From cutting down on food waste to chilling wine, here's how to make the most of this versatile kitchen tool.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
September 13, 2020
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Spending more time at home has taught us several things about our kitchen. Making food last and storing it properly—as grocery store trips are not as spontaneous or frequent as they once were—is especially important now. Over the past several months, my freezer has become my as useful as my cupboard, and my ice cube tray has practically become my best friend. My favorite is this two pack from Ozera and it's only $10.99 on Amazon.com.

Pictured Recipe: Minty Ice Cubes

Sure, frozen vegetables, fruits and meats are great to have on hand, but ice cube trays can be used far beyond freezing water to help extend the shelf life of some of your favorite foods. Not only does freezing food help you cut down on food waste, but the ice cube tray helps you perfectly portion for easy, quick meals, drinks and more. Here are six things you should be filling your ice tray with.

Wine

Ever had just a little bit of a bottle of wine leftover, but not quite enough for a whole glass? Throw it in the ice cube tray to use later. Frozen wine ice cubes are great for cooling your wine down to the perfect drinking temperature without diluting it. Beyond cooling down wine, frozen wine can be used in an assortment of fun cocktails like our Classic Sangria and Red Wine Cooler. Plus, this is a great way to make sure no wine is wasted, even if your bottle is on its way out.

Pictured Recipe: Cold-Brew Coffee

Heavy Cream or Milk

Freezing heavy cream or milk into individual ice cubes makes for delicious smoothies or iced coffees down the road. To get you started, we have this guide on how to freeze milk safely and easily so you're never left crying over spilled or spoiled milk again. While you're at it, freeze some coffee too! This will keep your coffee cool without diluting it.

Stock

If you aren't making homemade stock from vegetable scraps, now is a great time to start. Simply save vegetable cuttings in a large resealable bag in the freezer until you have a chance to boil for delicious, nutritious base for soups and more. This gives what would be food waste another purpose and saves you money on store bought stock. I usually make a large batch when I make stock since it takes some time but struggled with how to store it in useful portions without creating a ton of plastic bag waste. That is, until I got a tip from our Test Kitchen Manager, Breana Killeen, about how she freezes her stock in different sized ice cube trays. Get your own Souper Cube set to match hers (from $19.95 on Amazon.com). Freezing stock in an individual ice cube tray can be useful for recipe that require a small amount of stock for deglazing a pan or thinning out a dish like shakshuka.

Herbs

Save the flavors of fresh summer herbs all year long by freezing them in ice. Fresh herbs don't usually last very long, depending on how you store them. As the gardening season is coming to a close and colder days are upon us (at least here in the Northeast), this is a quick and easy way to be sure none of your herbs are going to waste. Not to mention, this saves you money on buying bunches of herbs at the store, which can be especially expensive in the winter months. Toss a cube of frozen basil to your marinara sauce or cilantro to your curry for a flavor and nutrition boost no matter the season.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a great vegan alternative to milk or heavy cream and can be frozen in a similar way. Use frozen coconut milk in coffee and smoothies, and also in savory dishes like our Coconut Curry with Chicken Cutlets and Vegan Butternut Squash Soup. Freezing it saves you from scrambling to find ways to use up the can you opened and only needed half of for the recipe. Say goodbye to food waste and hello to creamy recipes like our 3-Ingredient Piña Colada.

Pictured Recipe: Classic Basil Pesto

Pesto

Basil is one of my all-time favorite herbs, and I relish in all of the fresh caprese and pesto that come with summertime. But the end of summer doesn't need to mean the end of flavorful pasta sauce! As the weather cools and you clean out your raised bed or herb box, make a big batch of pesto and freeze it in an ice cube tray. This allows you to have a perfect portion of sauce for pasta all year long. Plus, you won't waste any of your delicious fresh basil while saving money and cutting out the packaging waste that comes with store bought pesto.

Which Ice Cube Tray to Buy

Ice cube trays come in many shapes, sizes and materials, which can make it hard to choose the perfect one for your freezing needs. Personally, I always opt for silicone ice cube trays. They can be store well, bent to make it easier to free up the frozen cubes and clean easily. This two pack from Ozera has over 1,600 five-star ratings and is even dishwasher safe (Buy it: from $10.99, Amazon.com).

For larger jobs, like freezing stock, be like Breana and use Souper Cubes. They come in 1/2 cup, 1 cup and 2 cup sizes, and can be thrown in the dishwasher when you're done for easy clean up. Get yours now starting at $19.95 from Amazon.com.