Saving money, preventing food waste, and having delicious meals on hand during hectic weeks when you can't 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's 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'll 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's coldest. Also, don't 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't 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't 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."
Casseroles, soups, stews, chili, meats, and fish are typically sure bets, if you're freezing them at the right time. "All food intended to be frozen should be purchased and frozen before the sell-by and expiration date," says Chiapperino. Food quality tends to decrease after three months of being frozen, so label and date frozen items to keep track.