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Preparing double (or even triple) recipes and freezing portions for later is a smart way to cut down on prep work during the week—but if you don't do it right, your hard work could be useless. This helpful guide shows you exactly how to freeze soups, stews, casseroles, and more, so you can land a nutritious meal on the dinner table every single night.
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 foods are better suited to freezing and reheating than others. Casseroles, soups, stews, chili, and meat loaf all stand up to the freezer well. Find our picks for the best freezable recipes.
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. To prevent this, place food in a shallow, wide container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool. To chill soup or stew even faster, pour it into a metal or heat-resistant glass 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
Avoid freezer burn by using moisture-proof zip-top plastic bags and wrap. Remove the air from bags before sealing. Store soups and stews in gallon or quart freezer bags, which can be placed flat and freeze quickly.
Storing foods in smaller servings help it freeze quickly, and it 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. You can also use a freezer thermometer to ensure that your unit's temperature 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.
Watch out for Freezer-Unfriendly Foods
Getty Images / BravissimoS
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.
5 Tips for Freezing Meals
Saving money, preventing food waste, and having delicious meals on hand during hectic weeks when you can&apost make it to the grocery store or don’t feel like turning on the oven are just a few of the many advantages to freezing food.
Here&aposs a look at what to freeze and best practices for getting the job done, according to food and nutrition experts.
1. Allow food to cool before freezing
Freezing meals will save you time in the long run, but you&aposll need to wait before sticking your hot meal directly into the freezer. "If hot food is covered and sealed, steam will accumulate and eventually freeze. This extra water will cause the dish to get soggy," says Erica Mouch, RD.
A piping hot container of food can also damage your already frozen food items. "Putting warm foods in a freezer can cause the freezer temperature to rise, which may result in partially thawing some of your already-frozen items," explains RD Rima Kleiner.
"To cool cooked foods quickly, place cooked food in a shallow, wide container and refrigerate,” adds Kleiner. “The more surface area of the food exposed to air will help it cool more quickly.”
2. Use the right storage method
Not all storage methods are created equal when it comes to freezing meals. "Always use containers that are intended for its use, such as freezer-safe baggies and glass containers with lids," says Kleiner. "Leave about an inch or so of room at the top of the baggie or container to allow for foods to expand when frozen."
If you opt for a ziplock bag, Michele Sidorenkov, RD suggests laying it flat in your freezer to prevent its contents from clumping together. "When the food items are all frozen and flat in the bag, you can then stack them either vertically or horizontally on top of each other and take up less room in the fridge."
3. Freeze quickly to prevent freezer burn
Faster freezing helps keep the burn at bay, which is why Sidorenkov suggests placing your meal in the back of the freezer where it&aposs coldest. Also, don&apost overpack your freezer. "Food freezes better and faster if there is proper air flow around the food, nothing stacked on top of it or on the sides," she says. "Don&apost move the food item around until it has frozen all the way through, which could be up to 24 hours."
4. Freeze meals in smaller batches
To make the thawing process easier, portion out meals and ingredients into smaller amounts. "Cookware like muffin tins and ice cube trays are great ways to portion out meats, soups, herbs, [and] produce," explains Marissa Chiapperino, RD at Holyoke Medical Center. "Seal them by wrapping these items in heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper and then store inside of a plastic bag. This makes for a lot of variety in the freezer and decreases the cook time of a meal on a busy night."
5. Freeze the right foods
While you can technically freeze just about any food, keep in mind items with a high-water content don&apost hold up when thawed out. "This includes fresh leafy greens, cucumbers, most citrus and melon, yogurt, mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream, cooked pasta, potatoes, and rice," Chiapperino explains. "Fat can separate and water will crystalize and make for a soggy dish once thawed."
Tip #1 – Do Not Overfill the Bags
It can be tempting to try and get as much food in each bag as possible. When placing the bag on the vacuum sealer, leave about three inches of empty space near the top of the bag. If you want to use the bag again later on, leave even more space. If you leave about four inches at the top of the bag you should be able to reuse the bag. This saves some money since you’ll have to buy bags and because all of the air is removed, it will not compromise the quality of the food.
How to Freeze Guacamole
There are two ways you can freeze guacamole. But before anything else &ndash here&rsquos an important note.
Portion your guacamole into your preferred serving sizes before freezing. That way, you won&rsquot have to thaw the whole batch whenever you&rsquore craving some guacamole.
Method One: Store guacamole in freezer-safe bags. Transfer the guacamole into Ziploc bags, squeezing out as much air as you can, and seal. Flatten the bags and place them in the freezer, piling the bags on top of each other.
What I like about this method is that it doesn&rsquot take up much space in the freezer. It&rsquos also easy to thaw. The only thing I don&rsquot like is that the bags will most likely be too difficult to wash and reuse after, so you&rsquoll have to throw them out.
Method Two: Store guacamole in Mason jars. When transferring guacamole into jars, do so carefully to avoid air bubbles forming. Be sure to leave an inch of empty space on top because the guacamole will expand as it freezes.
Quick Tip: Pour a little bit of olive oil on the surface to prevent the guacamole from browning.
With this method, you won&rsquot have to worry about wasting plastic. But it takes a while to thaw out. You need 1-2 days before you can serve or eat it. This method also takes up a little more space in the freezer.
How to Freeze Green Onions or Scallions
Chop up onions and flash-freeze in a single layer for 2-3 hours. Transfer to a freezer-safe container or plastic bottle — now you can shake out a little bit at a time when you need it.
Use it for: Pretty much anything and everything, as long as the dish doesn't involve eating the onions raw.
How to prepare before using: Chopped onion will thaw quickly when cooking, so no need to thaw first.
Meals You Can (and Should) Cook Entirely Before Freezing
Have you poked around the internet for freezer tips? You might have realized that some recipes are cooked completely and then frozen, while others are prepared only up to a certain point. Generally, big-batch saucy dishes can be cooked entirely and frozen because the sauce blankets any meat and veggies and prevents them from drying out during reheating. At last, it makes sense why soups, stews, casseroles and braises are such popular freezer items.
Have you ever freeze blue cheese?
Slices of Blue Cheese on the table
Blue cheese may not be as popular as mozzarella perhaps due to its sharp and salty taste. It can improve the taste of steaks and burgers. If you stock up on blue cheese, how should you store it?
Freezing blue cheese is the best way to extend its shelf life. Properly stored in the freezer, it can last for six months. That’s quite long especially when you compare it to refrigerating blue cheese, which can only extend the shelf life to three weeks.
There’s one caveat, though-- blue cheese can lose its flavor quickly when it is in the freezer. Thus I suggest that you should not wait for the blue cheese to sit in the freezer past two months.
The chances of blue cheese losing its creaminess after freezing are also high. This may not be an issue if you are to toss it in salads, but you may not like it if you are to serve the cheese in a tasting party.
So keep in mind that the less time blue cheese is left in the freezer, the more likely it will retain its taste and texture.
In freezing blue cheese, wrap it in a double layer of plastic to prevent freezer burn. This will also avoid the cheese getting flavors from the other foods in the freezer. In case you don’t have an idea on when you will be able to consume or use the blue cheese, you can cut it in pieces then wrap them individually.
Place the cheese in a freezer bag then squeeze the air out of it. Seal and then label the freezer bag.
To thaw the blue cheese, remove it from the freezer then transfer it in the fridge. Let it stand there overnight. Once it has thawed completely, remove the cheese from the wrap and place it on the counter for 30 minutes. This would let the cheese to regain its texture and flavor.
You can then store leftover thawed blue cheese in the ref. You should consume it within 48 hours.
How to freeze food properly
Minimize air exposure
Remove as much air as possible from freezer bags and storage containers to prevent freezer burn. If your storage container is only partially full, lay a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap over the top of your food to minimize exposure to air, then continue packaging.
Freeze individual items on a tray first
To avoid crushing goods such as berries, cookies or appetizers, freeze them on a flat tray and then transfer to a freezer bag once frozen.
So, can you freeze mushrooms? Yes! But you&aposll need to take some pre-freezing steps to ensure they don&apost become mushy when thawed. Keep reading to learn how to freeze mushrooms, both raw and cooked, the best way.
Frozen mushrooms will last up to a year in the freezer. But not all types of mushrooms should be frozen the same way. Hen of the woods mushrooms, maitake mushrooms, and wild mushrooms in the slimy-capped Suillus genus are best frozen raw, because their high moisture content makes them difficult to dehydrate. Most store-bought mushrooms (like button mushrooms, creminis, and portobello) can be frozen raw or cooked.
Freezing Raw Mushrooms
When it comes to freezing fresh, uncooked mushrooms, the fresher they are at the time of freezing the better.
What Cheese Can You Freeze?
You can freeze virtually any kind of cheese as long as you do it the right way. Check out our helpful instructions to learn more.
How to Freeze Hard Cheese
Hard cheese is a type of cheese that will freeze well, as are semi-hard cheeses. According to the National Dairy Council, the hard cheeses that you purchase pre-shredded or in a solid block cheese can be tightly wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in a Ziploc freezer bag and safely stored in the freezer for up to six months.