It’s a new year, and now that the chaos of the holidays is over, it’s time to take a closer look at your family dinner routine. (If you said, “What routine?” this article is for you!) Disorganization, conflicting schedules and last-minute work obligations can make sitting down together virtually impossible. But with a bit of preparation, you can reclaim the family dinner hour -- not to mention shave dollars off your weekly grocery bill. For me, this preparation often begins in the freezer.
A well-stocked freezer is my secret trick to getting through a week of homemade meals without making extra trips to the grocery store. It can be my safety net for those nights when I’ve run out of planned meals but don’t have time to get back to the store, or my kids have shown up with hungry guests, or (true confessions) my latest kitchen creation is completely inedible. I also keep extra veggies or side dishes in my freezer to quickly round out or expand what I have already planned on preparing.
We used to have an extra freezer in the basement, but it was used so irregularly, I found I was wasting precious energy dollars, so we unplugged it. With one small freezer, I have to plan carefully what goes into and comes out of it. Therefore, I stock it purposefully and make sure to use the food before it gets too old and needs to be tossed.
I find many people conceal hundreds of dollars of food in their frozen vault. Without a plan to use what’s in there or knowledge of what lurks behind the peas and ice cream, all that valuable food can go to waste! So, make sure and “shop” in your freezer on a weekly basis to save money on your grocery bills. Here are some of the foods that I like to keep stocked in my freezer:
Frozen vegetables for sides and main courses -- our favorites are broccoli, edamame, peas, and corn, but we like to branch out occasionally
Easy and healthy side dishes like Asian dumplings, pierogies, potato or broccoli pancakes (we like Dr. Praeger’s) and even fresh bakery bread
A prepared meal or two. We love Amy’s frozen pizza, Boca Burgers and Gorton’s grilled shrimp entrees (By the way, if you love Gorton's, too, check out the Grilled Recipe Renovation Contest at www.gortons.com through February 23. Your favorite recipe could win you a $5,000 room renovation.)
Frozen lunches for those days we don’t have leftovers to pack for lunch -- we enjoy Trader Joe’s or Kashi single-serving entrees
Frozen fruit for smoothies, such as strawberries, mangos and blueberries
Low fat ice cream, of course! (We favor Edy’s Slow-Churned and Skinny Cow frozen cones)