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Baby, It's Cold Inside: Freezer Tips for Stockpiling Your Food BountyBy Vicki McClure Davidson
When on a budget, your freezer is one of your best friends. Saving leftovers, taking advantage of food sales, or preparing inexpensive meals in advance keep much longer in the freezer. Home gardens in the United States are on the rise. According to a Reuters article in April 2009:
Rising seed sales and one survey point to the rapid growth of food gardening, which Americans spent around $2.5 billion on in 2008 according to the National Gardening Association (NGA). According to a nationwide Harris Interactive survey conducted in January on behalf of the NGA, 43 million U.S. households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs in 2009, a 19 percent gain from 36 million in 2008.
About a third of the respondents who said they planned to pick up the hoe this year cited the recession as one of their motivating factors. The main reasons were for better tasting food and to save money on food bills. Almost half said they wanted to grow food they knew was safe. There have been a number of food scares in the past year or so including a recent salmonella outbreak involving peanuts and peanut butter.
Freezing is the easiest and cheapest way to preserve most foods.
However, in the early stages of frugality, some people go a bit crazy buying too much meat in bulk, making umpteen inexpensive casseroles, chopping vast amounts of onions and bell peppers to use over a period of years, and freezing foods that should never be in the cold regions of a freezer because they turn mushy or grainy when frozen.
Organization is also very important. Keep your thrift-minded, grocery shopping efforts from becoming unmarked "mystery meals" or worse yet, so horribly freezer burned or mushy that they can't be eaten.
Freezer Temperature Is Important
It is important that your freezer be set at 0 degrees F or lower. Storing frozen foods at temperatures higher than 0 degrees F will increase the deterioration rate and will drastically shorten the shelf life of foods. Freezer temperatures should remain constant; fluctuating temperatures will cause the ice particles in the foods to thaw slightly and then refreeze.
Every time this happens, the smaller ice crystals form larger ones. This damages the food's cells, ultimately making the food mushy and discolored. Nothing screams "humungous waste" more than quantities of food purchased to save money on your food budget, only to have to throw it out.
Also, be sure to not overload your freezer with unfrozen food. Putting too much room-temperature food in there slows down the freezing rate, and foods that freeze too slowly may lose quality.
Keep your frozen meals, ingredients, and goodies tasty and appealing by following these freezing tips:
Cool all foods before freezing. Putting hot foods in the freezer will alter the internal temperature, and this will affect all the other frozen foods in there.
Using a Sharpie® pen or other marker, write on the label what it is and the date you froze it. Then, affix it to the container. Be sure to write any special notations, like how many blended frozen eggs you put into the ziplock bag. Doing this now (while you still remember) will be a blessing when you go to use it a few months from now and have no idea how many are there. Labels should be able to stay affixed when they get cold. In a pinch, I once used a few Post-it® notes with transparent tape to label some containers I put into the freezer. Not the best solution, because the paper notes fell off in a short while when the tape became too frozen and brittle to stay sticky.
Wipe the edges of containers or the lip edges of ziplock bags clean before putting in the freezer.
Frozen cooked meat and poultry in sauces will keep for about 6 months.
Sauces and soups will keep in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Freeze leftovers as flat and thin as possible. This will make stacking in the freezer much easier. Bulbous, oddly shaped items, such as sauces poured into freezer ziplock bags, not only are more difficult to keep from falling out like lethal cannon balls when you're rooting around (egads, watch your feet!), but they take MUCH longer to defrost.
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Source: Ed Stoddard: Yahoo! News, Reuters, "Recession, health concerns get Americans gardening," (http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090424/ts_nm/us_usa_gardening_1), April 24, 2009.
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