Freezing is a highly economical way of preserving food. It also saves you a great deal of time if you’re willing to put aside some hours to cook bulk meals and stow them away for the coming weeks. Remember that fable about the grasshopper and the ant? A little planning ahead of time goes a long way!
The Dos and Don’ts
Certain food types aren’t great for freezing. Eggs, watery vegetables (such as lettuce or cucumber), and many dairy products (plain yogurt, low-fat cream cheese, single cream, and cottage cheese) will all perish in the icy environment of your freezer. As such, any recipe including one or some of these ingredients is unlikely unsuitable for this method of storage.
But, there are plenty of foods that are ideal for freezing. Butter or margarine can be kept frozen for up to 3 months. Grated cheese is good for about 4 months. Breads are also great for freezing, and sliced bread can be toasted while still frozen.
Ice cream, of course, does splendidly (and you can make your own!)
If you are considering freezing an entire meal, there are a few rough guidelines to follow. First, if it’s a meat dish, it’s important to ensure that the meat is cooked fully. Despite the cold temperatures, bacteria from uncooked meat is still dangerous when you thaw and heat up the food.
A fully-stocked freezer is more efficient than a low-stocked one. This is because the cold air needs to circulate less in a full freezing unit, saving on the energy required to ensure your food is completely frozen. Keep this in mind as you choose various types of containers and packaging, as you want to maximally utilize the space.
Many people use plastic zipper storage bags. These are highly convenient to stack and are easily labeled. It’s important that they are fully sealed and wrapped—otherwise you run the risk of the food getting freezer burn. Most brands come with a blank labeling space on the front. While it may seem a nuisance at the time, this is important. After 4 months of sitting in the freezer, you may not remember what it is! You should also date everything because, despite being frozen, foods will not remain fit for consumption forever.
Aluminum foil or plastic wrap is also good for preventing freezer burn, particularly for cooked meats, cookie dough, and bread. Obviously, a bolognaise or a sauce-based food is not going to work with foil or wrap, but solids are totally suited to these.
For bigger dishes, such as lasagna or bolognaise, use rigid containers. These stack up well, making for a more economically-run freezer. Glass or plastic containers with a sealable lid are the most ideal and can be picked up for relatively cheap. The Frigoverre Glass Storage Containers are some of the best you can get. They’re inexpensive and have reliable lids that won’t burst open as the food expands (which does happen during freezing). They also come in a series of small, medium, and large, so you have the option of freezing individual portion sizes or entire dishes.
These containers will last a lifetime and they stack away quite neatly, so at $20 for the set, you can be assured you’re making a great purchase.
The best thing about glass containers is that, if they are suited to extreme temperatures, you can cook your dish in the oven with them. There’s no need to transfer food into another dish. You just let it cool, put the lid on, label it, and freeze it. No muss, no fuss, and no ruining the aesthetics of your lasagna (let’s not mess up those perfectly-arranged homemade noodles).
Another option is the Stackable Plastic Jars from Ball. These are great for storing smaller portions of dishes like curries or casseroles. They’re also great containers for summer fruits. It’s wonderful to get the family out to pick raspberries, knowing you can freeze them for the off-season.
As these containers are easily organized in your freezer, you can efficiently stack them up. The lids are screw-on, so you won’t have to worry about spillage. Finally, at just $5 for 5 of them, this is a simple and useful purchase—one you won’t be able to live without!
Even more containers!
For the parents out there, please see our discussion on the best ice cube trays for freezing baby food for information about storing your child’s prepared meals. To learn about using vacuum-sealed bags, check out the article on the best vacuum sealers for fish and game.