Here are 17 items that should always be chilling in a frugalista's freezer.
1. READY-TO-EAT MEALS
These could be dinners you batch cooked, pancakes stacked between sheets of parchment paper, or heck, even TV dinners and frozen pizzas purchased on sale. It's up to you whether your emergency rations are homemade or store bought; the point is that when you are running late and haven't packed yourself a work lunch, or when kids' activities keep you out of the house until 15 minutes before dinner, you need something to fall back on to prevent you from wasting your money on unintended restaurant meals.
2. CUBES OF… EVERYTHING
Don't waste left-over coffee, tomato paste, or even champagne — just empty it into an ice cube tray, then later pop out the cubes and store in a labeled freezer bag. Go past the obvious uses for ice cube trays — try preserving fresh herbs or making ready-to-bake cookies.
3. RAW MEAT
If you're a carnivore, there is no more versatile meal base than a one-pound package of ground meat. Defrost it in the microwave, and you're ready to make a casserole, chili con carne, or so many other recipes.
My grocery store marks down meat by 30%-50% close to its expiration date, so I generally have three or four packages of discounted meat in my freezer. Some Costco shoppers repackage the warehouse store's mammoth meat portions into meal-sized freezer bags. Some clever folks even pour marinade into their frozen meat bags. On the rare occasion that I find a BOGO sale on whole chickens, I'll chuck a whole bird in the freezer — just keep in mind that these take a lot longer to defrost than small portions of cut-up meat.
4. COOKED, CHOPPED MEAT
Even if you don't go all-in for "freezer cooking" or "once a month cooking," having a pound of cooked, chopped up beef, pork, or chicken ready to defrost can cut 20 minutes or more off meal prep time.
Although fish can be on the expensive side, a lot of wild fish is really good for you. And itcooks quickly from a frozen state, making for a great weeknight dinner with no pre-planning needed.
6. A WHOLE TURKEY
When turkey prices dip below a dollar a pound at Thanksgiving, why buy just one? I always buy at least one spare, depending on freezer space, for a future family feast with lots of leftovers.
7. A WHOLE COW
Okay, you're not going to fit a steer into the freezer over your refrigerator. However, if you are feeding a family of carnivores, and especially if you prefer grass-fed or organic meat, consider purchasing a whole animal directly from a ranch, or splitting one with another household. You may have to buy a chest freezer, but you can save a lot this way.
8. COOKED BEANS
You can save money over canned beans by soaking and boiling your own. But who wants to do that every time they make chili? I soak a whole pound of beans at once, cook it all up in the slow cooker overnight, then use a cup or two for dinner while freezing the rest in meal-sized portions.
9. COOKED RICE
We like brown rice, for which restaurants often charge more. So when we order Asian takeout, we'll skip ordering rice and make our own. To be honest, I don't see defrosting frozen rice as much less work than cooking a fresh pot — but if you forget to start rice before the doorbell rings with your food, having a bag or two in the freezer that you can quickly microwave is a savoir.
10. OLD BREAD
A lot of recipes, like meatloaf, call for breadcrumbs, others, like strata or stuffing, call for cubed bread. I never have to buy bread crumbs, because every time I have a slice or two that has been sitting around too long, I add it to the large bread bag in the freezer. When I need crumbs, I throw some in the food processor.
11. BAGS OF FROZEN VEGETABLES
When the grocery store has a deal on frozen veg, stock up. Even if you prefer fresh produce, this way you'll never be stuck eating a meal with no greens. My favorite veggie to keep in the freezer is peas, because I can reach in for just a handful every time I make a salad, and they'll defrost on their own while I chop the fresh veggies. Other Wise Bread writers have lots of recipe ideas for frozen spinach and frozen broccoli.
12. BAGS OF FROZEN FRUIT
Frozen berries or mango pieces are great to have on hand — they're so much less work than washing and cutting up fresh, and when making smoothies, they can substitute for ice. If you have an orchard or garden, of course, freezing your own fruit is even more frugal than buying it.
If you are going out of town, you don't want to leave an opened container of milk in the fridge to go bad. But you don't have pour it down the drain, either. Pop the whole carton into the freezer if you have room, or decant it into a smaller container, or even save a leftover ounce in an ice cube tray. Perfect is you take your coffee with milk.
Running out of butter can be a real recipe killer, so even if it didn't save me any money I would keep a pound or two on ice. This stuff tends to go on sale around the holidays; buy multiple pounds then and you'll be set for a few months.
15. BACON GREASE
Now that cooking with lard, chicken schmaltz, and other animal fats is coming back into vogue, I've started saving my bacon grease and other drippings for cooking, just like my mom did. If you're not going to use them up quickly, you can always stash them in the freezer.
16. HOMEMADE STOCK
When you're a guest at Thanksgiving dinner, others might think it's weird if you ask to take home the turkey carcass. Do it anyway. You can boil those bones to make cups and cups of delicious stock, the base of future soups, stews, and recipes you never even thought of. Once you've made your stock, pour it into containers or bags, label and freeze.
17. STOCK INGREDIENTS
Not every day is Thanksgiving (thank goodness for our waistlines). You might not feel like making stock out of the carcass of a small chicken or even from leftover rotisserie bones, but you still shouldn't throw them away. I keep two large bags in my freezer: one labeled "carcasses," and one labeled "veggie scraps." All unused chicken parts go in the first bag, broccoli stalks, carrot scrapings, and other unused bits of plants go in the second. When they start to bulge, I pour everything into a stockpot, add a bay leaf and some spices, cover with water, and, voila! Stock. (By the way, my stock never seems to suffer from having been made from frozen ingredients, then refrozen when complete. Stock is forgiving.)
18. FREEZER POPS
They may not keep your kids from wanting the ice cream truck's treats (for my kids, nothing does that), but homemade pops are an affordable summer treat that can even be healthy, depending on the ingredients.