Editor’s note: Several years ago, my parents gifted me a stand-alone freezer. At the time, I wasn’t sure I wanted it because I was obsessed with fresh-as-possible ingredients and small-batch cooking. Since then, the freezer has become one of the most important appliances in my house. As a working parent, it has become vital in ensuring that my family has homecooked meals, that I have batches of soup for healthy lunches, and that I have a seemingly never-ending supply of frozen green chiles grown—and roasted—in Colorado.

Now, with stay-at-home orders in effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, the freezer has become even more important—and it seemed like a good time to refresh these tips. Happy cooking (or, in this case, defrosting) Denver!

Frozen food doesn’t have to mean blocks of spinach or chicken nuggets. Instead, cooks in-the-know fill their freezer with stocks, farm-fresh produce, and ready-to-eat, healthy meals. Here, tips for making your freezer your grocery store.

  1. Pace yourself: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t overbuy the first time you order from the butcher. (A family can only eat so many grass-fed steaks.) Stock up on basics over time by buying two of something. Plan to roast chicken? Buy an extra bird and tuck it away. Want to grill salmon? Purchase two pounds, cook one, and freeze the other. You get the idea.
  2. Cook for a crowd: I grew up in a large family and have always had trouble downsizing recipes. Now, though, I greedily look at a recipe to see if I can double it (this works well for baked goods, like cookies) or make two (think: lasagna).
  3. Take stock: Create a freezer inventory that lists all the frozen foods in your chest and when they were purchased or prepared. It’s like a menu for your house. Imagine that instead of the go-to processed macaroni-and-cheese meal, you’ll open your freezer and be able to prepare fresh pasta dish with Italian sausage, homemade tomato sauce, and kale.
  4. Warm up: Much like canning, preparing and eating frozen foods can be risky. Make sure to regularly clean too-old food out of your freezer. Thaw items in the refrigerator and not on your countertop, and never re-freeze an item.
  5. Read up: Want to learn more? Putting Food By (by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan) is an essential resource for saving produce. Cook & Freeze (by Dana Jacobi) and Fix, Freeze, Feast (by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik) have incredible tips for what freezes well—and what doesn’t (I’m looking at you cream cheese!).

Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.