Your freezer is going to be a workhorse during the next few months, so the first thing you should do is go through it and see what you already have, and when it expires. Things that are past their ‘Use By: ‘ expiry should be binned; things that are ‘Best Before: ‘ can still be used but may not be at their freshest. Clean your freezer, I know it’s a pain in the arse, but a clean and frost-free freezer saves you money because it works more efficiently.
Your freezer is going to be divided up into three sections: protein (meat/fish/Quorn etc), vegetables, and ‘others’.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, we all need protein, so it needs to be one of your ‘big three’ freezer items. Please only buy things that your family will eat, things that go uneaten are just money wasters. While I would love to say ‘go and buy all your meat fresh and freeze it later, I know that’s just not how the world works. Most of us are on a budget, and that budget is getting tighter by the day; so for right now – and for what’s coming – a rule of ‘biggest, cheapest, best I can afford’ is all you need to work with. If that means own-brand freezer items, then stock that shit up and celebrate having happy, fed people in your life later in the year. In a crisis, ‘fed is fed’ and you can’t eat pretty packaging!
Places like Iceland are fantastic for a freezer stock-up mission; you’ll find a lot of fairly good quality items for good prices. For things like nuggets, breaded chicken, battered fish, Quorn products, frozen sausages etc they will help you fill a freezer for not a huge amount of cash.
That said; some of the freezer meat products can be more expensive when compared to buying them fresh and freezing them yourself. Be aware of the 3 for £10 deals as they’re often not as wonderful as they sound. For example, beef mince is on the 3 for £10 deal, sounds great, but it’s only a 475g pack making it £3.33 for each pack on the deal – by comparison, ALDI’s 10% beef mince 500gm is £2.49 per pack, meaning you could get 4 of them for the price of 3 frozen packs. I find ALDI’s meat to be nice quality and some of the cheapest around; buying it fresh, taking it out of its packet and putting it in a zip loc bag, flattening it out across the whole bag and freezing it flat is a great way to store meat.
Quorn/Mycoprotein products are a great ( and often cheap) way of bulking up recipes, so having some in the freezer can be a lifesaver. I am not a huge fan of the Quorn mince product on its own, but when added to actual beef mince and with a beef stock pot/cube added, it can take 500g of mince and turn it into 1kg of minced stuff to use in bolognese, chilli, savoury mince etc. Quorn is often on a deal in supermarkets so it can be a way of adding some bulk (and goodness) to your meals.
I know that veg is a dirty word to a lot of kids, but it’s something that we generally need to be consuming to stay healthy. Did you know that frozen veg holds as much, if not more, nutritional goodness than its ambient temp cohorts? True story! A lot of frozen veg is sometimes only hours out of the fields when it is frozen. It’s also usually really good value when compared to purchasing the fresh product. What that means for you, is cheaper meals and less wastage. Peas, corn, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and chopped onion are all great freezer staples – mixed veg is great if your kids love it, if they don’t like ALL of it, don’t get it. If getting veg into your kids is hard, then hiding it in soups, bolognese, curry, chilli etc can work well.
Now, potatoes…I know chips are not ideal health-wise, but if it means filling tummies and kids eating some kind of veg, then I say go for it. Bags of cheap roasties can stretch out a cheap frozen roast, a couple of potato waffles (did you know that you can cook them in the toaster? Toaster bag from Poundland, medium setting on a toaster) and a fried egg and tinned beans can be a huge Winter breakfast or a budget-busting dinner. Generally, the own-brand items are just as good as the big brands when it comes to potato products; another generalisation is that the ‘cuter’ or more novel something is, the more it’s costing you – so ‘smiles’, ‘alphabet bites’ and ‘unicorn’ items are best left for less lean times.
This is another time when frozen may not always be better than fresh; if your family is happy with mash or boiled/baked potatoes and you eat them with most dinners, then a large bag of spuds may be a better choice than frozen items. Likewise, cupboard staples like Smash (which no one admits to eating but is in 70% of household cupboards!) can help you out of a jam when it comes to getting dinner on the table. Smash + hot water + milk + butter +salt & pepper = EDIBLE! This is great if you have a teenager who would happily eat 2kg of mash on their own! It also makes decent bubble and squeak the next day too.
So, this is the category where all the stuff that is not a protein or veg fits in. Icecreams, desserts, ice lollies and any items you are storing in the freezer as leftovers or to prevent spoilage will be classed as ‘others’. I know ice cream may seem a bit ‘extra’ to have on your list, but just because things are getting lean, doesn’t mean those treat items should be off the table. As things get harder there will likely be more need for them than ever. So taking some time to pick up some cheap cakes that will freeze well (80p fairy cakes will freeze nicely, as will Madeira cake), ice cream and some of those fabulous 10p bakery items (from raids on the yellow sticker discount section of your supermarket late evening) can be part of your ‘others’ section.
In addition to desserts, things that are in my ‘others’ category also include things like protein powder – I am a diabetic so protein shakes are part of my daily routine. Frozen fruit, diabetic-friendly cakes/bread/treats and powdered milk. Why powdered milk? I mean, ew! I know, but at 6 am on a cold day (always the day before my shopping arrives), I am not getting the car out just to get milk! Is it fabulous – no. Am I always glad I have it when I need it, hell yes!