Freezing is one of the most practical ways to keep foods for later, saving items that spoil quickly and preserving seasonal bulk buys. The foods listed here fade quickly in the fridge but will provide frugal meals for months after they’re frozen.
A few freezing tips:
- Air is the enemy of frozen foods, so use bags instead of containers, squeezing zipper-seal freezer bags flat or vacuum-sealing. Add a second layer of protection by packing multiple bags of one food into a larger outer bag. This helps prevent freezer burn and improves freezer organization.
- To prepare vegetables, blanch before freezing by plunging them into boiling water to disable their natural food-spoilage enzymes, then dunking them into ice water so they don’t overcook. Once drained and dried, they’re ready to freeze.
- Fruits are often best if frozen with a small amount of sugar or light syrup.
- Meat, fish or poultry lasts longer if it has been dipped in water and frozen loose — called “glazing” — before getting bagged up.
No matter which method you use, freezing will surely save you money on groceries.
Average Price: about $2.88 per pound
Kale is a cool-season vegetable that flourishes in the autumn, but its massive popularity with health-conscious eaters means you’ll find it year-round at varying price points. It’s sturdy as greens go, but like most greens, it’s only at its best for the first few days it spends in your fridge.
You can go one of two ways with kale: Blanch it briefly until it wilts (suitable for smoothies) or cook it fully so it’s ready to eat in finished dishes. Pack it up in small bags and store it in your fridge for up to a year. Frozen kale can go directly into your dishes without thawing first.
Average price: about $1.92 per pound
Broccoli usually comes in large heads or bundles of heads, and if you’re a small eater — or got a deal on a large quantity — whatever you haven’t eaten will start to fade badly after just three to five days. Rather than forcing down yellowed or rubbery broccoli or just throwing it out, package it up for the freezer and hang onto your savings.
Cut the broccoli into florets, then trim the stringy skin from the stems and cut those into thin pieces as well. Blanch the broccoli for 30 seconds, then plunge it into ice water and drain it well before freezing. The frozen greenery can go straight into stir-fries, soups and casseroles without thawing first and will keep for up to a year if you’ve gotten enough air out of the bag.
Average Price: about $1.42 per pound
Cauliflower is closely related to broccoli, and like its more colorful cousin it’s usually at its best for only three to five days under refrigeration. If you freeze it before it begins to show its typical blotchy brown “age spots,” it will keep well for up to a year.
Divide the head into florets, trimming away any browned edges, and blanch them in boiling water for up to a minute. Once the florets are drained and dried, pack them as airtight as possible in single-serving bags for the freezer. The thawed or still-frozen florets can go straight into stir-fries or casseroles, or you can thaw them for use in your favorite low-carb recipes.
Average price: about $2.24 per pound
Big bags of fresh, ripe grapes make for an eye-appealing display in the produce section, but they also make it all too easy to buy more than you can reasonably eat. They’re usually only good for a day or two at room temperature and a week or so in the fridge. They aren’t an obvious candidate for freezing, but they work surprisingly well.
If you pop the grapes straight into a freezer bag and then the freezer, they’re good for at least a month and perhaps longer. If you freeze them in a single layer on a sheet and then vacuum-seal them or pack them into freezer bags with the air squeezed out, they can last much longer. As a bonus, the individually frozen fruits will be easy to pour from the bag. They’re useful in smoothies, as a frozen treat for summertime nibbling, or as a tasty “ice cube” for fruit punches or cocktails.
Average price: about $0.55 per pound
Bananas ripen continuously for as long as they sit out, which makes perfect ripeness — however you define “perfect” — a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair. Often you’ll only get to eat one or two in that perfect moment between green unreadiness and brown decrepitude, and the rest go to waste.
Rather than resign yourself to throwing out half of what you buy, make a practice of peeling, bagging and freezing the bananas as soon as they pass your favorite stage. Even if you don’t bake (who doesn’t love a banana-chocolate muffin?), frozen bananas have plenty of uses. Add them to smoothies, dip them in chocolate and crushed peanuts, or use them to make the one-ingredient “ice cream” that takes the internet by storm every summer.
Average price: about $3.81 per pound
If you want to learn how to save money on food, the difference between the average price shown here and the sale price at your local supermarket is all the education you need. Stock up on ground beef whenever you get the opportunity. It’s good for only a day or two in the refrigerator but easily lasts three to four months in the freezer. Even if the surface areas get freezer-burned, it’s easy to scrape those away before you cook the rest of the beef.
Divide the beef into 1-pound or 1/2- pound portions, whichever makes sense for your favorite recipes. (If you don’t have a scale, look at the weight on the package and eyeball it.) Bag up the portions and flatten them in the bags so they’ll freeze and thaw quickly, which also removes most of the excess air. Use the beef in soups, stews, casseroles, chili, meatballs or any other budget-stretching recipes.
Average price: about $5.87 per pound
The air-dried bacon packed on wagon trains by the pioneers could keep for months, but that’s not the case with the modern wet-cured variety. It’s only good for about a week in the fridge, which is fine if you eat it in quantity but not if you only like a few strips at a time. If you spot a good sale and want to load up, freezing it is the way to go.
The original packaging is always nicely airtight, and if you occasionally need a whole pound at once it’s a good way to freeze it. Otherwise, divide the bacon up into meal-sized portions and bag them separately, extracting as much air as possible. The small packages thaw quickly, so if you put one in the fridge overnight it should be ready to use in the morning.
Average price: about $3.55 per pound
Mushrooms add flavor and texture to a lot of different dishes and have the happy ability to make the foods around them taste better as well. One thing they don’t do well — is keep for a long time in the refrigerator, where their shelf life is a week or less before they either shrivel up or turn slimy in their packaging.
Mushrooms freeze best if they’re pre-cooked, but the added effort before they go into the freezer means less work when they come out. Just slice the caps and stems and saute them in oil or butter until the juices run from them and cook-off. Then let the pieces cool, divide them into portions, and bag them up. They’ll keep for up to a year, ready to go straight from the freezer into your skillet.
Average price: about $3.83 per pound
Spinach is a gloriously versatile vegetable, equally at home in salads, smoothies or cooked dishes like lasagna. It’s also really convenient when you purchase it pre-washed in large bags. Unfortunately, it’s also quick to spoil, wilting and turning to mush in just three to seven days.
Instead of letting it turn to a sad puddle in your crisper drawer, blanch any unused spinach in boiling water after the first couple of days. Once it’s cooled and thoroughly drained, squeeze out the excess moisture and pack it into small bags in individual portions. The frozen spinach can go straight into your favorite smoothie or stir-fry. If you plan to use it in lasagna or similar dishes, you might prefer to thaw it first.
Average price: about $2.01 per pound
Tomatoes are available year-round, but they’re best and cheapest when harvested at their mid-season homegrown peak (or picked from your own garden). The difference in flavor between vine-ripened tomatoes and their long-distance, picked-hard peers is dramatic, so it’s well worth spending some effort on the good ones when you have them.
The simplest method is just to quarter and freeze them in bags for up to two months, though they’ll last longer if you blanch the whole tomatoes first in boiling water. Cherry tomatoes can be frozen on a tray in a single layer, then bagged. Frozen tomatoes can be used in place of fresh tomatoes in any cooked recipe, such as homemade tomato sauce. It’s also easier to separate the skins and juice — a preliminary step in many recipes — after they’ve been frozen.
Average price: about $1.57 per pound
Here’s a thought: What if you used one of those deeply discounted holiday turkeys to make a bunch of small meals instead of one big one? The thighs, breasts, wings and legs of one mid-sized turkey can be cut up into a dozen or more serving portions, and the carcass that’s left can be turned into a large pot of broth or soup.
Package the cuts separately in meal-size bags, labeling each one with the date and the cut so you know which is which when it comes time to cook. If they’re packaged properly, they should be good for nine or 10 months in the freezer. One safety note: If you buy the turkey frozen, it must be thawed slowly in the fridge if it’s going to be food-safe for packaging and re-freezing. In this case, you can’t use the microwave or cold water thawing method.
Average Price: about $3.05 per gallon
Freezing milk is a real money-saver, whether you drink a great deal or only a little. Take advantage of the next door-crasher special to stock up on one or more gallon jugs, secure in the knowledge you can freeze it for up to three months to lock in your savings.
If you routinely go through milk by the gallon, just plunk the jug straight into your freezer. If you only use milk a few cups at a time but want to buy the gallon for economy’s sake, open the jug and divide the milk among sealable freezer containers. Fill the containers no more than three-fourths full because the milk will expand as it freezes. The cream in your thawed milk might tend to separate after it’s thawed, but you’ll just need to shake or stir it before using it normally.
Average price: about $5.25 per pound
The same loss-leader logic applies to cheddar or other hard cheeses like Swiss or mozzarella. Some can last for up to a few weeks in your fridge without getting moldy, but freezing pieces keeps them usable for up to six months. Whether you eat it sparingly but want the discount or eat it in quantity and want the discount even more, freezing is your friend.
First, wrap the cheese tightly in parchment or freezer paper, then bag it as airtight as you can manage in a zipper-seal or vacuum-seal bag. Cheese is prone to absorbing odors from the freezer, so double-bagging it or over-wrapping it in foil is a good idea. The thawed cheese will taste the same as always but will have a slightly more crumbly texture.
Average price: about $2.51 per pound
Fresh strawberries are some of the most heartbreakingly perishable of all produce, but also one of the most delicious spring treats. Strawberries are only good for a few days at best in the refrigerator and even less if they’re picked dead ripe from local growers. Supermarket berries are available all year, but they’re cheapest and tastiest when they’re in season locally.
Strawberries can be frozen whole or sliced. If you want to keep sugar to a minimum, freeze the slices or whole berries on a sheet and gather them up in bags once frozen. For maximum storage life, sprinkle them lightly with sugar and package them in their own juices. The frozen berries make perfect summertime treats as-is, used in baked goods or added to smoothies or ice cream. Use the sheet method for other fragile summer berries such as raspberries and blackberries, as well.
Average price: about $3.46 per pound
Whether your favorite variety is made from pork, beef, lamb or poultry, and whether you get it in links, patties or bulk form, few foods add flavor to your meals like sausage. While cured sausages can have great storage life, fresh, uncooked sausage is only good for a day or two in the fridge. If this category includes some of your favorites, freezing offers the opportunity to take advantage of bulk deals without being wasteful.
Separate links, patties or bulk sausage meat into meal-sized portions and bag them airtight in a single flat layer. If you wish, you can cook a few of the sausages or brown a few portions of loose sausage meat so you can pop them straight from the freezer to the skillet for quick meals. Sausage retains its flavor and quality in the freezer for at least two months, or longer if it’s well packaged.
Average price: about $1.50 per ounce
Adding a pinch of your favorite fresh herb to a recipe can bring it to bright, vivid life, but keeping fresh herbs on hand can get costly. It’s not that any single fresh herb is expensive, but they’re usually sold in a bunch that’s too large to conveniently use in one or two meals. The rest usually turns to a rather aromatic mulch in your crisper drawer.
Basil and most other herbs retain their flavor well in the freezer, but you can’t just blanch and bag them like other green vegetables. Their flavor molecules are too volatile and will fade quickly. Instead, pulse your herbs briefly in a food processor with a tablespoon or two of oil, then divide them into spoonfuls in a spare ice cube tray and cover them thinly with more oil. Once frozen, transfer them to an airtight bag and store them for two or more months.