When exploring short cuts and meal prep tips, your freezer is a textbook addition to meal planning strategies. We all know that cooking every night is not always an option. Whether you make extra food and freeze it for future meals, or you just have too many leftovers to enjoy, utilize your freezer to your advantage. All you need are some freezer bags – simple, inexpensive tools, to store your frozen foods.
Freeze foods like a pro with these 4 easy points:
- Do not put hot foods directly into the freezer. Cool Foods “slightly” at room temperature, then place in the refrigerator to finish cooling.
- To help foods cool, place food in a shallow container, about 2 inches in depth, on a cooling rack for about 20-30 minutes.
- For food safety purposes, do not leave food out for longer than 2 hours.
- Once food is slightly cooled, place food in the refrigerator where it can cool to a safe temperature of 40ºF.
- Cover food loosely when refrigerated to allow any heat to escape. This will also protect the food from accidental contamination from other foods during cooling.
- Once food is cooled, pack food into freezer bags.
- Be sure to use “freezer” bags and not general “storage” bags for storing food in the freezer. Freezer bags are thicker and designed to keep food fresh longer.
- To speed freezing and to best utilize freezer space, spread foods in the freezer bags so they appear thin and flattened. This will also help with thawing time when ready to defrost.
- Don’t forget to label the freezer bag with freezer tape or permanent marking pens. It is hard to tell the difference between soups and sauces, casseroles, and stews when frozen solid!
- Note the food, the date and the number of servings or amount of food in each bag.
- Don’t forget to add any helpful information like the form of the food (chopped or sliced) or cooking instructions.
- Freeze foods in portion sizes you will need for future meals. For example, rather than store 6 cups of rice in 1 bag, store 1-2 cups of rice per bag.
- Place bags of food on a flat tray or cooking sheet until frozen solid. Once frozen, the bags can be stacked neatly on a freezer shelf.
- When it is time to enjoy your frozen food, avoid thawing at room temperature to avoid food borne illnesses.
- If possible, plan to thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator. Place the frozen bag on a plate or pan to avoid a mess in case a package leaks.
- Items up to 5 pounds should thaw in the refrigerator within 24 hours. Smaller items can thaw in a few hours.
- Frozen food can also be thawed in the microwave. Simply transfer food from a freezer bag to a microwave safe dish to thaw.
- If thawing in the microwave, cook food immediately to prevent the chances of unwanted bacterial contamination.
One last tip: If you are making extra food for future meals, separate what you plan to serve from what you plan to freeze. This prevents “planned-overs” from becoming “picked-overs” and helps keep food safe. As a general rule, eat or freeze perishable foods within four days.
Some foods, like soups and stews freeze well. With football season upon us, try this Vegetarian Tomato Bean Chili. Double the batch and freeze for future games. This Pumpkin Lime Soup is a delicious, low-fat first course. Freeze leftovers and enjoy a bowl of this seasonal soup for a quick lunch. Or cook up a pot of Beef Stew for a comforting meal for a cool fall evening. Pop the leftovers in the freezer for a quick weekday fix. By using your freezer to your advantage, you can cook once and get the benefit of multiple meals!