There is nothing better than enjoying a perfectly chilled gazpacho on a sizzling summer day, or a ready-to-eat homemade burrito loaded with your favorite veggies when you’ve got little time to make a healthy, filling lunch. Of course, you can eat leftovers for every meal until the food is gone, but you could also freeze it and eat it later.
Freezing is not only a great idea for leftovers, but for serious food preppers as well. Lots of foods can be made in bulk batches ahead of time and stored in the freezer, providing your family with easy, affordable, and already prepared meals whose life can be significantly extended beyond the refrigerator.
It is not uncommon for people to be confused about how to store leftovers and make-ahead meals in the freezer properly. Everyone seems to have their individual techniques for freezer storage, but not all methods work well to keep food edible after it has been defrosted.
The good news is that there are FDA-recommended methods for freezer food storage from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and of course, years of professional chef success (and so much failure!) exploring different freezing methods from yours truly that will help you master the art of freezing meals.
Ready to freeze? Let’s go!
To Freeze or Not to Freeze, that is the Question
Not all foods are suitable for freezing, but thankfully the ones which should not be frozen for future use are minimal.
- Fruits and vegetables with high water content like watermelon, cucumbers, uncooked or unprocessed tomatoes, lettuce, and oranges. Grapes should not be frozen if you plan to defrost them, but when frozen they make a great snack or smoothie component!
- Cream-based foods and sauces such as custards, cream sauces, cheeses, yogurt, and tzatziki sauce as well as mayonnaise
- Cooked eggs (casseroles as well, though there are techniques for reheating a frozen casserole)
- Fried foods
Prevent the Burn
Obviously, the goal of freezing food is to store it until you can eat it later, so your food will need to be protected from freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when air reaches the surface of the food in the freezer. It turns the food’s internal water molecules into ice, which then moves to the surface of the food, usually resulting in discoloration or a buildup of ice around the food. Packaging food correctly will prevent freezer burn from occurring.
Types of Freezer-Friendly Food Packaging
The kind of food you are storing and the amount of space you have in your freezer is going to determine which type of container will work best.
Plastic, freezer paper, and foil wraps can all act as a seal to prevent air from reaching the food itself. Foods which can be handled safely without spilling can be tightly wrapped before being placed in a secondary container. Though wrap is a great resource for preventing freezer burn, if used on its own it may not work as well to insulate food properly.
Wrapping individual portions of food such as meats and bread for quick reheating or thawing is an efficient way to keep a large amount of food fresh and easy to portion out for meals.
Freezer Storage Bags
Plastic, disposable storage bags have saved many foods from the trash, and they are a great way to save space in your freezer. Because of their zip-top and sealed seams, these bags are perfect for storing just about anything including liquids and those wrapped portions of food with an air-tight seal.
When filling a freezer bag with food, you can save space by laying the bag flat to freeze, then stacking it vertically or horizontally for easy access in your freezer. Before you select a freezer bag, know that these bags are intended for short-term storage and are best used either in conjunction with another storage method (like wraps) or for foods that you intend to consume within a few weeks.
Aluminum trays are a great way to store large-portion foods like lasagnas, enchiladas, and other tray foods which can easily be frozen and heated in an oven. There are aluminum trays available for purchase at most grocery stores, but to find trays that have matching aluminum lids, you may need to venture to a restaurant and catering supply store.
Plastic containers are a good choice for short term freezer storage, and there are lots of freezer-friendly options for these that will make food storage easier and provide added levels of safety and freezer burn prevention.
These containers come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, and they are ideal for large-batch soups, stews, and chili. Beware that freezing liquids can sometimes bow or misshape plastic containers. It is for this reason that freezer-ready plastic containers are a worthwhile investment.
Glass Jars and Trays
Glass is a fantastic way to store foods whether in a freezer, refrigerator, or pantry. They can last decades if taken care of properly and are the perfect solution for long-term freezer storage. Before you commit all of your freezer foods to glass containers, know that not all glass is suitable for freezing and many experts caution against using glass at all for freezing.
Glass does not handle extreme temperatures well, and more importantly, frozen foods can contract and expand, breaking the glass and creating a freezer-wide mess. There are specialized glass containers that are made for the freezer, but if you want to give freezing glass containers a shot, follow these tips to properly freezing foods in glass jars.
Never try to freeze liquids in a non-specialized glass jar – that is a recipe for disaster!
Investing in a vacuum sealer may be the best idea for a family who preps and portions food ahead of time. Vacuum sealers remove all the air from specialized freezer bags and create ideal, freezer-safe storage solutions for food.
One Final Note
Be sure that everything in your freezer is dated and labeled accordingly. Once hardened, foods tend to become unidentifiable. You also need to properly date your foods so you can be certain that it is still safe to eat when you’re ready.