How to Organize Your Freezer
Are you making the most of your freezer? Chances are you might be under-using this important space. Adopting a few key strategies can help optimize storage for make-ahead meals, extend the shelf life for some fruits and vegetables, and more.
What Can You Freeze?
The freezer has so much more potential for the home cook. It offers a lot more than storing ice cream and frozen pizza. Expand your options to upgrade your cooking routine. "Obviously, anything in the freezer section at the grocery store is freezer safe, but did you know you could freeze items like cooked pasta or rice?" says Jamie Hord, founder of Horderly Professional Organizing, a New York-based professional home organization company. "Nuts are also freezer-friendly. Many people keep nuts in cabinets for way longer than they should. Nuts go bad if they're not properly stored, because of the high fat content." The freezer is also great to store pre-made meals or frozen fruits and vegetables for future use or making smoothies.
Some things do not freeze well—think: anything that loses texture or consistency after it gets back to room temperature. "Dairy and butter are freezer-friendly, but avoid freezing dairy items that are meant to be softer or liquid," says Hord. "Deep-fried foods also don't maintain the same consistency after being thawed out." For safety reasons, keep in mind that you should not refreeze meat or fish that has already been frozen and defrosted.
Start with a Clean Freezer
Naturally, there's no point storing expired food. Throw away all old, out-of-date items, composting or recycling appropriately. This is a chance to take an inventory of what's being stored successfully or not. If there's a lot of expired or freezer-burned food, you may be wasting more than storing. Also, be sure to clean up any spills or leaks.
Create Dedicated Zones
The goal is to use the space efficiently, yet keep things easily accessible. Group like items together, so you know where everything is. Hord recommends sorting items into categories in the freezer. "An easy tip is to keep likes with likes," she says. "Keep ice cream and ice pops together, breakfast foods together, dinner foods together, and so on. Sorting items makes grab-and-go that much easier—especially during moments like the morning rush when you're trying to get your family out the door." Stack items with earlier expiration dates closer to the top of each group to use sooner.
Invest in Bins
Some freezers may have built-in compartments. If yours does not, consider buying bins. "I love using freezer bins to sort and categorize freezer food," says Hord. "Although these items are plastic, they are freezer-safe and don't crack—plus, once you buy them, you'll never have to purchase any other freezer products over time." Make the most of your freezer space by tailoring organizers to suit your freezer configuration: For top- and side-compartment freezers, a shelf divider or stacking organizers can be helpful. For bottom-compartment and chest freezers, repurpose open desktop file boxes for slim boxes like frozen pizzas.
Fall in Love with Storage Bags and Labels
Storage bags are the secret to freezing foods like soup and stock flat: Rather than taking up space in a large container, the liquid will freeze in an economical flat shape that can be stacked or stored on in its side. Make sure to choose freezer safe material. Hord likes Stasher silicone storage bags (from $9.99, target.com), which are both freezer-safe and reusable. "Reusable products are functional, sustainable and eco-friendly. The Stasher bags are especially great because they can be used for cooking, boiling, on-the-go, and are dishwasher safe," says Hord.
Clearly labeling items with the contents and date means not having to rely on memory while looking for safe-to-eat ingredients."Labeling anything, anywhere is certainly helpful," says Hord. "We love peel-and-stick freezer labels that can withstand the cool temperatures and frost in your freezer." Permanent markers and painter's tape also work for labeling.
Strategies for Small Freezers
Not everyone has the luxury of a large freezer. If you have a smaller freezer, Hord says to focus on only buying what you need and stocking your freezer with items you'll consume in the next few months. "As you shop, consider implementing a low-waste lifestyle in your home. This process is called precycling. Precycling is all about reducing your impact on what goes into the waste stream by purchasing and using items that are unpackaged, reusable or recycled. Creating a low-waste lifestyle has a multitude of benefits, for both the global environment and your wallet."