Must Have for Thrifty Moms: Freezer

When the kids were infants and I despaired of ever providing a meal in a semi-controlled environment, I did quite a bit of research on how to manage mealtime. One recommendation that came up repeatedly was to freeze ahead or follow a program of Once a Month Cooking. On this advice, we purchased a freezer for the basement and I have to say it has been one of our best investments. If you don’t have one already, it’s time to give in to full adulthood and get yourself a freestanding freezer..  

Like our grandmas, I’ve come to depend on the freezer, not just for routine meals but for parties and entertaining. What I didn’t realize when we bought it was how much we would come to rely on frozen pizzas, snacks, and even popsicles as the kids got older. When it was just the two of us, all we needed was a space for frozen dinners and a cooler for drinks. Now that we’re in full throttle family mode, I laugh to think of the days when the freezer was just a repository for Lean Cuisines.

You’ve heard it all before, but I can personally vouch for the benefits a freezer can offer your family:

* Buy in bulk, not just to save money, but to have fewer trips to the store.

* Large cuts of meat are no problem to store. Now you can buy a turkey, ham, or pork loin during the best sales and have a big meal whenever you get ready.  You can take advantage of buy one/get one offers without displacing a month’s worth of frozen dinners.

* Watch for markdowns. One of my usual grocery stores marks down meat on Sundays and I run in just to grab good cuts at half price. Since I’m freezing it right away, it’s no problem that the sell-by date is imminent.

* Enjoy freezing leftovers instead of feeling pressured to consume pounds of meat before it spoils. (This pressure is, after all, the reason people develop an aversion to turkey after Thanksgiving.)  Better yet, when a hostess insists you “take some of this home,” you’ve got a place for it.

* Double your recipes and freeze the second batch for later. This is by far the easiest way to prepare ahead and make your meals easier. You can store a big casserole or containers of soup without disrupting your hidden stash of ice cream bars.

* Birthday parties –  whether you favor individual cups or the big gallons of ice cream, you have the space to hold them, both in preparation before the party or as a surplus afterward.

* Entertaining and family gatherings – you’ll have room for the big boxes of hors d’ oeuvres from warehouse stores as well as a couple of bags of ice. You know those heavenly loaves of bread at Costa’s on Lorna Road in Hoover? Costco sells a similar baguette frozen in boxes of eight (apologies in advance for the easily confused names). With a freezer, you can buy a box and have them ready for a large spaghetti dinner for guests or work your way through a box one at a time – a good fate either way, if you ask me.

A small chest freezer is under $200, but go for a larger model if you can. A mid-size version is adequate for a family of four or five. Freezers can be bought used through estate sales or from empty-nesters and downsizers, but older models may not be as energy efficient. I don’t recommend paying more for a frost-free model since it’s not much trouble to manually defrost a freezer and, besides, you need a good reason to completely clear it out occasionally.

For less than a month’s grocery bill you can have the assurance of being prepared for unexpected guests, impromptu get-togethers and snack attacks. You’ll recoup the cost over your years of saving on bulk purchases and markdowns. If you cook ahead or freeze leftovers, you’ll thank yourself every time you dig into your freezer to produce a no-sweat home cooked dinner.