If you’re like me, your grandparents had at least one chest or deep freezer or a spare fridge/freezer combo in their basement. My grandparents had both – a 30 year old fridge/freezer and a newer chest freezer and they were both stocked ALL the time. I believe it’s a byproduct of growing up in the Depression and not knowing if you’d have food at a later date, but in any case it was good economy to keep these simple appliances on hand.
My grandfather grew two extensive gardens (probably 1/8th acre altogether which was impressive for city living) and my grandmother was a master grocery-shopper and canner. With their powers combined, there was always canning, harvesting, freezing, and meal-smithing going on in their household, and I reaped the benefits: fresh produce all summer and fall, and delicious pickled and canned foods in the winter. Because of this, their freezers were always full of veggies, fruit, and meat – all homegrown or bought when it was on sale. This saved immense amounts of money in the long run because they planned meals on what was handy and on sale, not based on what sounded good at that exact moment.
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To Freeze or Not to Freeze
If you don’t already have a chest freezer, the first step is getting one of course. I can’t speak to the most efficient new models, but what I CAN suggest is looking on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or garage sales and finding one that way. Chest freezers ideally should be incredibly simple – a rectangular, insulated box with a compressor to keep food frozen. That’s it – it doesn’t need dials, buttons or whistles to work. A decent freezer might run between $150-$500 new, but a good used one will cost a fraction of that. I’ve seen them going for $50-100 in some cases, and at those prices it would be a steal. So once you’ve found a freezer, the next thing is to learn how best to utilize it.
Farmer’s Market Finds
Depending on where you are in the country, your local farmer’s market or co-op is probably winding down its offerings, coming into fall crops like squash, corn, apples, etc. It’s at this point that, as peak season for a lot of summer offerings is waning, that you can find drastically reduced produce that is nearing the end of its optimal eating period. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth picking up, though! Pretty much any vegetation, save for maybe lettuce, is freezable without reducing quality or nutrition to any significant degree. Chop up fruit into bite-size pieces and freeze in freezer bags and they should be good for up to 9 months. Berries are great because you don’t need to do anything really, and frozen berries are absolutely perfect for smoothies, straight from your chest freezer. Hit up the farmer’s market and pick up everything you can think you’d eat and cool it down!
You can almost always find great deals on meat and produce at the grocery store. I already love Aldi (and have written about it on several occasions) and one main reason is, as meat gets close to its “sell by” date, they mark it down drastically. It’s not uncommon to see meat, at their already very low prices, marked $1, $2, or even more off the marked price. Taking it home and freezing it immediately (or after some minor prep work) will save a tremendous amount of money in the future. Most meat is still great up to about 6 months.
Fruits and vegetables are the same way – an excessive influx of produce or reduced sales one week might mean deep discounts the next. Get in there and reap the benefit! You can peel and freeze nearly overripe bananas and use them in smoothies or as a base for healthy ice cream.
You can even freeze eggs and butter, if you’re so inclined. Butter freezes very well because of its low water content, and eggs can be cracked into ice cube trays to freeze them for up to 6 months.
Keeping your eye out for cheap meat and produce, as well as some great sales on pasta or other staples can actually aid in another money-and-time-saving technique I love: meal prep!
I have a friend who bought a tremendous amount of green peppers for essentially .25c a pepper, and then ground beef in bulk. Coupled with rice she had on hand and some cheap tomato sauce, she prepped up dozens of stuffed peppers and froze them in her chest freezer. Prepped meals like this keep great for generally at least 3 months, and can be popped out of the freezer on a busy night or for a quick lunch in the microwave. Saving time and money? Absolutely, sign me up!
Hurry Up and Freeze!
With a bit of preparation and some investigation, and a little patience, you can find a cheap deep freezer and put it to good use. Whether you’ve got a bumper crop from your garden, a healthy CSA (community supported agriculture/co-op) or a neighbor who likes to give you all their extra tomatoes and zucchini, you can find use for all of it. Being able to meal prep, store, and save money all at the same time makes a chest freezer a brilliant investment that is cheap to maintain and fix, making it an incredible tool in your money-saving arsenal!