Make your freezer work for you
Check out our tips and tricks for extending the shelf-life of food and saving on waste. Your freezer offers various shortcuts for preparing meals
What should I stock my freezer with?
Frozen vegetables are often healthier than fresh because they’re processed and frozen just after being picked, so there’s no time for them to degrade in transit from farm to shop. You can also choose packs that combine different types of veg for specific purposes, whether it’s packs of stir-fry veg for noodles, fillings for enchiladas, broccoli and cauliflower for gratins and curries, or carrots, beans and sweetcorn for soups, stews and rice dishes.
Frozen sweetcorn is good value, tastes better than canned and is a family-friendly choice. Because the kernels are frozen separately, you can easily measure out what’s needed as and when you need it.
Use it in chowders and pancakes or stir into cornbread. A bag will keep for months to no ill effect. Corn on the cob cut into sections can also be found frozen – a wise buy during barbecue season or as a snack for kids.
Frozen blueberries, raspberries and cherries allow you to enjoy a taste of summer all year round, and are often considerably cheaper than fresh. You won’t waste any either, racing to eat them before they turn mushy. Their texture is changed by freezing, so they’re best used in recipes where they’ll be cooked or puréed, or you don’t mind them collapsing (stirred into yogurt or porridge, for example). Our frozen fruit crumble can be made with any bag of frozen berries or a few bags of fruit that might be going past their best.
For more berry bursting desserts, check out our frozen berry recipes.
While some find chopping an onion therapeutic, there are those who find it a chore, especially when trying to get dinner on the table in a hurry. This is where handy bags of diced onions come in. You can buy large bags in the freezer section, or buy fresh onions and chop and freeze them yourself when you have a bit of time at the weekend. If you choose to do this, put them in a bag and pat it flat before freezing, so they don’t clump together too much. Then try using them in our easy Moroccan-style chickpea soup.
Fish & shellfish
Whether you want to use fillets, whole fish or make fishcakes, frozen seafood is easy to use. Look out for shellfish, too, like squid, mussels and small prawns. Depending on where you shop, this can be a great budget option. Bags labelled ‘fish pie mix’ will give you a selection that’s good for using in pies, of course, but also curries, like our one-pot coconut fish curry and paella. In all cases, you should be able to check the label to see whether the seafood is from a sustainable source. Smaller pieces of fish and seafood can be cooked from frozen, so you don’t have to think ahead. If you’re cooking larger fillets, you may find liquid is released during cooking, but you can stir that back into a sauce or rice, or drain away.
Try our frozen fish recipes for more freezer-friendly seafood.
This is a wonder ingredient that’s available frozen in small portions, or as loose leaves that can be used to great effect in curries, pastas, stews and soups. For recipes where a little extra liquid won’t hurt, you can add spinach frozen, but for others, defrost the spinach and squeeze all the water out. Once you’ve got the knack of it, this will become as regular a freezer staple as peas. Try it in our spinach madeleine for a side or main dish.
Discover the best frozen spinach recipes, from pies and pasties to pizzas and pilaf.
Freeze sliced bread as soon as you buy it and you’ll never waste a slice. Bread can be toasted from frozen or defrosted as you need it. Pittas, wraps and other bread products can also be frozen and defrosted easily. Bake-from-frozen bread and part-cooked bakery options are also good if you plan to put the oven on anyway. Toast can also form the basis of a satisfying meal, like our smoky chickpeas recipe.
The definitive frozen food, used in everything from soups and Sunday roasts, to fried rice and falafel. Peas are a versatile, low-cost veg, and a true winner. Most of our pea recipes can be cooked with frozen ones, as well as added to cold dishes like our Little Gem & pea salad.
Discover more fantastic frozen pea recipes.
Not just a side dish, chips can be used as a base for toppings and make an excellent substitute for a pastry lid on a pie. Try our fish & chips pie to practice this technique. Or, you can add herbs and spices to them, like our thyme & oregano chips, which make a fabulous side for pork souvlaki or chicken gyros. Loaded fries are a great weekend treat, like our meatball marinara fries.
Breaded chicken or turkey
Breaded poultry like goujons can be a smart buy if you want a meal that is quick to prepare in the evening. Larger pieces, like flattened chicken breast, can serve more than one person in buns (in place of beef burgers), or slice and serve on top of ramen or with rice for katsu curry. Our chicken katsu wrap is also very simple and quick to make, and uses just four ingredients that are ready-prepared and, of course, available to buy from the freezer cabinet.
Discover more breaded chicken recipes like chicken kievs and schnitzel.
Things to freeze yourself
Here’s a checklist of some of our favourite things to freeze in order to save on waste or get ahead.
- Homemade stock
- Grated leftover cheese
- Batches of fried onions
- Batches of tomato sauce (for pizza and pasta)
- Batches of muffins for lunchboxes or breakfast
- Rice, cooked and quickly cooled within an hour of cooking
- Eggs that are nearly at their use-by date, cracked into muffin tins (pop them out when frozen and store in a freezer bag or box) for when you need beaten eggs
- Potatoes, boiled for 5 mins, then continue cooking from defrosted
- Leftover cooked pasta or noodles
Good freezer maintenance
An icy freezer is an inefficient one, so you may need to defrost it when ice builds up. Don’t worry about the food; most things will remain frozen in the fridge for a couple of hours while the freezer defrosts.
Keep it well stocked
A full freezer is more economical to run because less cold air is needed to circulate around the shelves, therefore less power is used.
Label your items
To stop things getting lost in the back of the freezer, label everything – and before buying anything else, check that you don’t already have it in stock.
Points to remember
It’s best to freeze food when it’s fresh – the intention being to keep it at its best. But, you can also save on waste by freezing items that are past their prime
- Be sure to cool cooked foods completely before you freeze them. Freezing food when hot is not energy efficient, as it raises the temperature in the freezer and could cause other foods to start defrosting.
- Only refreeze food if you’re cooking it before putting it back in the freezer. Food-borne bacteria will become inactive when frozen, but will thaw along with the food and become active again. But, if you cook the food in-between (for example, thawing beef mince, using it to make bolognese, then freezing), the bacteria will be killed off in the cooking. That’s provided you haven’t allowed the food to become unsafe by leaving it hanging around too long after defrosting, or defrosting it in a dangerous manner (for example, somewhere very hot). Some bacteria can produce toxins that cannot be killed by heat.
- Remember to label and wrap foods properly or put them in sealed containers; otherwise, your food may get freezer-burn.
What foods to freeze with care
Most individual ingredients can be frozen, however, some foods simply aren't as freezer-friendly.
- Hard boiled eggs go rubbery, so chop them first
- Veg with a higher water content – such as lettuce, cucumber, beansprouts and radishes – go limp and mushy when defrosted, so plan on blending them or use them in dishes where it doesn't matter.
- Soft herbs, like parsley, basil and chives, can be mixed into dishes but won't be good for garnishing.
Get more inspiration for affordable cooking...
Cook Smart is a supportive campaign developed by BBC Good Food to bring together knowledge and ideas on how to help everyone eat well on a budget. Read more about Cook Smart with BBC Good Food.