If you buy fresh veggies in bulk, or you have a garden, you want to make sure it all gets frozen before it goes bad. Have no fear! Domestic CEO has 3 tips on how to freeze vegetables.
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As a frugalista, I live by the Couponer’s Credo: Buy when it’s cheap, not when you need it.
Although I’m not one of those crazy coupon ladies you see on TV, I do take pride on my deal-finding skills. Watching for items to go on sale, then using my coupons allows me to save 30-70% on my grocery bills. Once I have my pantry full of free or super cheap food items, I plan my meals around them. It’s all worked really well for me, but I hadn’t really used this technique with fresh foods until recently.
See also: How to Save Money on Groceries?
In my last episode, How to Freeze 40 Pounds of Chicken, I gave 3 easy steps for processing bulk amounts of meat. Just like the tips in that episode, today’s tricks were a hard-learned lesson. In my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona we have an organization that goes to produce distributors and collects the food they cannot place in stores. It may not be quite the right color or shape, or they may think that it is too ripe to last on store shelves. So instead of this perfectly good produce being tossed, people can sign up with the organization, donate $10, and receive up to 60 pounds of fresh fruits and veggies. Score!
I did this for the first time a few months ago and was incredibly excited to see the wonderful, ripe produce that I got for such a steal! I brought home about 25 bell peppers, 20 yellow squash, 2 grocery bags full of tomatoes, 1 grocery bag of green beans, and smaller quantities of poblano peppers, honeydew melons, eggplant, and baby cucumbers. While it was an incredible deal, it was also obvious that much of the produce needed to be eaten or frozen within the next few days or it would go bad. So today I’m going to share with you my tips on how to freeze vegetables so none of the produce you buy ever goes into the trash:
Step 1: Decide When You Want to Eat the Vegetables
As I looked over my massive pile of produce, I realized that some of it would be good to eat that week. I planned my meals for the week with the intent of using as many of the vegetables as I could. By swapping some of the veggies called for in my recipes (for example, yellow squash can easily substitute for zucchini), I was able to use a few of the squash, an eggplant, and a bunch of tomatoes in our favorite Ratatouille recipe. I also found recipes for a yellow squash casserole that was similar to au gratin potatoes, and a yellow squash bread that was very similar to a zucchini bread. Green beans were served alongside grilled chicken breasts, the poblano peppers went on turkey burgers, and the cucumbers became a tasty cucumber salad.
See also: How to Organize Your Kitchen
By putting together a meal plan for which veggies could be used that week, you can then decide what you are going to do with the remainder of the vegetables. There are two main options: freezing or canning. Canning is time intensive, but it will allow you to use the vegetables for a longer time. Freezing takes less time, and keeps the vegetables tasting a little fresher, but they have a shorter shelf life. Because we eat a lot of veggies, and I didn’t want to learn how to can, I chose to freeze everything.
Step 2: Trimming, Chopping, Shredding, and Blanching
Once I decided that I would freeze the rest of the veggies, I had to figure out how I was going to use them in the future so I could decide how to cut each vegetable. The peppers were the easiest place to start. We use chopped peppers at least a few times a week, so all those would be seeded and chopped into ½” pieces so they were ready to go into any dish calling for bell peppers. I also decided I would cut the cherry tomatoes in half rather than freeze them whole. I don’t like when a tomato explodes in my mouth, so cutting them before freezing made sense. The green beans only needed to have the ends trimmed off because I think whole green beans look prettier than cut up ones. And the yellow squash was going to get shredded so I could use it for more squash bread in the future, although it could have been sliced as well.
Determining how you will most likely use the vegetables in meals will allow you to save on meal prep time in the future. If you have your peppers chopped already, that’s one less step you will need to do on a crazy Tuesday night. Investing a little time when you are processing the veggies will save you time and stress down the road.
Some vegetables, like peppers, onions, and small tomatoes, are able to go straight into the freezer without any preparation other than washing. Just be aware that when you use these vegetables in the future, they will still contain a lot of water. Make sure you take a few moments to thaw and drain them before using them to cook or your recipe will end up soupy.
Most fresh vegetables will need to be slightly cooked, or blanched, before they are frozen. This will prevent them from going brown or losing flavor when they are frozen. Blanching may sound like a complicated cooking technique, but it’s just a fancy word for throwing veggies into boiling water for a few minutes, then transferring to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Most green vegetables can be tossed in the boiling water for a couple of minutes until they turn bright green. Others take a little longer. I found a great guide for how long to blanch vegetables for freezing on SimpleOrganizeLiving.com.
Step 3: Package According to Use
Once you have your vegetables chopped, trimmed, shredded, and blanched, it’s time to package them so you can easily use them. Plastic baggies are great for packaging small or large quantities of frozen vegetables, so I recommend having at least one box of each of the sandwich, quart, and gallon size baggies handy.
Again, the peppers were the easiest to decide how to package. Most recipes call for one pepper, so I simply put one chopped pepper into each sandwich size baggie. For any recipes calling for an entire piece of produce like a pepper or onion, you could do the same thing. Once the baggies are all filled, I like to lay them flat on a cookie sheet and allow them to freeze flat. I then put them inside a gallon-size freezer baggie to keep their scent contained in the freezer.
The shredded squash was bagged up according to the yellow squash bread recipe I used. Everyone liked the first batch I made so much that I knew I would be making it again in the future. Each batch calls for 2 cups of shredded yellow squash, so that’s how much I put in each baggie. Anytime you shred vegetables, check your recipes and proportion the shredded goop based on your favorite ways to use the veggie. Just make sure to label how much is in each baggie in case you forget next month.
Finally, for vegetables that will get used in undetermined quantities, it’s a good idea to freeze them first, then package them. Lay a single layer of vegetables on a baking pan and then freeze them for a half hour or so. Then toss them all into a gallon-size plastic baggie. The pieces won’t be stuck together, so when you are ready to cook, you can simply scoop or pour out the amount you need. I did this with the cherry tomatoes as well as the green beans and I loved having as much or as little as I needed ready to go each week.
Yes, processing the vegetables takes a decent amount of time, but it can save you a huge amount of money in the long run. If you have friends who like to save money on groceries too, throw a veggie party to make it a little more fun. If everyone helps with the chopping, cooking, and freezing, you will be done in no time, and everyone can go home with goodies full of fresh, healthy produce. Nutrition Diva would be proud.
Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.