Maximizing Your Freezer Space

Do you make enough use of your freezer?

Chances are yours is stuffed with some frozen dinners, unidentifiable meats and some old ice cream. But if you know what you're doing, you can maximize your grocery dollars and make your cooking more efficient by utilizing your freezer. You can also eat a healthier diet.

On The Early Show Saturday Edition, nutritionist Cynthia Sass shared tips on freezing things right -- on what to freeze, and how.

You could save nearly $600 a year by cutting down on waste, and you wouldn't believe what you can preserve by freezing it, as long as you do it right:

YOU CAN FREEZE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING

Just about anything, except for whole eggs in the shell, or canned foods. You can, however, freeze egg whites, and take them out later for baking or cooking.

FOODS WON'T LAST FOREVER IN THE FREEZER, BUT IT DOES PROLONG THEIR LIFE

What you freeze won't last forever. The quality of the food won't last forever, but it will last for a good six months. Fresh foods that are left out will lose their nutrients fairly quickly. Even in the refrigerator, they are always losing nutrients. While the freezer won't stop that, it does seriously slow down the process, so when you take foods out of the freezer, they'll be nearly as fresh as when you bought them.

GENERAL RULES WHEN FREEZING FOODS

First, make sure the freezer is set, and operating, at zero degrees. That is the optimal temperature for freezing foods. Don't rely on the freezer's thermometer; use your own thermometer from time to time to check the temperature. Keep in mind that a full freezer is actually more efficient than an empty freezer. And, label everything, carefully.


AVOID FREEZER BURN

If you're wrapping the food, wrap it tightly. If you're putting the food into freezer bags, make sure you squeeze all the air out before you put it into the freezer. That should keep freezer burn away.

SOME FOODS YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF FREEZING: TOMATOES

If you've bought too many tomatoes, or your plants have given you a great yield, you can preserve them. Take a ripe tomato, core it, quarter it, and put it in a freezer bag. The quartered pieces are easy to separate when you need them, and when they thaw, the skins will slip right off.

YOU CAN ALSO FREEZE TOMATO SAUCES, OR CANNED TOMATOES

Freeze sauces in zippered freezer bags, but make sure to squeeze the air out. And tinned tomatoes, you'll want to freeze in their juice, in a zippered bag.

FREEZING FRESH VEGGIES

They freeze very well. One thing you will want to do is blanch fresh vegetables before you freeze them. Just immerse them in hot water for one minute. Cool, place on a tray in a single layer, and freeze for 30 minutes. Then, pack into freezer bags, remove air, seal and label. Put them in bags, individually. Don't just mush them all together. You want to make sure their easy to get out.

EVERY TIME YOU NEED HERBS FOR A MEAL, YOU HAVE TO BUY A BIG BUNCH. BUT FREEZING THEM IS THE ANSWER

There are several ways to freeze herbs. You could mix them with a little water and puree them, or you can chop them, cover them with water, and freeze them in ice cube trays. Then you can pull out just the bits you need.

THINGS SHOULD BE FROZEN IN INDIVIDUAL PORTIONS, AND THAT'S ESPECIALLY TRUE FOR LEFTOVER, PREVIOUSLY COOKED FOODS. YOU CAN'T FREEZE, THAW, REFREEZE

You definitely cannot do that. Once you thaw something out, that's it, you should never refreeze it. Remember that bacteria doesn't die when you freeze food, it just rests. The temperature at which the bacteria will begin to come back to life is 40-140 degrees. When you reheat the food, it may hit that temperature (microwaves can create uneven temperature pockets), or it will if it sits on your dinner table, and the bacteria will be right back. That's why you should freeze everything, especially leftover, cooked food, in portion sizes, or you'll thaw the whole thing, and have to toss the part you haven't used.

FISH FREEZES JUST AS WELL AS MEAT

All kinds of fish, even shellfish, freeze well. Wrap tightly and place in freezer bags. Press the bag gently to remove air, or use a straw to suck air out of the bag, as you would with meat. Fish will only last a couple of weeks in the freezer, however, before it begins to lose quality.

FRUIT ALSO FREEZES WELL

You can freeze berries, or any kind of stone fruit, like peaches or nectarines. Spread them out as we did with the vegetables, then bag them or put them into containers, so they don't all freeze together. You can also freeze bananas, if you peel them and wrap them individually. You can also puree fruits and then freeze. All of these would be great to use for smoothies when they're thawed. You can also freeze whole citrus fruits, like lemons, limes and oranges, or squeeze out the juice, then freeze.

A BIG SURPRISE: WINE!

Wine freezes really well! If you have that last half-bottle left, you don't have to throw it away. Just put it into containers or ice cube trays, and pop it in the freezer. When you thaw it, you'll probably want to use it for cooking, however, rather than drinking.
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