Thursday, October 28, 2010

Challenge #3: Small Spaces-Part 1

I've heard from a few people that they lack extra space for some of their stocking up desires, so I'm going to do some posts on small space solutions that we've tried or that I've learned from others. We'll start with the freezer, either a lack of a second one or a small one with limited extra space.

Until about a month ago we've never had a large freezer for extra food storage, but we had a lot crammed in the one we had!! :) Here's some thoughts.

-Prioritize. When you're thinking about your family's food needs, what is that you like to have on hand the most? Is it meats that you can pull out and make a meal from or is convenience foods that are ready to serve because of your schedule? Is your main goal to save money? or time? or a combination of both?
* To save money: use your freezer to store more expensive items that you find on sale or buy in bulk to avoid needing to buy it regularly, like meats. We've always stored a large amount of meats in our freezer, usually hamburger, chicken, lunch meats, and occasionally roasts or other cuts that we've found on a great sale. We've also frozen milk and bread because they are frequently used items and going to the store less often, helps save money.
*To save time:  buy large portions of the meats and ingredients you'll need for several meals that you've found on sale or for a really great price. Do a bulk cooking day or two and then store your meals in the freezer. If it's a soup or something more "mobile" that can be stored in a freezer bag, do so and lay it flat, it'll save you a lot of space. You could also buy a couple whole chickens and roast them, peel the meat from the bone and store them in freezer bags ready to add to meals in a hurry. It's even helpful to have parts of your meal prepared in the freezer, for example all the onions chopped already or grilling, seasoning and cutting large amounts of chicken breast and having them frozen on hand. (Sidenote: freeze things on cooking sheets first so you can easily take out only the amount you need from the bag).
*Both: all of these suggestions will help with a little bit of both, so if you need a little bit of each, then do smaller amounts of each suggestion and have a balance of both the convenience of having something ready to eat and going to the store less often. Keep in mind that having a freezer full of food isn't always saving you money. If you aren't using the food or if you didn't watch the prices you've paid for things you bought, it's not helping you, so be sure to be mindful of what you put in there!

-Packaging. The way you package your food is going to help save A LOT of space if you do it well. So here are some ideas for common items I've bought and kept frozen in a small space.
*Hamburger: I usually bought 10-20 lbs of hamburger at a time, usually when I found it on a really great sale or simply because usually the larger items are cheaper then the smaller packages. I have a small food scale (they are not expensive) and I'd store my hamburger in 1/2 lb.** freezer bags. Which meant I'd have about 20-40 bags of hamburger to then store in my freezer. So we would lay them flat and smash the hamburger down as flat as we could, so the bags easily stacked on top of each other and saved a huge amount of space. It's also quicker to thaw that way too. Be sure to get all the air out of your bags to avoid freezer burn and to make more space!
**I use 1/2 lb portions in most of our recipes to save money and use less meat. Most meals are fine with less hamburger and it helps stretch the amount you have. If you do have a recipe that calls for more, it's just as easy to thaw two or three bags.
*Chicken: I've always bought the family size or extra large chicken packages. This spring we actually bought 40lbs of chicken to store without an extra freezer! (See it can be done!) I put one to two chicken breasts or thighs in each freezer bag for easy portion control and so I can lay them out as flat as possible in the bags just like I did with the hamburger.
*Lunch meat: Again, I buy the largest bag or get a lot of it when it's on sale and then freeze it in smaller bags, flat again! ;)
*Milk: When you're freezing milk the best thing to remember is that you need to empty some of the container to allow for it to expand. Then when you're thawing it, it has to be fully thawed before using it.  If you have limited space, usually the full gallons are cheaper, but try to round up some 1/2 gallon sized bottles to pour your milk into to freeze. Sometimes I'd get some 1/2 gallons when they were on sale for the freezer.
*Cheese: block cheese isn't good to freeze, but shredded cheese is fine. Want to save even more money? Buying shredded cheese is significantly more expensive then blocked cheese. Buy the largest blocks of cheese and take it home and shred it yourself in a food processor and store it flat, again, in the freezer.
*Bread: I only freeze bagels, english muffins, tortillas and loaf breads. Usually buns don't thaw very well.
-->Anything that can be laid flat should be frozen that way, it's the best way to freeze food!

When it comes to limited freezer space it's all about priorities and packaging! Once you've figured out those two things you'll be able to stock up the best way that will work for your family. Don't let a lack of space keep you from saving money for you family!

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