Your freezer is more than just a haven for a consume-in-case-of-emergency pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Used properly, it can be a way to put your grocery budget on ice.
March is National Frozen Food Month, which means extra sales and coupons on items in the supermarket freezer case. It’s a good time to stock up on your favorite frozen pizzas, ice cream and other goodies — provided you can clear space.
But that’s just the start of ways to save. Here’s how to pull cold, hard cash from the freezer:
Reduce food waste
Browning and bruised bananas can go in the freezer instead of the trash — defrosted later, they’re great for banana bread, says Pamela Braun of MyMansBelly.com.
Leftover egg whites (say, if you separated eggs for a recipe) can be frozen in ice cube trays for use in future dishes, as can remnants of wine, tomato paste and other odds and ends.
Some salvage can be fancy, too. Braun uses almost-gone mushrooms to make duxelles, a fancy word for a delicious mushroom ingredient that can be added to soups, stews or made into an appetizer,” she says.
She freezes the mix in a muffin pan, and then bags the puck-sized portions. “I drop one, or two, of the pucks into a recipe I’m making and really amp up the flavor with it.”
Salvage garden bounty
When the garden gives you way too many peas or strawberries, put them on a tray and pop them in the freezer; once frozen individually, you can bag the batch together.
For herbs, chop and place in an ice cube tray with a little water for “herb cubes” that can be tossed into soups, sautés and other dishes. If you have way too much of a fruit or veggie, there’s also the option of freezer jam.
(No garden? These strategies work just as well for cheap in-season produce bought at the supermarket or farmers market.)
“Ask your butcher what time of day they typically mark down meat – it’s usually in the early morning or evening,” says Jeannette Pavini, a spokeswoman for Coupons.com.
Even meat that is approaching its sell-by date can be fine if you freeze it immediately, and the discounts can be as much as 60%.
Some supermarket experts also take advantage of big seasonal sales — think free-with-purchase turkeys at Thanksgiving and cheap hams at Easter — to stash a few extras in the freezer for dinners year round.
DIY Baby food
Learning to make your own baby food can cut $50 to $100 off your grocery bill.
Some moms recommend making batches of homemade baby food and freezing them — one pureed banana or sweet potato, after all, makes several meals.
Cut cooking prep
Following a meal plan can save you $500 per year.
Add marinade to meat before freezing so later it can defrost and marinate simultaneously and make bags of pre-chopped veggies and meat that can be pulled out for a stew, soup or sauté.
“Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also freeze well, and having a frozen stack can help with school lunches in a pinch,” says Pavini.
Find frozen bargains
Frozen fruits and vegetables are often frozen while they’re in peak season, making them a better-quality (and cheaper) alternative to out-of-season foods.
At Frugal Foodie’s supermarket, a 16-ounce bag of frozen raspberries is $4; a four-ounce container of fresh ones, $5.
“Fresh” fish in the seafood case was often once frozen, so it can also be cheaper and fresher to find fillets in the freezer.
And of course…
Cook extra casseroles, soups and chili, which freezes well. “Most cooked dishes will last for two to three months in the freezer,” says Pavini.
That gets you a few extra dinners or lunches, portioned out.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.