I'm curious as to how you keep your chest freezer organized. I've been trying to stretch my grocery trips to once every 12-14 days, and I'm happy with it so far, but my freezer is a wreck! I have a running list of its contents so I know what's in there, but with so many oddly-shaped foods in it (bags of bread, jars of broth, bags of veggies, etc), it just ends up being a huge jumble of stuff. Then I get annoyed when I have to dig through everything to find what I need. Any advice?
We have a 7-cubic-foot chest freezer, which I think is a great size for holding lots of food (if well-packed) without becoming overwhelming to organize!
Here are some tips for how I keep my chest freezer organized and under control:
1. I don't have a lot of different, little items floating around. We buy things in bulk, so I usually have 5-10 pounds or more of any given item. Fewer items = easier to keep track.
2. We find and use medium-sized cardboard boxes that fit the width of our freezer. I have a stack of several boxes that fit just perfectly along one side of the freezer. I put smaller things (like individually frozen/sealed fish fillets) in the boxes, and it's fairly quick and easy to unstack them and get to what I want -- even if it's near the bottom. I find that boxes are the most efficient space-wise for the freezer. For "tote-like" boxes, just cut off the top flaps.
3. When stacking foods, alternate types. When I stack several bags of frozen veggies, or several boxes or bags of frozen fish or meats, I try to alternate the types as I'm stacking them. This way, I never have to move 3 bags of green beans to reach the corn! ;)
4. Take foods out of their original packaging and re-package them. See the bag of Pollock in the top right corner of my freezer picture above? It's actually stuffed with 2 bags' worth of fish. Many boxed or bagged freezer items are individually wrapped inside the bag or box, and can be opened and re-stacked or re-packaged to take up a lot less space, and this helps things be less crowded and more organized.
5. Put extras of things on the bottom of the chest freezer. We froze gallons of fresh blackberries last summer, and I keep a bag handy to use from. The other bags are packed in the bottom of the freezer, where they're out of the way.
6. Go through "the little stuff" and use it! I find that "the little stuff" tends to get freezer burn if it's not used within a reasonable time frame. I keep little things like bread crumbs (from homemade bread), dry yeast, chopped nuts, etc. in the door of my small freezer so they don't get lost AND so I can remember to use them!
7. Have a freezer inventory sheet. I made a simple one on a scrap paper with lists of my freezer meals and tallies (in pencil) for the number of each. Why tallies in pencil? It's easy to erase tallies as they're used -- or to add a couple more on later if I've made extras of something! So much nicer than crossing out a number to write a new one. :)
8. Every couple of months (or before any big shopping trip or stock-up), go through the freezer. I pull almost everything out, look over what I have, and stack it back in a reasonable fashion. It probably takes me 10-15 minutes to do this with my chest freezer, and afterward I have a much better idea of what I need to buy, or what I need to focus on incorporating in our menus. :)
9. THINK before you freeze. Some of my freezer untidiness is simply a result of freezing something to avoid having to eat it. Leftovers that we didn't really like? NOT a good candidate for the freezer. Sure, it'll keep the food from spoiling, but we probably won't feel like eating it later, and I'll just end up shuffling it around and around until it's so freezer-burned I throw it away.
The same thing applies to packaging. When I take the time to properly package something for the freezer, it stays fresher and I won't dread the possibility of freezer burn later. I've had food that I thought was probably freezer burned (due to my poor packaging) and I ended up waiting until I was SURE it WAS freezer burned, and then tossed it. How sad! It's much better to plan ahead and/or take the time to package well before freezing. :)
And on a related note -- label everything, even if you're sure you won't forget what it is.
10. Hmmm, I think I am out of freezer tips! ;) Anyone have a good one for my #10?! :)
By the way -- I'm sure that upright freezers are easier to organize than chest freezers, but I love having a chest freezer. Chest freezers are more economical than upright ones in a variety of ways (price, operating cost, usable space) which is why we decided on a chest freezer.
I've also found that packing my chest freezer efficiently (especially the cardboard box tip -- #2 above) has really eliminated most of the frost accumulation. Only the top few inches of my chest freezer has a thin layer of frost -- the rest is completely frost-free -- after a whole year of use without defrosting! :) So -- I guess that's the #10 tip. ;)
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