your Own Pumpkin Purée
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (0)

    Baking pumpkin halves, then scooping out the flesh is an easy, reliable way to make pumpkin purée because it guarantees a consistent, not-too-watery texture. Here’s how to do it—plus recipes! READ MORE

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    10 Easy Happy-Hour Appetizers
    By: Mary Margaret Chappell | Comments (1)

    Who says happy hour is only for bars and restaurants? A small gathering 
at your place with festive drinks and light nibbles is easy to pull together, and you can always let the party go later if everyone’s still having fun. Here are our favorite super-simple make-at-home noshes. READ MORE

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    How to Buy Veg-Friendly Wine
    By: Alice Feiring | Comments (0)

    Serving wine at your Thanksgiving feast? Watch what you pair with the vegetarian roast. Turns out, more than 70 additives—including a handful of animal products—can be used to make and process wine. Not to worry. Here’s how to find 
a veg-friendly vino (and avoid ones that aren’t). READ MORE

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    Top 10 Pantry Staples for Veg Home Cooks
    By: Isa Chandra Moskowitz | Comments (4)

    A well-stocked pantry means a nourishing meal is never more than a cupboard (or freezer!) away. Short on shelf space? We asked cookbook authors and nutrition experts 
to help us narrow down our list of the most versatile ingredients for your kitchen. READ MORE

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    Is Agave a Healthy Substitute for Sugar?
    By: Dawn Jackson Blatner | Comments (5)

    When you need a sweetener, is agave a good choice? We asked a nutritionist to compare the nutritional value of agave and sugar, and explain how to use it as a substitute in recipes. READ MORE

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    How to Make Bread Pudding Without a Recipe
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (1)

    Making bread pudding for Thanksgiving—or, even better, tonight? You don’t need a recipe to whip up this comfort-food classic. Just follow these simple steps for the sweet or savory bread pudding of your dreams. READ MORE

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    Easy Meatless Meals the Whole Family Will Love
    By: Tami Fertig | Comments (0)

    Trying to get your loved ones to eat veg more often? It’s easier than you might think. Just focus on simple, filling, familiar meals. Here are a few of our tried-and-true favorites. READ MORE

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    5 Cruelty-Free Hair Salons
    By: Ashlee Piper | Comments (1)

    Looking to update your ’do? We scoured the country for compassionate salons that not only work wonders on your coif, but also boast cruelty-free products and eco-friendly practices. READ MORE

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    Veg Celeb: Matt Lauria
    By: Amy Spitalnick | Comments (0)

    Appearing in NBC’s Parenthood, Matt Luria also co-stars in the DirecTV series Kingdom, another family drama, but with a difference: it takes place in the hard-bitten world of mixed martial arts. Debuting this fall, Kingdom has already been picked up for additional episodes, airing in 2015 and 2016. READ MORE

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    Look! We’re Up for a Nook Readers’ Choice Award
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (0)

    We’re pretty proud over here at VT headquarters: our September 2014 article “The Gleaners” was just nominated for a Nook Readers’ Choice Newsstand Award. Not sure what gleaning is? Read the story here to learn more about this food-waste-fighting movement—then vote for us! READ MORE

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    Tell VT: What Dish Impresses Non-Vegetarians?
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (16)

    What’s your go-to dish for impressing non-vegetarian dinner guests? (We’ve had lots of luck with the Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas, pictured above!) Share your comment below, and see what others have to say. Our favorite responses will be published in the next issue of Vegetarian Times. READ MORE

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    Happy Vegiversary to VT Reader Meghan Hardy!
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (1)

    Each month, we highlight a different reader’s “vegiversary”—the anniversary of when they went veg. Read this one, then share your own. READ MORE

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    Our Guide to Halloween Treats
    By: Matthew Kadey | Comments (1)

    Boo! Many store-bought sweets are neither vegan nor vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean Halloween has to be all spooks and no edible fun. Here are a few worthy treats to buy or to make. READ MORE

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    How to Pick, Prep, and Cook With Rutabaga
    By: Matthew Kadey | Comments (0)

    Curious about this cruciferous veggie? The mildly peppery rutabaga bears a family resemblance to the turnip, which has a sharper bite. Here’s how to pick, prep, and cook with it right now. READ MORE

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    Veg Celeb: Charles Halford
    By: Amy Spitalnick | Comments (0)

    Co-starring in the new NBC series Constantine, Charles Halford appeared recently in HBO’s Emmy-winning drama True Detective opposite fellow vegan Woody Harrelson. Also a detective show—though with an otherworldly bent—Constantine is inspired by the DC Comics series John Constantine: Hellblazer. The show debuts this Friday, just in time for Halloween. READ MORE

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    The Next Veg Hot Spots
    By: Tami Fertig | Comments (0)

    Move over, Portland and New York! According to Eric Brent, founder of HappyCow—our go-to guide for veg restaurants around the world—these four cities are the fast-growing veg-friendly destinations to put on your radar. READ MORE

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    5 Comforting Foods for New Vegetarians
    By: Tami Fertig | Comments (7)

    Just ditched meat but still tempted by forbidden foods? Don’t give up: to help you out, we asked our food editor for a few healthful veg staples that make the most delicious substitutes. READ MORE

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    The Easiest-Ever Way to Roast Vegetables
    By: Tami Fertig | Comments (7)

    Around this time of year, I love roasting veggies—it makes them so much sweeter, and I end up eating loads of them—but I hate cleaning up. The solution? Parchment paper! READ MORE

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    Recipe in a Bottle: Red Lentil Dal from the Holistic Holiday at Sea
    By: Vegetarian Times | Comments (0)

    Are you dreaming of making your next vacation a veg-cation? From March 14th through the 21st, the Holistic Holiday at Sea will set sail in the Caribbean, featuring cooking classes; lectures by health experts; and creative vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, and gluten-free cuisine. In the meantime, you can get a taste READ MORE

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    How to Have a Veg-Friendly Oktoberfest Feast
    By: Tami Fertig | Comments (0)

    Didn’t make it to the world’s first vegan Oktoberfest in Santa Monica last weekend? No worries. It’s easy to throw together your own German-inspired feast at home! READ MORE