I have been asked a few times now “Aren’t you spending more money on groceries a week since you cook so much?” Come on guys, we all generally eat on a regular basis. What I spend on groceries is still far less than I have spent in the past on groceries, fast food and dining-out all rolled together. For the last year I have been finding more ways to stretch my food dollars and now I think I might have an organized version of some of them.
Since moving here to Indiana I cook far more than I did back in California. I just have more time. With cooking more, comes more leftovers, which I used to store in the refrigerator where they generally would spoil and get thrown out. Over the last 6 months I have made a real effort to freeze my leftovers and re-purpose them in new recipes of as snack items. My refrigerator look so bare when considering how it look a year ago due to freezing. I also have started organizing my freezer space.
I am a very lucky girl, not only do I have a small freezer attached to my refrigerator where I keep some of our frozen leftovers for snacks but I also have a free-standing freezer. In the beginning this freezer was intended for all the meat, chicken and fish we buy in bulk from the butcher shop. But since starting to harvest my herb garden and learning how to save fresh fruits & vegetables I have found I truly use it for everything. Here are some of my tips for utilizing your freezer space and some pictures of what mine looks like right this moment.
I have more food in this freezer than I could possibly cook through in a month. Lots and lots of leftovers, fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits, not to mention all of our meats package in just the right size for the two of us. It makes meal planning a breeze and so very cost saving over the year. I can’t wait to get Tupperware Freezerware in the mix, it will help keep everything right in order.
When I met my boyfriend he introduced me to the joy of gardening. I just fell in love with this wonderful hobby. Not only have I learned how to plant beautiful flower beds, but have also learned to grow vegetables and herbs. I am becoming obsessed with herbs. Parsley was my first love, I just can’t seem to get enough of it. By last year I was dabbling with basil, rosemary, sages, oregano, curry and spearmint. This year I plan on venturing into the big garden to plant even more herbs, rows and rows of them. Thanks to a friend I was introduced to a “You Tube” video that showed me how to freeze my herbs, which I did. But still not enough to get me through the cold seasons. My goal is to have enough herbs frozen that they will take me through the late fall, winter and early spring so I won’t have to pay such high prices for them at the market.
We also use our freezer to reduce our grocery costs by purchasing items in bulk. An example is I buy bulk Mexican blended and Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded and mix them together, put them in gallon freezer bags, freeze them, now I have a cheese blend for a whole lot cheaper than it would cost if I bought it already mixed. We also buy 20 pounds of pork chops, ground beef, bacon and sausage and freeze them in half pound and 1 pound packaging. Having multiple packages of chicken thighs, pork roast, beef roast and stew meat in the freezer means I can generally make any meal item I feel like. I have also found that the freezer has come in handy now that my income has vanished. Instead of throwing out the last little bit of spinach, carrots, celery or green peppers I just freeze them before they go bad. When using them in cooked sauces, soups and stews you don’t need them to be crisp, the are going to be softened anyway, what a way to cut down on my waste. Keeping a good rotation helps me stretch my grocery dollars and having a good food supply on hand keeps my gas usage down considering it’s a bit of a drive into town.
When I cook, I generally make more than we two could eat and freeze the rest. I try to portion out in zip lock freezer bags the amount we would need for another meal, or the amount needed to re-purpose the leftover for a new recipe. Then there are items like taquitos, tacos, hamburger patties, soups and stews that can be frozen in smaller portions to be used as snacks. These are healthier and less expensive snack options compared to their processed versions in the freezer section at the market. And then there is the glory of summer. The fruits and vegetables that have a small window of absolute loveliness out here. Unlike California I can’t get good tasting fruits and vegetables all year round…so having them in their frozen state after we have picked them fresh from our garden is the next best thing.