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Guest Post: Using Your Freezer and Cooking from Scratch to Save Money

I recently shared about our regular Baking Days (see posts here, here, here, and here if you missed those posts) and many of you were interested in doing something similar. Michelle's guest post below is packed with tips to help you get started using your freezer and cooking from scratch to save money. Enjoy!

Guest Post by Michelle from Leaving Excess

I have always enjoyed cooking and baking from scratch. In my quest to be more frugal, I have been able to utilize my kitchen
enthusiasm to prepare wholesome food for my family; adding convenience by
making mixes ahead of time or freezing foods to use later. This helps me
to save money by not buying reducing the need for prepackaged convenience foods
or needing to rely on fast food or take-out meals during our often busy
weekdays and weekends.

Recently, many manufacturers have been putting
less product in the same package and still charging the same. The stakes
on the game of feeding your family for less just got higher. The
following are my tips for using your kitchen to save you money.

Tip #1: Work ahead. I love to cook. But I do not love to cook when I am under the gun to prepare dinner in a
hurry. Taking time to plan out meals and prepare the foods we will be
eating during the week ahead saves me a lot of time, headache, and money. 

DSCF0736

For
example: I recently committed to making all of our bread at home. The bread machine is a convenient way for me to mix the dough (which I prefer
to bake in the oven), but sometimes even measuring all the ingredients feels
like too much to fit into my busy day. 

I now mix together the dry ingredients to our
family’s favorite bread recipe
up ahead of time and store it in the
cupboard. When I need a loaf, I just put in the wet ingredients and yeast
and press a button. That makes it more manageable for me.

In addition, it saves me time because it is easier to measure the ingredients out five times, put
them in individual containers and be done that to drag the ingredients out five
different times. I also do this for our brownies,
cookies, quick breads, pizza dough, etc.

Tip #2:  Make Extra. When I make a dish
for my family that can be frozen, I always make two. I have all the
ingredients out, so why not? In the end, you save time, mess and
money.

Simply make two of the same dish and wrap one for the
freezer. You can put the dish into a freezer bag, work the excess air
out, zip the bag, and put it into another bag and do the same. You can
also use disposable baking pans, cover the top of the dish in plastic
wrap, and then cover the top again in foil. 

This works well for
casseroles, meat with sauces, and marinades. For a marinade, I make two
batches at once, use the first, and store the second in a freezer bag (double
wrap as described above). When you are ready to use the marinade, simply
put the frozen meat in with the frozen sauce (in the bag) and store in your
refrigerator for a few days. As the meat thaws, it will absorb the
marinade. Turn the bag once or twice a day to evenly distribute the
marinade. Be cautious when freezing casseroles, as dishes with uncooked
potatoes, sour cream or mayonnaise do not freeze well.

Another wonderful thing to make extra of is cookie
dough. I usually make a double batch, bake one batch, and then freeze the
other.

There are two ways to freeze the dough. First, you can make
the remaining dough into logs (about 12 cookies per log, so if your batch makes
3 dozen, make 3 logs), wrap the log in plastic wrap, wrap again in foil and
freeze. When you are ready to bake, you can slice the log into disks and
bake the cookies that way.

The other way is to use a scoop to make balls
of dough. Place the balls of dough close together on a baking sheet and store
in the freezer (uncovered) for about 1-2 hours, or until hard. Once the
dough is hard, place the dough balls into a freezer bag and double wrap the bag
into another freezer bag (being sure to remove excess air). 

Freezing the cookies individually first prevents the dough
from freezing to itself and being one big clump.  That way, you can take
out just as many as you need at one time. 

DSCF0683

I do this with hamburger
patties, freezing them individually, then store them in a bag until we need
them.  Read the details here

DSCF0692

I also do this with waffles, making a double batch and freezing the extras to
be popped into the toaster on busy mornings. Read about that here.

Making extra muffins (our favorites are Banana Chocolate Chip and Zucchini),
packaging them individual, and freezing them makes mornings much easier. Simply toss a bag of muffins into your bag, and by the time you get to work or
school, the muffins will thawed and ready to eat.

When freezing, but sure
to label and date each item, so that you can find what you need, see what you
have and use what you have before it goes bad.

Tip #3:  Preserve Nature’s Bounty. Have
you ever seen those convenience bags of pre-chopped frozen onions or
peppers? You can easily do this
for yourself during the peak of the season.

When you find a great sale on
onions, stock up, and freeze some for later. I like to prepare mine a
couple of different ways: I like to chop some to be used in casseroles or
sauces and I like to slice some to be used in stir-frys or on hamburgers and
pizzas. 

OnionsDSCF0981

Follow the same directions above for freezing cookie dough balls:
lay out the onions in a single layer on a baking sheet (you may want to cover
onions to prevent the smell from taking over your freezer!), freeze until
frozen, and then pour into bags and double wrap. That way, you can take
what you need and not have to fight a big clump of frozen mess. Read more
about freezing onions here.

This tip works beautifully for red, yellow, and green peppers
(ones destined for cooked dishes); woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary; and
fruits such as blueberries and strawberries (for baking or smoothies). Again,
you will want to label and date your bounty, so you can find and use the
food before it expires, generally about 3–6 months for fresh produce,
assuming a zero grade freezer and well packaged foods.

Tip #4: Prepare In Advance. Sometimes it is
just not physically possible to get home and get a meal ready all at the same
time. On those days, I rely on my crock pot to have a hot, nutritious
meal waiting for me at the end of a long day. I prepare what I can the
night before, chopping vegetables, opening cans of tomatoes or beans, and
assembling the dish in the crock pot bowl before storing it in our refrigerator
overnight.

In the morning, I finish any last minute details and set the
bowl into the cooking unit and let it go to work. Often, I prepare rice
in the rice cooker using the delayed function to accompany the crock pot
meal. It is such a relief to know that dinner is already done on those
busy days! For more crock pot tips and links to hundreds of recipes for
the crock pot, read this post here.

Even on days when I am home, I notice that my stress level
is much lower when I have menus planned out for the week in advance. Not
having to scramble to figure out what is for dinner makes all the difference in
my day.

It also enables me to look in my freezer and pantry and see what
needs to be used. I can then plan my meals around those items, to be sure
I am wisely and efficiently using the foods that I have taken the time and
money to prepare ahead of time. When I know I am using chicken in two
days, I can take it out to thaw in the refrigerator so that I am ready to go
once the dinner hour strikes.

Finally, I would like to share that preparing foods in
advance and using the freezer may be heading into the unknown for you, but it
is not hard to do. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave a
comment on my blog, here on this post, or do a search online with the ingredient
you want to freeze or store in the search title. Just put one foot in
front of the other and enjoy the journey!

Michelle is a CPA, turned stay at home mom to four,
turned somewhere in between.  She challenges the excesses that society
tells us we need and experiments with living a simple, uncluttered life on her
daily blog, Leaving Excess

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!

33 Comments

  • Kristine says:

    My husband works late so there are some nights where we don’t have a regular family dinner. I feed the kids and then my hubby and I eat later. I freeze pasta in individual servings for the kids for crazy days like those. When I am cooking pasta I make extra and put it into muffin trays. Freeze the tray and then pop out the little pasta “chunks”. Put them all into a freezer bag. When you need them you can pull out a couple add some sauce or cheese and viola!! Very quick meal for the little ones. I can’t take the credit for the idea – I saw it in Parents Magazine – but it saves time and money too since I don’t have to buy the Gerber Graduate Meals!

  • E.M.C. says:

    this was so helpful! we just invested in a chest freezer, so I am really excited about actually being able to freeze extra food ahead of time. thanks so much!

  • Laura says:

    I do these things too, and it saves me so much time and money! The only ‘problem’ I’ve had is that when I’ve put my dry bread ingredients together in bags, the resulting loaves did not bake as high. I did let them come to room temp (I use fresh milled wheat, so I stored them in the freezer) and I haven’t been able to figure out what went wrong. Other than that, everything else has worked perfectly for me!

    I hope others will try your (our) methods – they really do help so much!

  • Terra Jones says:

    I’m assuming you have a deep/chest freezer for this?

    I would LOVE to have a “stash” like this, but, we don’t have room in our apartment for a deep freezer. There is NO WAY we could fit this in the freezer of our fridge. We cram it full with meats, leftovers (i try to double when possible) and pumped milk for my baby, LOL

    If you could just have a couple things on hand in your freezer – what would your essentials be?

  • Janet says:

    Oh, I was wondering if you could freeze onions, as my parents just gave us a big bag full from their garden.
    Thanks!

  • Kristen says:

    Thank you so much for you post. We were just getting in the mode to put some more things in our freezer.

  • Tiny Bird says:

    sounds like a great idea. I wish I could get my family to eat that stuff though. Maybe I’ll just freeze the ingredients & cook it before they get home….they won’t know the difference!

  • Michelle says:

    Terra Jones: I do have a chest freezer – I know that working ahead is difficult with only the freezer that comes with your refrigerator.

    If I were you, I would focus on making the baking mixes ahead of time – here is my post about making mixes: http://www.leavingexcess.com/2008/10/make-it-yourself-baking-mixes.html. That will allow you to get ahead without having to freeze your mixes.

    I would also freeze the marinades ahead of time – this will allow you to drop in any kind of meat to marinate in the fridge without taking up much room in the freezer.

    Beyond that, you may want to consider just working one week ahead. If you need 3 chopped onions total for your planned recipes for the week, then chop up 3 and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Mix up the mixes you will need for that one week and so on. Try to store at least one frozen meal, so you have something in an emergency. At least that way you can use your weekend time to prep for the week and be prepared on your busy nights.

  • cheryl says:

    Can’t wait to try the bread recipe when I get a bread machine.
    I just did the onion thing this past weekend with a batch I got at the produce market. Although I have to say my eyes paid the price for chopping all those onions. 🙂

  • Trixie says:

    Hi Michelle!

    I love all the great tips you shared, thank you. I use several of your techinques and they do save a bundle of time and money.

    Two of the most helpful things for our house is to have at least the main part of dinner in the freezer all ready to go and working off a well planned menu. Nothing else helps me stay sane and save time, energy and money more than this.

    It is just so wonderful and satisfying to not have run out at the last minute and buy ingredients at full price or pick up a whole dinner,

    Trixie

  • Becky says:

    Thank you Crystal and Michelle! I have been following this blog for awhile (I think it was linked from here?) and I LOVE THIS BLOG!!! Michelle, you do such a great job! Keep it up and I’m going to work towards doing everything you suggested. I just chopped and froze a bag of onions after reading your blog and find it so convienent.
    THANKS!

  • LANA says:

    This is a great post! I love the instructions on how to freeze fresh fruits and veggies as winter brings along a sharp increase in the cost of those. I also recommend the bread maker and use it for all of those listed (especially pizza dough). Thanks for the tips!

  • Michelle says:

    Trixie – Amen! My least favorite thing about going out to eat is how long it takes!

  • Jen M says:

    What a great post! And another fabulous blog to add to my feed reader.

  • Amiyrah says:

    oh, if I only had the freezer space to do this! I do it somewhat on a smaller scale, but you can only fit so much in a tiny freezer attached to the fridge. Thanks for the tip on freezing the onions. I freeze mine when I get them at a good price but they did tend to clump up. Now I know how to prevent that!

  • Honey says:

    This is a very helpful post! I have to agree with Michelle, I love cooking, but not as much when 10 little eyes are staring at me wanting to know when it will be ready. That Tip #1) made me laugh because I always say the same thing you did (about being under the gun). I would add a tip about wrapping your items in plastic, then covering with foil-I have unfortunately had a mommy-brain moment and forgotten to take off the plastic. Sad, I know! Now I label the dish with title, cooking time & temp., and a note to remove plastic!!! And when I read about some foods that do not freeze well, I had to add that egg and tofu do not freeze well. Potato (which you mentioned, does change texture when frozen), but amazingly, the commercial frozen hash browns always seem fine to me. I do not like mashed potatoes once they’ve been frozen..tried it…not good. Thanks for the good ideas.

  • Patti says:

    Funny you should post this right when I am reading Deborah Taylor-Hough’s Frozen Assets Lite and Easy. She has been freezing a month’s meals in her refrigerator for years. She does it by freezing everything flat, then standing the zip lock bags up like LP records!! Check out her web site for more info http://members.aol.com/OAMCLoop/
    Thanks for the great ideas!!

  • Patti says:

    Oops! The web site I gave for Once A Month Cooking has changed. Just google that title and you’ll find all kinds of places with recipes.

  • Amanda Davenport says:

    I have been debating on getting an extra freezer. My father-in-law mentioned that the extra cost to run a freezer (or fridge) isn’t worthwhile. Let me mention, that my Father-in-law uses his extra freezer to store fish that he catches, ice cream in large quantities and misc food items. He’s not using it to store extra pre-made meals or great buys that he stocked up on. Has anyone looked into the cost analysis. He did tell me to keep the freezer/fridge indoors (as opposed to my garage) as southern summers make the the unit work harder—increasing your electricity bill further.

  • Dona says:

    This was quite helpful. I am thinking about getting a waffle maker now!

    You said that you can chop onions and peppers….did you mean like green peppers. I love to use chopped green peppers in my meatloaf, but I rarely have a green pepper on hand. This would be a nice way to buy a few and keep them ready for when I need them.

  • Maria says:

    Great tips. My sister had a similar suggestion with sausage patties as with the hamburgers. I also make a double batch of pie dough for quiche (one batch makes a top and bottom of a regular pie, so a double batch actually makes 4 quiches!). If we had a large freezer, I’d probably freeze a lot more things as suggested here, but alas, space is limited. I’m still amazed at how much I can fit in it though!

  • Wendy says:

    Some great tips! I have an extra fridge and an extra upright freezer in my basement, but I am always forgettign to defrost things! I need to make that a priority!
    Thanks for the tips!

  • Tami says:

    I use my freezer too. Our grocery store runs the bagged broccoli mixes with carrots and cauliflower and all that stuff for 99 cents – 1.49 and I buy lots. I come home, cook it and slam it in my freezer (labeled of course) And it is perfect for casseroles and even broccoli and cheese. Thanks for sharing this post.

  • wendy says:

    Thanks for the great information. I never thought of pre-prepping bread ingredients. I would make it a lot more often if it wasn’t a hassle. I’m glad to have the info on the freezing of onions too. I use these so often, and it would be nice just to have them chopped already!

  • Christy says:

    Thanks for the great tips Michelle! We’ll be getting a second hand chest freezer in the next week (it’s only 2 years old) and I can’t wait to get started on filling it.

  • I don’t have a separate freezer other than the one with my fridge.

    I do, however, cook ahead.

    When I cook meals, I plan enough for leftovers so that we can eat them the next day (usually for lunch and sometimes for breakfast). I make enough bread, pancakes and muffins so that we can eat them for a couple of days. The muffins are great as a snack in the afternoons. The pancakes are breakfast for the next day.

    In my freezer, I keep cooked ground beef andturkey (well, and other things, too!). I cook all the ground beef when I buy it, and then freeze it to add to spaghetti, beef stroganoff, and tacos. It makes the meal time faster for all of those meals. I buy turkeys in November and cook them, eating some and saving some in the freezer in bags to pull out and use for sandwiches, turkey devan, autumn stew, etc.–anywhere I would use chicken, but for a lot less money per pound (last year I got 7 turkeys at 69 cents a pound–that’s some inexpensive meat!)

    The onions and peppers can be dehyrdated so that you can keep your freezer space for meats.

  • Kelly says:

    Freezing also makes it so much easier to minister to a new mother or a sick neighbor. Grab a casserole, add a salad and bread, and take it on over!

  • Katie Hurley says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. It was very timely for me as I have found myself losing the joy of cooking due to lack of time and stress at home! You gave some very practical tips that I can begin using this weekend! THANK YOU!

  • Laralee says:

    When my older children were younger, this is how I survived. I always made enough to freeze future dinners. I also would purchase individual freezer containers and freeze lunch/dinner for my husband’s work meal.

    I would make spaghetti sauce in an 18 quart roaster oven and freeze in large ziploc bags, laid flat to freeze for easy stacking. Same with soups, pureed pumpking, grated zucchini bag, bagged in 2 C quantities for baking purposes.

    I would cook a turkey and bag up leftovers in ziploc bags for many future dinners.

    I would make muffins & breads and freeze for quick meals. Make cookie dough and freeze in tubes.

    I love my freezer.

    Now that we have 9 children at home ranging from 25 to 5 years old, with many adult eaters, it is hard to keep ahead of the game! We don’t do near as much freezing ahead any more just because of the sheer volume of food we go through and because of the “busyness” that comes with this many people and being self-employed as a family together. We are just constantly on the go.

    When we cook a turkey these days, we get one meal with measly left overs and then the soup from the carcass is cooked that night. No more many ziploc bags of ready to use turkey meat!

    When we make waffles, we make oodles and gobs of them. We don’t freeze them now as we used to. They get used far too quickly to need to freeze them!

    Bread too, never gets to the point of being frozen anymore. Muffins don’t see the cold of the freezer anymore either. Unless we take a couple of days and do nothing but bake. And, that doesn’t last long either!

    All of that being said, we have 2 1/2 freezers that are full and always in use. It’s just that the contents of these freezers get used up very quickly!

    We are working on trying to get back to stocking the freezer with emergency meals, but these days, it’s hard to stay ahead of the game!

    Laralee
    http://PlymouthRockRanch.com
    Recording the Faithfulness and Provision of God for Future Generations

  • Luckimom2002 says:

    Michelle can you tell me your thoughts on the vaccuum seal bagging system for freezing? Still double bag?

    Thanks

  • Joy says:

    This post was so timely! I’ve been trying hard to spend more time making all kinds of home-made soup lately (my family’s favorite food!) to help with our budget. Although my dad isn’t a fan of frozen baked goods, I loved the idea of freezing the onions, and making lots of “prepared” baggies with our staple baked goods ingredients to cut down on time. I did have a food storage question. Can you freeze plain yogurt and buttermilk? Alot of recipes have this in it and I was wondering if I should freeze a little stock pile to save some money when the “better brands” go on sale.

  • ANA says:

    Ice cube trays and muffin tins can be used to freeze food in pre-measured portions. Blend fresh herbs in a blender whip up some pesto or finely chop onions in a food processor; spread your herbs or veggies in an ice cube tray and freeze. When the cubes are solid, transfer them to a plastic freezer bag. You can reach in and grab individual cubes for your recipe without having to do all the work each time! This also works for freezing soup stock and broth: use a muffin tin (silicone trays are nice but be sure to put them on a cookie sheet before you fill them with liquid!) for its larger volume. Freeze, then transfer to a labeled bag. It’s quick and easy to add broth to a recipe or grab a few blocks to start a soup.

  • Paula says:

    WHen I froze the onions it made EVERYTHING in my deep freeze smell and taste like onions. It was NASTY! Everything seems to be ruined. 🙁 Is there ANYWAY to make the smell go away (I have triple bagged these onions) AND put in two of those Arm and Hammer Baking Soda freezer things. Is the rest of my food ruined (Onion Ice cream is NOT tasty 🙁 ) or what can I do to save a deep freezer worth of food. 🙁

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