Whether it’s just your freezer compartment or a chest freezer, this weekend project will do wonders for your sanity (and dinner menus!).

If you have not already, now is the ideal time to get your freezer compartment, chest freezer, or extra upright freezer ready for winter. Winter weather means more inside time and less interest in heading out for groceries, so having a stash of prepared foods and ingredients on hand to thaw is a real boon. I also tend to do the type of long, slow cooking projects that result in great leftovers, and now is the time I do my stock making for a season of soups, so I want to be sure that I have plenty of room to stash those as needed.

Which means it's freezer optimization season! Whether it's an extra upright freezer, chest freezer, or even the freezer compartment of your refrigerator, here are the 5 easy steps to get your freezer prepped for the winter.

Credit: Getty / Qwart

1. Empty and purge.

Luckily, here in Chicago, I don't even need coolers to tackle this project; I can take everything out of the freezer and stash it on the back porch! If your local weather isn't 40 degrees or colder, use coolers to keep everything frozen while you work. Take everything out of the freezer for a close look and discard anything that is freezer burnt or unidentifiable. If something is fine, but needs repackaging, now is the time to put it in a new freezer bag or vacuum sealed bag.

2. Defrost and clean. 

Any ice build-up in your freezer is taking up valuable space and will cause your unit to run less efficiently. Defrost the unit completely if needed according to the directions in your owner's manual. Once defrosted, be sure give all the surfaces a good cleaning so that you are really starting fresh! This is not a glamorous step, but trust me, it's worth it! 

3. Organize.

Organize those newly cleaned out areas by category: meats, prepared meals, stock, ingredients for baking like nuts or flours, fruits and vegetables, etc. As you go, attempt to determine what are the oldest items and be sure to keep them up front. If you have a lot of prepared meals from earlier in the year, make a plan to thaw and make them for dinner soon to help free up some space. Offer to gift any items you think you won't use to a neighbor or friend; a bonus casserole or batch of chili is always welcome for harried moms and busy professionals. 

4. Make a list.

Document everything you have, and if possible, the date it was frozen. This list will help you know what to reach for first when you go to grab something. Try to keep the list up to date as best you can when either adding or removing items from the freezer.

5. Go shopping!

If there are items you know you will want or need this coming winter--that special flour for your sourdough, nuts for baking projects, cuts of meat you know your family loves--now is the time to stock up! Look for post-holiday sales on items like whole turkeys, hams, and large roasts and then break them down into smaller cuts and freeze them. A half-price four-rib prime rib roast you buy January 2 or 3 will give you four large bone-in ribeye steaks at a fraction of the price of buying already cut, and each will serve two people. Spiral-sliced hams can be portioned out, and the bone reserved for soup making. And breaking down a turkey like you would a whole chicken will give you all the parts you need for several meals. 

Stock up and get ready for a cozy winter of easy meals with the help of your freezer!