The humble freezer. The kitchen appliance almost all people have yet the one that usually goes unloved. Sure, it’s not the trendiest, sexiest, most impressive appliance in your kitchen, but I think it’s the savviest!

If you crack open any food magazine or read foodie blogs you likely hear about fancy new gadgets all the time. But like many other things in life, sometimes simpler is better and the more minimal we can be, the less stress and anxiety we feel.

That’s why I’ve totally fallen in love with my freezer. It’s taken my meal prep to a new level and is my dependable kitchen sidekick. Here are five ways to use your freezer to its fullest potential.

1. Start with a clean freezer.

OK, this isn’t super fun. But it sure beats having goop and unidentifiable food particles getting stuck to all of your lovingly frozen food. Plus, a dirty freezer can harbor pathogens that can become harmful once your food is thawed. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria, it just inactivates them (‘night, ‘night, bacteria).

Begin by shutting off your freezer if you can, then take everything out, place it in a cooler and clean your freezer from top to bottom. I like to sweep out all the debris first (where does it all COME from) then get scrubbing with warm, soapy water (using an eco-friendly dish soap or just vinegar or homemade cleaner). Remember to get all the crevices, drawers and seals. Wipe it dry with a clean, dry cloth and return everything to its clean and organized home.

2. Go back to basics.

There is nothing glamorous about the contents of my freezer. Here’s my secret to whipping up well-rounded weeknight dinners: frozen basics. With a combination of fresh, frozen and pantry foods on hand, you can throw together a meal in no time!

Whenever I’m cooking on the weekends, I usually put on a pot of quinoa or brown rice. I portion it out and then freeze it so I always have cooked whole grains on hand. I also freeze cooked legumes, such as beans and lentils, burgers, lentil loaves and snack bars made out of dried fruit and nuts.

This method also prevents me from feeling like I need to purchase another appliance, such as a pressure cooker, to quickly cook grains and legumes. If I let them cook the old-fashioned way while I’m busy doing other things and then freeze them, I’m not losing any time and I’m not cluttering my kitchen with more stuff.

3. Don’t toss it, freeze it!

Aside from batch cooking and freezing basic meal components, I also freeze extra homemade sauces, soups, fruits and veggies I have from the week, as well other foods, such as shredded vegan cheese, that I know I won’t use up before they go bad.

Did you only use half that can of tomato paste? Instead of throwing it away or letting it get moldy in the fridge, freeze it! I do this ALL the time with pasta and pizza sauce.

I’ve also been known to make a fresh sage-infused buttery spread, strain out the herb chunks and then freeze the butter for later use. Comes in handy when I don’t have any fresh herbs!

And obviously we have to talk about bananas. If you’ve been to my home you can’t miss the giant collection of bananas ripening in my kitchen. By letting bananas get very ripe at room temperature (hello, sweetness!) and then freezing them, you have the key ingredient to cold, creamy smoothies on hand at all times! Not to mention banana ice cream, mwahaha.

4. Portion before you freeze.

By pre-portioning your food into single or double servings (depending on if you’re creating a meal for just yourself, your partner and you or more), it makes it substantially easier to create a healthful dinner on a whim. It’s safer to freeze smaller quantities as they freeze quicker (this also helps maintain quality) and they are also easier to defrost (do this in the refrigerator or heat thoroughly right away—never defrost at room temperature).

Try using small or divided food storage containers, or individually wrap items in parchment or foil. One trick the Internet recently taught me to remove excess air from food storage bags is to stick a straw in it, zip it as tightly as you can, suck out the air, then quickly remove the straw and close the bag. TADA!

5. First in, first out.

FIFO is a good rule of thumb to prevent freezer burn and build-up of old food in your freezer. The point of freezing is to use food, not waste it. Be sure to date and rotate your frozen food to keep everything moving.

What are your freezer hacks? Share in the comments!

More information:

FDA: Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart
The Kitchn: How to Clean the Freezer
NDSU Extension: Food Freezing Guide
TreeHugger: How to Freeze Food Without Plastic
USDA: Freezing and Food Safety

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