Reducing waste in the kitchen is one of the most important ways to keep your food budget in check. Tossing uneaten food into the garbage is just as good as throwing handfuls of cash in the trash, and I don’t know anyone who can afford that (if you can, feel free to throw it in my direction instead of into the garbage, k thx.). Freezing food gives you more time to find uses for your food before it spoils, so I’ve experimented with freezing all sorts of foods and ingredients over the years. After plenty of hits and misses, these are the 10 foods I freeze most often to save money and reduce waste in my kitchen.
But before I get into the foods that I like to freeze, here are a few general tips for freezing food.
Quick Tips for Freezing Food
- Exposure to air is the enemy because it causes moisture to evaporate from your food, which results in freezer burn. So, wrap food tightly, use heavy duty plastic, and remove as much air as possible from bags when possible.
- Chill hot food completely in the refrigerator before transferring it to the freezer. Placing hot or warm food straight into the freezer causes larger ice crystals, which will damage the texture of the food more.
- ALWAYS label and date your food. It’s preemptive strike against frozen mystery packages in the back of your freezer, which will undoubtably end up in the trash.
- Bookmark this chart of storage times for food in the refrigerator and freezer. This will help you determine how long to keep the items in your freezer. And here is a more extensive resource for best practices when freezing food.
10 Foods I Freeze to Save Money and Reduce Waste
Cheese is always one of the more expensive ingredients I use, so I make sure not to waste a single crumb! Plus, it’s often much less expensive if purchased in a larger quantity, like 16 oz. block or a 2 lb. bag of shreds. Luckily, cheese freezes great! You’ll notice very little, if any at all, difference in the texture after freezing and thawing. Block cheese may become slightly more crumbly, so it’s not as good for making sandwich slices, but it’s still great for shredding, melting, and other uses.
When I buy a large bag of shreds, I first divide it up into smaller portions, usually 2 cups, and freeze them individually. To thaw, I simply transfer them to the refrigerator one day before I intend to use them. I do the same for block cheese. If I buy a large block, I’ll first divide it into 8oz. portions, like the usual blocks for sale, wrap them tightly in plastic, then place them in a freezer bag. If I’m freezing a half block, like in the photo above, I’ll leave the original plastic on the cheese because it fits so tight and close to the cheese, then place the whole thing in a freezer bag.
Cheese varieties I’ve successfully frozen: cheddar (shredded and block), chevre (soft goat cheese), feta, swiss, Monterey jack/pepper jack.
2. Fresh Ginger
I cook a LOT with ginger, but it gets soft and rubbery pretty quickly in my refrigerator. The solution? Keep a knob or two in the freezer! The flavor is exactly the same and frozen ginger grates much easier than fresh, since the hairy fibers break easily instead of clogging the grater.
You don’t have to peel your ginger before it’s used, but I do suggest washing it well to make sure there is no dirt in the nooks. If you prefer to peel your ginger, peel it before freezing. I use my ginger so often that it doesn’t have much of a chance to get freezer burn, so I simply pop it into a freezer bag. If you use your ginger a little less often, you may want to wrap it tightly in an extra layer inside the freezer bag.
3. Fresh Spinach
We’ve all done it. Ambitiously bought a bag of spinach only to watch it slowly wilt in your fridge. Try as I might, it’s not often that I successfully finish an entire bag of spinach before it gives up its life. So when I see the spinach starting to sputter out, I’ll just place the whole bag right into the freezer. Yep! No prep needed, just put it in the freezer (inside a sealable bag).
Obviously the frozen spinach isn’t good for salads, but it works perfectly for smoothies, adding to soup, sauces, or sautéing (because it wilts when cooked anyway, right?). And because the spinach is so delicate and not dense, I don’t even thaw it before adding to my meals. It goes straight from the freezer to the soup, sauce, or wherever it’s being used.
4. Tomato Paste
If you’ve been around Budget Bytes for a while, you probably already know that I freeze my tomato paste. But, since this one was such a game changer, I want to make sure anyone new here knows this trick. Most recipes only use one, or a few, tablespoons of tomato paste at a time, but one small 6oz. can of tomato paste has about 10 tablespoons in it. So what do you do with the rest? Well, you DON’T throw it away.
Portion it out into one tablespoon scoops, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet or plate, then freeze until solid. Once solid, transfer to a freezer bag. Then, whenever you need tomato paste for a recipe you can grab one, or however many you need. Again, because they’re so small, I don’t even thaw them. They go straight into my soup or sauce frozen. (See the full post: How to Freeze Tomato Paste)
5. Fresh Lemons and Limes
Okay, this one was a recent game changer for me as well. I love cooking with fresh citrus because it can absolutely transform a dish, but it’s also quite expensive. So when I learned that you can freeze whole lemons and limes for juicing and zesting later, I was finally able to take advantage of the steep discount offered when buying a whole bag instead of one at a time. The texture of the citrus does change once thawed, so you won’t want to use them for slicing or garnishing, but they’re absolutely perfect for zesting and juicing. For more detailed instructions and tips, read my post about How to Freeze Whole Citrus.
6. Bread and Baked Goods
I freeze my bread and baked goods for two reasons: to slow it from molding and to slow me down from eating it so fast! ? When I lived alone, freezing my loaves of sliced bread was a life saver. Instead of having to buy a new loaf every week, I could slowly work on one loaf all month long without it going moldy. Just take a couple slices out at a time, pop them straight into the toaster from the freezer, and you’re good to go. As long as the bread is not too delicate the slices separate quite easily when frozen. If you prefer the bread untoasted, just let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
Dinner rolls, garlic bread, biscuits, muffins, croissants, quick breads (like banana bread or zucchini bread), tortillas, and just about any other bread item you can think of all freeze beautifully. There are no texture or flavor changes, and most thaw very quickly at room temperature. If your items are home baked, make sure to let them cool completely before freezing to prevent condensation and ice crystals.
7. Leftover Vegetables
I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I always seem to have a half bag of carrots and a half bunch of celery in my fridge. Sometimes I chop them into sticks for snacks throughout the week, but the rest of the time I chop and freeze them to use in soup later. Many soups start with a mirepoix, or a mixture of onion, celery, and carrot. So it makes sense to pre-chop and freeze this mixture ahead of time, then you can just dump them into the soup pot later. Since the vegetables will get soft when sautéed anyway, the softening that occurs from freezing and thawing isn’t noticed.
This can also be done with a mixture of bell peppers and onions, which I like to sauté for use in omelets and sometimes pasta dishes. Or you can do a Holy Trinity mix (bell peppers, onion, celery), for use in Cajun style dishes.
Whether store bought or homemade, pesto freezes great! Which is awesome because it’s another one of those ingredients that is pretty expensive and seeing it go to waste is an absolute tragedy. To freeze your pesto, spoon it into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid, then transfer to a freezer bag for longer storage. Or, spoon it into a freezer bag, remove as much air as possible, and spread the pesto flat. Freeze it in a flat layer in the bag, then pieces can be broken off and thawed as needed.
9. Cooked Rice and Grains
Batch cooking your grains, especially those with a longer cook time like whole grains, can save you a lot of time later. Cook up a large portion of rice, bulgur, quinoa, or whatever your favorite grain is, then divide into single serving portions, chill completely in the refrigerator first, then transfer to the freezer for long term storage. The frozen rice or grain thaws quickly in the microwave so you can make a fast bowl meal any night of the week!
The trick to keeping the cooked rice or grain safe is to cool it quickly and immediately after cooking. Dividing it into smaller portions before chilling ensures that it will cool fast and prevent bacterial spores from budding. I typically use quart-sized freezer bags to freeze my rice portions, again removing as much air as possible from each bag.
If you’re a lightweight like me and can’t finish a whole bottle of wine in one sitting, freezing the leftovers for cooking is a really smart trick. That way you’ll always have little portions of wine on hand for pan sauces or deglazing the pot when making stews and meat sauces. Wine creates absolute flavor magic in sauces, so if you’ve got it, don’t waste it! Pour it into an ice cube tray then transfer to a freezer bag once solid. You won’t be sorry!
What About You?
What are your favorite items to stash in the freezer for later? Share them with the group in the comments below so we can all learn from each other. 🙂