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This mom's freezer hacks will help make your food last

Make your freezer your stay-at-home best friend.

April 3, 2020, 4:09 AM

Whether you are lucky enough to have a stocked fridge and pantry during the coronavirus pandemic or have a dwindling food supply that you want to make last, your freezer can become your best friend.

"The freezer is my secret weapon because it’s one of the few ways to elongate the length of food," Kate Strickler, the founder of Naptime Kitchen, told "Good Morning America." "It helps me save money, it helps not waste food and it helps me able to make food when I do have time in order to bless myself when I don’t have time."

Strickler, a mom of three kids ages four and under, even wrote an online guide about perfecting the art of utilizing the freezer, "The Naptime Kitchen Guide to Freezing."

Here are nine easy-to-follow freezer tips from Strickler to help you make the food you have last.

PHOTO: Kate Strickler, of Charleston, South Carolina, shares tips to use a freezer to make food last.
Kate Strickler, of Charleston, S.C., shares tips to use a freezer to make food last.

1. Defrost the freezer, if possible

Knowing your freezer is going to be in full use, take time now while you're at home to pull everything out and defrost the freezer, if possible.

"If your freezer has a stockpile of frost, it’s not only taking up space, it’s affecting your food," said Strickler. "Allowing your fridge to defrost and wiping it out could really help it run more efficiently."

Have a cooler of ice or some other alternative on hand to store any food that was in your freezer because a full defrost could take up to a day, according to Strickler.

To wipe down and clean the freezer, Strickler recommends a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar. Once you spray the freezer, let it sit for five to 10 minutes and then wipe it down with a damp cloth.

2. Keep a list of what’s in your freezer

As you put items back in your freezer, use that time to make a list of all the food you are storing there.

Strickler keeps her freezer list, along with a weekly meal plan and a calendar, on the side of the refrigerator so she can easily see what she has on hand.

"I write out the name of the meal, the size and the date it was created," she said. "And I'm specific. For chicken, for example, I write how many packs of chicken are in there."

3. Pack your frozen foods correctly

More protection is better because you are trying to protect your food from the elements, according to Strickler.

She recommends doing a double layer of wrapping on most items.

"If it’s a casserole, do a layer of press-and-seal and then a layer of foil, just to protect the food from the harsh frost of the freezer," she said. "I put chicken packs right in the freezer but if you want to protect it more you could wrap it in a layer of butcher paper."

"I also always write with on the extra layer 'remove plastic wrap' with a star so I remember to take the plastic wrap off before it goes in the oven," Strickler added.

Another tip is to freeze things in plastic and tinfoil rather than glassware because glass can shatter if you try to cook it in the oven or defrost it too quickly.

4. Freeze in portion sizes

Rather than freezing a giant amount of something, Strickler says to freeze it in smaller portions so you can easily grab and go.

Freeze spaghetti sauce, for example, in a quart-size bag because one quart of sauce is good for one box of pasta.

"I buy a big jar of pesto and I will freeze it into baby food jars and then it’s the perfect amount for a quick pasta or on a pizza," she said, noting that buying in bulk can be cost-effective and then you can break the food down in the freezer to make it last.

Strickler has a popular daily green smoothie recipe and the way she stores it is another example of storing in portions. Instead of storing big bags of spinach and celery, Strickler combines all the ingredients she needs for the smoothie in quart-size freezer Ziploc bags and stores those in her freezer so she can grab a bag, put its items in the blender and have her smoothie ready.

5. Remember you can freeze pretty much anything except

"Dairy products in general -- eggs, mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese -- are not great to freeze," said Strickler. "It won’t hurt you to eat them after freezing, but it’s just the consistency tends to change."

6. Don't be afraid to freeze fruits and vegetables

If you have carrots that are on their last legs or spinach that is wilting, cut it up and throw it in the freezer, recommends Strickler. You can pull it out later to add to soups, smoothies, casseroles and more.

"If I’m freezing carrots or celery, I’m going ahead and peeling and dicing it for a soup or to go into some form of casserole," said Strickler. "If I have a zucchini, I’d wash it and cut it for putting it in a smoothie.

PHOTO: Kate Strickler, of Charleston, South Carolina, shares tips to use a freezer to make food last.
Kate Strickler, of Charleston, S.C., shares tips to use a freezer to make food last.

If you have room in your freezer, Strickler recommends slicing vegetables like carrots and celery or fruits like bananas first, placing them on a cookie sheet and putting them in the freezer. Once they're frozen, then put them in individual storage containers or bags, which helps prevent them from freezing together in clumps.

Strickler freezes greens like spinach and kale directly in the bags they come in, which is a time saver.

Also, don't be afraid to have frozen vegetables like peas and mixed veggies on hand in your freezer. They make great and easy side dishes and are usually the freshest, according to Strickler.

"I think frozen vegetables get a really bad rap," she said. "But they are usually frozen at their peak freshness so they’re really good."

And, if you need inspiration for what can be frozen, go online and look at the freezer sections of grocery stores' websites.

"If they’re selling frozen onions and peppers, I can definitely freeze onions and peppers myself," said Strickler.

7. Follow the rules of defrosting food

"Issues don’t come in the freezing part of food, it comes in the dethawing part," said Strickler. "You want to defrost it, you don’t want it to be lukewarm."

Here is what she recommends for safely bringing food out of the freezer for use.

If there is time, always defrost food in the refrigerator because then it’s never going to get to that dangerous temperature where bacteria could grow.

You can also defrost things in water under the sink, using room temperature water, not warm water.

If you're defrosting a casserole, put it out on the counter and let it sit all day, without letting it get lukewarm. If you notice it isn’t cold anymore, stick it in the fridge to get cool again.

Generally, if a casserole is taken out of the freezer in the morning, it should be ready to cook by late afternoon.

If you're in a time crunch with meat, put it in a bowl of cold water to help it defrost faster.

Do not refreeze meat that you have already defrosted.

Don't beat yourself up if you forget to allow enough time for something to defrost completely.

"I have young kids so the flexibility of waiting an hour-and-a-half for it to thaw is not there," said Strickler. "If it’s frozen solid, we’ll have peanut butter and jelly for dinner."

8. Know how long foods last in the freezer

Foods that have been stuck in the dark corners of a freezer are not dangerous to eat, but they just may not taste the same or as good, according to Strickler.

Foods may start to get affected by freezer burn after about six months, or earlier if not wrapped correctly to withstand the freezer elements, explained Strickler.

When it comes to meat, if the meat is kind of graying, Strickler says that's probably freezer burn. She recommends people look online for guidelines for specific foods if they are concerned. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has an online guide here.)

"If you pull something out of the freezer, it’s going to have a little frost on it," she said. "I would say to trust your gut. If it doesn’t seem right, don't eat it."

9. Use the 6-month rule to clean out your freezer

"If you have something that’s been in there for six months and no one has eaten it, it’s probably because nobody wants it," said Strickler. "So it’s okay to just get rid of it."

10. Have fun

Strickler is using the phrase "nothing but time" to guide her days and weeks ahead while she's staying at home with her family.

"Nothing but time with my children and doing things with them or just practicing in the kitchen and trying things out," she said, while also encouraging people to have fun and keep perspective with the amount of homemade meals they may now be making.

"It really is just food," she said. "If you mess it up, it’s one meal. My family has had some meals that were downright awful and it’s totally fine. We all lived."

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