As a child, I never really used to understand why there was anything other than oven chips and ice cream in the freezer. I mean, what was the point of having rock solid food you couldn't actually eat for hours or had to defrost in the microwave (ugh) if you wanted it quickly? As an adult, however, I rely so heavily on being able to freeze stuff that I'd have to change my spending and eating habits quite drastically without my trusty icebox.
Many parents will know the convenience of freezing batches of meals to devour during the early months of having a baby, but there's a whole world of joy to discover beyond a bit of frozen spag bol. In fact, having an organised approach to freezing food will save you money, give you an excuse to buy fresher produce and allow you stop chucking out the squidgy bananas in your fruit bowl.
Here are just five of the many good reasons to get your freeze on.
1. Buy local
Obviously, much of the fruit and veg we buy in supermarkets is shipped in from all over the world so that we can have it far out of season here in the UK. Rather than taking on all those air miles for some green beans, why not buy fresh produce - in season, in bulk - from a local greengrocer or market stall and put it in your freezer? You'll be supporting local farmers and independent traders, you'll know it's sustainably sourced, and it'll just taste better. You'll also preserve all the vitamins and nutrients when you freeze fresh. Winner.
2. Preserve your cooking fruit
My kids seem to go through distinct phases with fruit; one month they can't get enough of bananas, for instance, then they won't touch them for love nor money. With summer berries and exotic fruit, the window for eating between perfect ripeness and mould is so small that missing a couple of days of tucking in will mean half a punnet of raspberries end up too far gone for baking. I've inherited my mother's hatred of throwing away food, so I was making so many breads, muffins and pancakes with my overripe bananas that even I got bored of eating them. Then eureka, I realised that I could just freeze bananas and dictate when I wanted to bake with them instead. Bananas are the only fruits you should freeze overripe - when it comes to summer berries and exotic fruit, just buy a larger than usual quantity in season and freeze in batches while they're still at their best.
3. Compotes, purées and coulis at the ready
Despite letting our kids have a little cake now and then, we always strictly police the amount of hidden sugars they eat. Kiddie yoghurts were a prime offender for adding sugar, something I was shocked to discover after inspecting the ingredients label on some fairly pricey organic fromage frais I'd been buying. Now, I make batches of chunky compotes - so only naturally occurring sugars - to mix with natural yoghurt instead. I get whatever surplus of berries I have in the fridge or freezer, crush them lightly in a saucepan with a little water and some chopped apple, and simmer for 10-15 mins until they're broken down and squidgy. Once the compote has cooled, freeze it in ice cube trays for single servings you can defrost one at a time. For purée, simply blend the mixture once cooked, and for coulis, just add more water plus a little brown sugar/agave syrup to taste during the cooking process before blending - goes down a treat on ice cream.
4, Eat better bread
When staying with my second family in Paris, the older kids used to get dispatched to the local boulangerie for fresh baguettes to go with dinner. If you've ever had a proper artisanal baguette, you know that the same crunchy-shelled, pillowy-doughed stick of buttery deliciousness you had at dinner is hard enough to use as a cudgel the following morning. It's much the same story with nice fresh bread anywhere, but your freezer is here to help. You can buy a fresh, preservative-free handmade loaf you have no hope of finishing that day, slice it up on the day of purchase and stick it in a sealed bag in your freezer. You can defrost a few slices as you need them, or simply toast it straight from the freezer.
5. Save money, eat leftovers
Both my husband and I are useless at portion sizes when we invite people to eat with us - both our (Nigerian and Jamaican) cultures have left us with a lifelong over-catering problem wherein the norm is to make twice as much food as any of our guests can eat, for fear of seeming ungenerous. I am also something of a feeder, so I tend to ply our guests with takeaway boxes, but if you're a bit less of a food pusher, you can simply seal up pre-portioned leftovers for your freezer. Make sure your food is completely cold before you seal the container to avoid condensation forming, then label it clearly with the date of freezing so you can defrost and use it while it's still good.
My top book for freezer tips is my mate Ghillie James' excellent Fresh from the Freezer (literally my freezing bible). Another one that's extremely helpful for parents and carers is Jenny Carenco's Bébê Gourmet, a fabulous book for any foodies who want to raise adventurous eaters, which also includes handy tips on freezing bits and pieces for kids.