Preparing double or even triple recipes and freezing portions for later means you don’t have to cook every night to have a delicious and nutritious meal on the table.
Step 1: Choose Freezer-Friendly Foods
Freshness and quality of the food at the time of freezing affect the condition of frozen foods. If foods are frozen at the peak of their quality, they emerge tasting better than foods frozen near the end of their freshness. So freeze items you won’t use in the near future sooner rather than later. It’s important to store all foods at 0° or lower in order to retain vitamin content, color, flavor, and texture.
Some food is better suited to freezing and reheating than others. Casseroles, soups, stews, chili, and meat loaf all stand up to the freezer well.
Step 2: Chill
To keep food safe, cool freshly cooked dishes quickly before freezing. Putting foods that are still warm in the freezer can raise the temperature, causing surrounding frozen items to partially thaw and refreeze, which can alter the taste and texture of some foods. Place food in a shallow, wide container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool. To chill soup or stew even faster, pour it into a metal bowl and set in an ice bath—a larger bowl filled halfway with ice water. Stir occasionally.
For stews, braises, or other semiliquid dishes with some fat content, chill completely, and then skim the fat from the top before freezing. Fat spoils over time in the freezer and shortens a dish’s frozen shelf life.
Step 3: Store
Store foods in small servings, no more than 1 quart, to help them freeze quickly. This also allows you to defrost only what you need.
Use a permanent marker to label each container with the name of the dish, volume or weight if you’ve measured it, and the date you put it in the freezer.
Step 4: Freeze Quickly
The quicker food freezes, the better its quality once thawed. Do not crowd the freezer—arrange containers in a single layer in the freezer to allow enough room for air to circulate around them so food will freeze rapidly. Slowly frozen food forms large ice crystals that may turn the food mushy. Most cooked dishes will keep for two to three months in the freezer. Use a freezer thermometer to ensure that your unit remains at 0° or below.
Step 5: Defrost
Defrost food in the refrigerator or in the microwave. We recommend allowing enough time for the food to defrost in the refrigerator—roughly 5 hours per pound. To avoid the risk of contamination, never defrost food at room temperature.
Freezing is a great make-ahead strategy, but it doesn’t work for all foods. Some things simply don’t freeze well.
- Gravies and sauces thickened with cornstarch or flour will separate during the freezing process. You can freeze an unthickened sauce, and then add thickeners after thawing.
- Fruits and vegetables with a high water content, such as lettuce and watermelon, will become limp and soggy when thawed.
- Cooked potatoes develop a gritty texture when frozen.
- Fully cooked pasta may become mushy once reheated. Slightly undercook pasta before freezing it.
- Some dairy products, such as yogurt, sour cream, milk, and light cream, will separate when frozen.