A Beginner’s Guide to Freezing Meals and the Basics of Food Storage

thebittenword

Photo by thebittenworld.com

Three years ago, my in-laws bought us a freezer for Christmas. It is one of the best gifts we’ve ever received. My parents were feeling slighted, so they bought us a knife set this past year. Those are also wonderful, but I’m here to talk about the freezer.

Our freezer is a magical place, filled with ribs, ice cream bars, make-ahead meals, fish, beef, pesto and vegetables. We often start our menu planning by first going through and seeing what the contents of the freezer are. It’s a great way to rotate through what we’ve purchased ahead and the food we’ve made ahead for days where we wouldn’t otherwise have time to prepare a meal, warding away those unexpected expenses that can creep up from a trip to Chipotle here and a quick drive-thru drive-by there.


Making the Most of Your Freezer:

1. Make-Ahead Meals These are great for nights when you have to work late, have a baseball practice or a soccer game to get to or when you have nothing in the fridge.

2. Your Garden All those herbs you planted? The bounty of tomatoes? The zucchinis. How many zucchinis can you eat in a week, anyway? The freezer is a wonderful place to store them until it’s time to use them. It will keep them fresh and make sure you get the most out of all your hard gardening work.

3. Sale Meat Properly stored meats can be stored for up to a year successfully. This makes stocking up on discounted and sale prices a no-brainer. Save money and have a freezer full of steak and fish to grab in case of an emergency or an impromptu get-together in the backyard around the grill.

epsosde

Photo by epSos.de


If you’re questioning how long foods can keep in the freezer, Still Tasty provides a very comprehensive list and guide to how long properly packaged food will keep in the depths of your freezer, along with storing tips. Here are some general guidelines for you. These can have several factors, so check out the site for more information and further details on specific ingredients.

Fresh fruits and vegetables: 1 year
Fresh meat: 1 year
Uncooked casseroles: 2-3 months
Cooked casseroles: 2-3 months



sporkistPhoto by sporkist

A few helpful hints when packaging food to be frozen:


*When using zip-top bags, squeeze (or suck out with a straw) as much air as possible from the bag. This will cut down on the number of ice crystals forming on the food.

*Wrap fresh meats tightly in saran wrap and freezer bags or saran wrap and aluminum foil.

*Thaw foods in the fridge whenever possible to allow moisture to reabsorb back into the meat or vegetable. Be sure to place frozen items on plates or in leak-proof containers to prevent a thawing mess. The process will usually take 12 to 24 hours depending on what you’re defrosting, but it will guard against any possible bacteria growth as the food thaws.

*When you’re time constrained, thaw frozen foods by placing them under slow running water in a bowl in the sink. The moving water will help thaw them faster. Make sure your foods are in airtight zip-top bags to allow for maximum contact of the cold water and the frozen product. It can take anywhere from a few minutes for shrimp or fruits and vegetables to thaw to an hour or more for steaks or a large piece of meat.

*Freeze leftovers in single servings to grab as a quick lunch as you walk out the door on your way to work. This is a much better alternative than spending $5 and up on fast food, and it’s healthier for you too.

*Make extra grilled chicken or taco meat and freeze enough for another meal. The hard part of having fresh meat and the time to cook it is already done. Once you have that out of the way, the possibilities for dinner increase.



Do you have a favorite meal to freeze for later or a tip on successfully freezing food? See what other people are freezing by heading over to Organizing Your Way today. One of my favorite frozen meals happen to be Blueberry Pecan Pancakes. They heat up in under a minute in the microwave and they taste so much better than the frozen variety you can buy in the store. They also happen to be a breakfast food. Really, it’s the most important meal of the day, even when you eat it for dinner.

Comments

  1. I am a SAHM of one who is still struggling with meal planning. Basically I stink at it! My first question about freezing would be what is the best container to use? For example in the pic you have up here, are those the ziplock containers? and then let’s say I’ve made lots of taco meat, what is the deal with when to throw it in the freezer? Do I let it cool completely? do I wait until it is room temp? I mean, I wouldn’t think it would be a good idea to put hot food in to the freezer, but with meat, surely you don’t want to let it get to room temp do you?

    april’s last blog post..Driving Me Nuts–this might be the longest one yet!

  2. April, your questions are great! You are right about putting hot food in the freezer. Placing it in the freezer first would drop the temperature of your freezer. The best way to avoid that would be to place warm food first in the fridge and then in the freezer after it has cooled down. You can also fill your sink with cold water and let the packaged food float while it cools down.

    As far as containers go, you’re looking for something that leaves as little air space as possible. I will freeze Pyrex dishes with their lids, but I may sure to choose a size that fills the pan. If you don’t fill the pan, a layer of saran wrap on the top will decrease the air contact and, therefore, the ice crystals that form on the food. If I’m freezing individual items, I’ll wrap in saran wrap and store in Ziploc bags, squeezing as much air as possible out of the bag before sealing. The saran wrap is optional depending on what the item is, obviously. I would probably store taco meat in a Ziploc or in a container (like those in the picture) where the meat came as close to the top of the container as possible.

    Good luck with the meal planning!

  3. Thank you!!!!!

    april’s last blog post..This about sums it up.

  4. Thanks for the great tips. I really need to start freezing meals. It would make life so much easier!

    Marci@OvercomingBusy’s last blog post..Why do we try to do it on our own?

  5. My first baby is due in August and I would like to start stocking my freezer with ready-made meals for after her arrival. There are 8 weeks until my due date – is it too early to freeze stuff now? I would like to make several shepherd’s pies and lasagna, put them in foil dishes and put foil over top of them – is this a safe way to store them? How long can they stay in the freezer?

  6. Great post. I’m a huge fan of stuffing the freezer. lol Nothing beats grabbing a home cooked meal straight from the freezer and calling it dinner in just a matter of minutes.
    .-= TheRoosterChick´s last blog ..Save Time In The Kitchen & Get Dinner On The Table In A Hurry! – Part 3 of 7 =-.

  7. Need to subscribe to this blog, great post. Found it on yahoo.

  8. thats a nice blog post thx

  9. Glad i discovered this site.Added “A Beginner’s Guide to Freezing Meals and the Basics of Food Storage | Food for My Family” to my bookmark!

  10. This is SUPER helpful information, thank you! Can anyone give advice on lasagna freezing? To cook or not cook? TO cut up into serving sizes, then freeze OR leave it whole in the pan? Any help is greatly appreciated!!!

  11. Thanks for all the info on freezing meals!! Can you turn any kind of recipe into a freezer meal?

  12. You mentioned freezing tomatoes. We usually get a lot of them and do freeze them, but it’s a lot of work to blanche and cut them up. Is it possible to freeze tomatoes without processing them?

    • Lisa Atwell says:

      I have done this in the past. Wash the tomatoes that you have get the dirt and other organic material off. Boil a large pan of water,get to a rolling boil and place tomatoes in this water you can take it off the heat of the burner now. Don’t let the water get cold, if it cools down turn heat back up. Put the lid on and let them sit about 4-5 of minutes. Make sure you have a large bowl ready and use a large cooking spoon to remove them. Careful it is still very hot. The skin of the tomatoes should just fall off when they are handled, if you have to really work at it they need to go back into the hot water. Place each skinless tomato in a plastic storage bag. You can squeeze them to crush them, and when the bag is full it is ready to cool and go to the freezer. I would however suggest using small bags. You don’t want a huge bag of crushed tomatoes there is no way to portion this once frozen. If you use smaller bags this would be more like a can of crushed tomatoes. If your doing a lot you might consider doing this is batches.

  13. Hi Shaina,

    Great article.

    I am wondering about how long a rice, meat and vegetable dish would take to thaw.

    If I was to take it out of the freezer at 7 AM approximatley, would it be ready to eat by 12 Noon?

    Thanks
    JM

  14. what are some ideas of foods (dinners) that are ideal to freeze? i do veggie soup and baked ziti. what else could i do? thanks :)

  15. What is the ideal temp for my freezer? I try to freeze and then I think it’s gone bad if there are ice crystals on it and end up tossing it. What do I look for when removing to know if it’s safe to eat?

Trackbacks

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