While we avoid public places, one way to reduce your trips to the grocery store is to invest in a freezer.
Not only can a freezer reduce trips to the store, but it can also help you save on groceries, save you time, and it is an investment that usually gets you your return within one year or less.
Food will last a lot longer in a freezer than in a fridge. How many times have you seen a good deal on items at the store, but you think there is not enough room in your fridge or that you would never eat all of it up in time?
Freezers allow you to buy in bulk without fear that food will go bad. It’s also a great way to preserve fresh vegetables, fish, and fruit. Since many crops are seasonal, you can store produce and have it available on your table year-round. You will also save money since the price of these same items in the supermarkets, when they are out of season, are usually higher.
The best method to freeze vegetables is to blanch them. That means submerging them briefly in boiling water and then drying them off. Pack them tightly into airtight bags. Most items should last up to 18 months in your freezer. When it comes to fruit, you can either freeze them whole or in their syrup. Most fruit will last up to a year in a freezer. If you love the taste of fresh tomato sauce on your pasta, you can store tomato sauce in the freezer too.
Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce your grocery bill. Generally, the more you buy, the less the cost is per item. Unfortunately, if you are a single person or a small family, buying in bulk can mean you end up throwing out unused items because you cannot use them up before they go bad. There are many products that you can purchase in bulk that will save you money. Meat, which is one of the most expensive items in your cart, is lower in cost when purchased in bulk. Meats will keep for about a month or more in the freezer. Larger cuts, including roasts, whole chickens, and turkeys or steaks, can keep up to a year.
Other pricey items are nuts. If left on the shelf, they usually last for a few months. In the freezer, they can last for up to two years. Grains and whole-grain flour will last roughly double their shelf life in the freezer, and they will be protected from mealworms.
I am a fan of freezing bread. If you are like me, there are so many varieties that I love. There is no way I would be able to have my choice without a freezer. A freezer allows me to keep all types of bread handy, and I defrost whichever one I crave.
Soft and hard cheeses will keep up to six months. If you purchase your coffee in bulk, another higher-priced item, it is best to store it in airtight packages that are portion-sized.
Since many folks here in Mexico don’t own cars, having a freezer can save you money on a cab, Uber, or bus trip to the store.
With a freezer, you are more likely to stay home to eat than head out to a restaurant. If you are not sure what to make for dinner or you do not have the right ingredients on hand, it is easier to head to a restaurant. Although we should treat ourselves to eating out, it can get expensive if done too often. According to research, home-cooked meals average around MXN 100 per meal. Restaurant meals can cost anywhere from MXN 140 for fast food to MXN 1000 for fine dining. Some options for heat and eat meals are chili and lasagna. When you substitute a freezer meal for a restaurant meal once a week, you could save more than MXN 15,000 in one year.
When looking at purchasing a freezer, there are three things to consider. space, energy, and cost.
If you are like me, when you think of a freezer, you think of a sizable fridge-sized container tipped on its side, which was en vogue way back when. These traditional 15-cubit foot chest freezers measured roughly four feet wide by three feet tall by three feet deep. I recall the huge one my grandmother had in her house in rural Manitoba, where she stored everything they grew and raised on the farm. Today’s freezer options include compact options that fit in condos and apartments. So do not rule out a freezer thinking you can only get them in that large size.
To ensure you have enough space, in addition to the footprint of the freezer, make sure to allow a few inches around it for air circulation and room for the door to swing. All freezers require access to an electrical outlet, so make sure there is one nearby. Don’t forget to confirm there’s enough room to get the freezer up the stairs and through any doors. You would be amazed by how many people purchase and then have to return items because they cannot get them into their homes.
Freezers are available as mini freezers, chest size, or upright. Mini freezers range from just over one cubic foot to five cubic feet, which are smaller than the size of most refrigerators. They will give you some additional room if you have limited space and do not have large amounts to store. Chest size freezers take up more floor space. Many upright freezers have the same or slightly more capacity than chest freezers but take up less floor space in a room. You could even squeeze one into a closet!
The other option is to go with a smaller freezer. Do not let the concept of smaller fool you. A five-cubic foot chest freezer that is 30 inches wide and 21 inches deep can hold 175 pounds of food.
Generally, chest freezers tend to be more energy-efficient than upright freezers. When it comes to energy consumption, look for a freezer with the Energy Star label. An Energy Star label means it is guaranteed to be at least 10% more efficient than the minimum federal standard. The best way to reduce energy use is to buy the right size freezer. There is no point in having a freezer half full and paying the energy bill for unused space. To help you calculate the best size freezer for your needs, a single cubic foot of freezer space holds about 35 pounds of food. Another way to calculate is to allow about three cubic feet for each person in your home.
You can find mini freezers on the market for about MXN 4,000 or less. Chest freezers range from 4,000 MXN to MXN 20,000, depending on size. Upright freezers run between MXN 6,000 and MXN 30,000, also depending primarily on size. A couple of other tidbits to consider are that not only are chest freezers less likely to cause freezer burn, and they also tend to stay more consistently cold than upright freezers. I prefer the convenience of an upright freezer because I find it more convenient to open the door like a fridge rather than lean into the chest freezer.
One of the biggest decision makers for me centered around defrosting. Upright freezers don’t require defrosting. Chest freezers need to be defrosted manually about twice a year. Granted uprights are less efficient and louder, but the benefit of not having to do a manual defrost was a big plus on my list.
Some freezers come with additional options such as safety locks, shelves, quick-freeze cycles and soft-freeze sections. Since we tend to have power surges and outages in the summer months, it’s also a good idea to look for freezers that can keep food frozen for at least 24 hours if there is a blackout.
Sheryl Novak is an expat from Canada who owns SOLutions Mexico, a furniture store in Bucerías.