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Set Up Your Freezer for Mealtime Success

As a dietitian for close to 20 years, I’ve noticed my most successful clients achieving the best success don’t necessarily have more time or knowledge, they have clear systems built for speed and repetition. One of the systems that can greatly help with meal planning success, especially for time-crunched families, is to understand not just what to put in the freezer, but how to set it up.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to figure out the best way to organize freezer space. It hasn’t always been pretty, but I’ve learned a few practical things along the way. If you have a freezer but frequently lose or forget things or want to figure out some healthy ingredients and meals to put in your freezer, then this article is for you.

Begin with the end in mind

Imagine a tidy freezer that had single servings or family-sized portions of tasty meals you would feel good about or that you could grab in a pinch. Think about how it would feel to have clearly labelled ingredients to toss quickly into a recipe or add to a lunch box. An organized freezer can help you minimize food waste, reduce spending, reduce meal preparation time, and lessen weekday stress.

 Three categories of foods for a freezer stash

1. Single foods for adding to supper recipes:

  • Frozen vegetables (such as peas, corn, spinach, and mixed veggies)

  • Purchased frozen diced avocado

  • Purchased frozen edamame or black beans

  • Pre-cooked or leftover canned beans, lentils, or chickpeas

  • Shredded cheese

  • Chicken breasts, thighs, and fish fillets

  • Raw or pre-cooked meatballs, ground meat, or poultry

  • Purchased or pre-made veggie burgers, lean beef, or bison burgers

  • Pre-sliced and/or marinated meat, poultry, or seafood

  • Frozen, peeled shrimp and other seafood

  • Pizza crusts or ready-made dough

  • Fresh pasta, tortellini, or perogies

  • Pre-cooked rice, barley, Quinoa, and other grains

  • Pre-chopped fresh herbs (such as dill, parsley, rosemary, and oregano)

  • Pre-chopped minced garlic or whole ginger, which can simply be grated

  • Leftover wine and stock

  • Diced fresh or roasted red peppers or canned chipotle peppers 

2. Full ready-to-eat meals:

Options: single servings, full family-sized portions, or some of each

  • Soup, chili, or stew

  • Casseroles, cabbage rolls, enchiladas, taco meat

  • Pasta sauces such as tomato meat or lentil marinara sauce

  • Pre-cooked protein, cooked grains, and blanched vegetables 

3. Single foods for adding to breakfast, lunch and snack meals:

  • Frozen fruit (such as berries, mango, and pineapple)

  • Freezer smoothie packs

  • Leftover waffles, French toast, or pancakes

  • Sliced bread, bagels, and buns

  • Muffins, sliced loaves, pre-cut energy bars, or cookies

  • Single slices of leftover pizza

  • Pre-cooked steel cut oatmeal or baked muffin tin oatmeal

Storing and organizing tips for your freezer

Here are three tips for storing healthy foods and items you prepare in the freezer:

1. Store flat to maximize space. Whenever possible, store items such as soups, chilli, and sauces flat in bags (remove as much air as possible) or reusable containers that stack easily.

2. Store in something clear to help you see. Ideally, you should store your ingredients and meals in a variety of sizes of clear zipper bags, large glass containers for family meals, and Mason jars for single-serve items.

3. Clearly label what it is and when you made it. Label the food and date using a permanent marker for zipper bags and freezer labels or freezer tape for glass to make sure it sticks. Attach a list to the outside of the freezer to add and subtract items from your list to keep track of your inventory.

Starting slow

Looking at a long list of items you could stash in your freezer can be daunting.

Start small by placing one or two single items in the freezer this week:

  • If you are making rice, cook double and freeze the extra for another meal.

  • If you are making chili, double the batch since it takes the same amount of time to cook two batches as it does one.

  • If grated cheese is on sale, purchase extra and toss a bag in the freezer for your next pizza-making night. 

This article originally appeared in the Calgary Herald. Calgary Dietitian and mom Andrea Holwegner, “the chocoholic nutritionist,” is owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. where she leads a team of nutritionists specializing in family meal planning, weight loss, eating disorders, kids nutrition, and more. She is a media expert and the creator of an online nutrition course for time-strapped parents looking to improve their personal and family eating habits. For more information, call 403-262-3466 or visit Subscribe to her free monthly e-Newsletter or award-winning blog. Follow her on Twitter @chocoholicRD, Facebook @chocoholicRD, and Instagram @chocoholicrd.

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