I think most people under utilize their freezer – it’s more than a place to store ice-cream and ice-cubes. It plays a key role for me in getting dinner on the table, not only for saving time but also for taking advantage of the best prices available and eliminating waste. I would literally have never been able to give my kids home cooked meals almost every night if I didn’t have a lot of time management skills and a well stocked freezer.
You’ll find many ways to plan ahead and pre-prepare food for the freezer, beyond the basics. I have a whole page of items from this blog that I make ahead and freeze. Most of them fit into one of several categories.
- Planned Leftovers: I often used the freezer for Planned Leftovers, sometimes doubling or even tripling a recipe. This is not only a smart use of your ingredients, but a smart use of time and energy.
- Convenience Foods: Items you’ve made so you have something to grab and heat up, or something your kids can throw in the microwave.
- Recipe Staples: Items you plan on using for cooking, fresh and homemade, can save you a lot of time and money.
- Saves: The bits and pieces you might have to throw out or items that might go bad if not frozen.
Some general hints and instructions:
- Always label anything you freeze with the name of the product, the date, and any instructions – frozen it’s very difficult to tell what’s what. Wild rice looks amazingly like cooked hamburger. Spaghetti sauce looks like sloppy Joes. Even if you know what’s in your freezer, you could be surprised by what can happen. I had an unexpected surgery one year and my sister came to take care of me. I was so groggy, I barely remember her telling me that she took “the pork roast” out of the freezer to thaw. The next day she discovered it was my suet for the birds!
- I freeze in zip bags a lot. I find a flat place in my freezer to lay the bag down flat, so it will take up very little room after it’s frozen. Then I usually stack them up vertically along the side after they’re frozen. When you thaw, you will often find that the liquid has separated, and is prone to leaking, so thaw in a container and stir the liquid back in to the mixture.
- Some people recommend freezing food for the month by having one huge day or weekend of shopping and prepping. I don’t do that for two reasons: Cost and Energy – my energy, that is. I constantly watch the weekly specials and am able to buy at better prices that way, and I constantly take a few minutes here or there and make the best use of my time by doubling or tripling my effort and freezing the bounty without exhausting myself.
Here are some ideas to get you started, and through out my blog, I’ve tried to label recipes I think freeze very well in total or in part – just click on the tag at the bottom of the posts if you see it marked “freezes well.” As an example, my Cheesy Chicken or Turkey Casserole freezes very well. Click on the link and you’ll see in the tag at the bottom of the page. Clicking on that should take you to every recipe I’ve made that I know work well in the freezer.
- It goes without saying if you have a side or a quarter from a reliable local farmer, either beef or pork, that is one of the best ways to go. The pricing may not beat grocery store sales, but the quality may very well be better and the items will come wrapped. Beyond that, look for budget cuts at your local grocery store. They are often large items or family packs. Break them down and freeze in useuable portions. Pork Butt and Pork Loin drop very low, especially in the fall and in January. Cheaper Roasts are often very cheap after Christmas. Cut them into steaks if you’d like. Turkeys, Hams, and Briskets are generally cheapest around any of the major Holidays.
- Bones: I often save bones of chicken or meat to make stock or broth. If I’m not making it weekly, I’ll throw them in the freezer until I do. (Meat bones are slowly becoming a thing of the past…I rarely see them in store bought roasts anymore.)
- Hamburger – When you brown hamburger, double or triple the amount and freeze in bags for quick tacos, sloppy joes or casseroles at a later date. Think short term storage here – a few weeks.
- Meat Loaf – I always make 2 or three – I get the mess over with at once. I freeze them in a loaf pan. Line the pan with plastic wrap first, leaving extra at the top and then pop out frozen, wrap it with the plastic and wrap again in aluminum foil. That way you free up your pans. Just pop it back into the same pan when you’re ready to bake. These will keep for months if well wrapped.
- Chili is ideal for freezing. I’ve heard that garlic and onions can develop an off flavor, but I’ve never noticed this. Maybe it’s because the chili is highly spiced, or maybe it’s not true! At any rate, I double or triple and freeze all the time.
- Pulled Pork freezes beautifully with a little sauce or the juices from the pan mixed in.
- Sloppy Joes, already made, freeze beautifully.
- Meatballs will freeze for a several month period. If they’re too old, the bread used in them will begin to taste stale.
- Spaghetti Sauce – (Red) Make as usual and portion out in sizes for a meal or two for your family. Freeze in bags or plastic containers, whichever you prefer.
- Lunch Meat: We rarely buy – it’s pricey! I also have a small meat slicer that I use for leftover ham, roast, turkey, etc. I might add that after being frozen, lunch meats tend to be wet.
Prepared Dishes: The list here is as endless as your imagination!
- Casseroles: Many casseroles freeze well – Double your recipe, then line an extra casserole pan with plastic wrap, freeze and remove. I leave off the toppings and/or put in a little Ziploc bag and freeze right with the casserole. I’ll write any instructions in sharpie right on the wrapping. When it’s time to cook, I just unwrap, drop it in the same sized casserole dish, and I’m ready to thaw in the fridge or bake. Here’s one to get you started: Taco Night Casserole.
- Lasagne – I guess some would call this a casserole. I like Cook’s Country Frozen version.
- Soups – I usually double or triple, and often freeze in serving sized containers – great for a quick lunch or dinner.
- Twice Baked Potatoes– I make large quantities in the fall and freeze in family sized portions. You can certainly freeze mashed potatoes but they tend to be a bit watery and I’ve had mixed results. I’d say they are still better than some of the prepackaged potatoes out there.
- Rice – When you cook, make twice as much and freeze half for an instant side dish later. It doesn’t take any longer to cook a larger quantity. Think short term for this – it dries out if frozen too long, but a week or so won’t hurt and that 25 to 50 minutes to wait for rice can make you or break you on a busy night or if you’re tired.
- Chicken or beef stock gets portioned into 2 cup packages.
- Beans – when I cook pintos or other beans, I often make extra and package in 1 1/2 cup quantities because that’s roughly the size of a can.
- Breakfast Burritos – these are a big favorite at our house. I make mine without eggs, and use fried potatoes or hash browns, sausage, green chile and cheese. Wrap in plastic wrap and then foil. Reheat in the microwave for a minute or two.
- Quiche – When I make quiche, I’ll double the filling and freeze half in a Ziploc bag for the next time. I’ll freeze little mini-quiches for a month or so, but the larger ones are best if the filling and the pie crust are frozen separately.
- A lot of smaller individual portion or appetizer sized items freeze well: Turnovers, savory or sweet, Filo wrapped items, egg rolls, won tons (not cream cheese), pot stickers.
Fruits: Some fruits are better blanched and/or packed in syrups, so check with a reliable cookbook.
- I use cranberries year ’round in muffins, and I’ll buy multiple bags at Thanksgiving and Christmas and freeze. It’s hard to find a more inexpensive fruit to use for muffins or breads!
- Berries are another great candidate. I’ll freeze them whole in the summer; just bag up after they’re frozen. They have to be at a great price.
- Rhubarb is another favorite of mine – slice, lay on a sheet tray covered with parchment and freeze.
- Bananas are great for freezing to use in banana bread or cake. I generally peel and add them to a Ziploc until I have three (most recipes call for 3 bananas or 1 1/2 cups.) If I’m really in a rush, I’ll just chuck the browned banana into the freezer, skin and all.
- Citrus peel: I keep a snack sized bag of each, lemon, lime and orange zest. When I need a bit for a recipe I’ll pull it out.
Vegetables: Some have to be parboiled, and many, in my opinion, aren’t good candidates for freezing.
- Vegetables: When they’re cheap in the summer, I will sometimes buy and freeze, but I’m pretty selective and generally only freeze the more expensive ones. Bell Peppers are a favorite of mine to freeze.
- Roasted Peppers freeze beautifully. I’ll usually make more than my recipe calls for and freeze the extra in small quantities for chilis and other recipes.
- Greens: While I prefer fresh, I’ll often cook a double batch and then freeze – we eat a lot of different greens at my house and it’s nice to grab a Ziploc and heat in the microwave if I need a side in minutes.
- When I have veggies that I’m not going to use before they spoil, I’ll sometimes blanch and freeze.
- I keep scraps of vegetables for stock and generally make it weekly if I have bones on hand (or if I’ve accumulated them in my freezer.) If I’m not going to make stock at the end of the week, I freeze them for the next time I do.
- Left over vegetables that might otherwise languish go in a zip bag by type to be frozen for soups.
Desserts and Baked Goods: Many desserts freeze well (avoid any type that is like a custard or pudding.) I find this is actually a great way to help with portion control. We certainly don’t need a whole batch of cookies on the counter, but a few now and then are great!
- Bread freezes pretty well for up to three months – double wrap and thaw slowly in the fridge so the moisture can redistribute.
- Bread dough is a great freezer option.
- Pie crust freezes beautifully, better in rounds, but if you’re ambitions, you could roll out and then roll back up. I’ll roll it in a well floured parchment paper and wrap it well so it doesn’t deteriorate, then thaw overnight in the fridge.
- Muffins and pastries generally freeze well – thaw in the microwave with a damp napkin or cloth over the top for a minute or so.
- Individual Chocolate Souffle cakes are my favorite to freeze. They’re small and can be tucked away and can (and should be) baked from their frozen state in about 17 minutes! How great would that be if you had a friend who called to say they were in the neighborhood and thought they’d stop by and you pulled out something like that and threw it in the oven for dessert?
- Cookie Dough – make a double batch, portion out and freeze. Gang them up in a Ziploc bag. Alternatively, refrigerator type cookies that you slice can be shaped in a log and frozen.
- Brownies – wrap in plastic, then in foil.
- Profiteroles are a great freezer item – take them out and pop them in the oven.
- Crepes freeze well for the short term. Double your recipe and make extra. Wrap well with a bit of plastic wrap between each.
- Pancakes and waffles freeze well so don’t waste any leftover batter. Freeze them flat and then bag.
- Pizza dough is something I almost always double and freeze half – thaw overnight in the fridge and it’s ready for you for the next dinner.
Miscellaneous: I have tons of miscellaneous stuff in my freezer – I’m like a little pack rat.
- Bread Crumbs – herbed, toasted and fresh all get frozen in Ziplocs. I generally don’t even have to thaw them before using.
- Herbs – I constantly have herbs that I’ve frozen in ice cube trays with a little water. I pop them out and put them in labeled Ziplocs. I usually use about a tablespoon of an herb in each ice cube. I’ll save stems of parsley and cilantro for soups, I just but them in a bag.
- Ginger: I keep in the freezer – it may get a bit frosty, but I just scrape it and cut the quanitiy I need. It can usually be cut with a knife or grated, frozen.
- Spices: There are several I habitually freeze, especially if I have a larger quantity.
- Butter wrappers: I just fold them up and put them in the freezer door.
- Nuts: I keep nuts in my freezer to keep them fresh.
- Sesame Seeds and poppy seeds: They go rancid quickly, so I keep the whole container in my freezer.
- Coffee: I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’ve developed a little fondness for iced lattes or frappes – I freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays and use them now and then – just whip up in the blender with a little milk and sugar (I sometimes like to use condensed milk.) I also keep instant coffee or espresso in my freezer for baking.
- Tomato Paste: I like to put in a Ziploc and freeze. If I’m really ambitious, I’ll put little tablespoons on parchment paper lined cookie tray, freeze and place in a Ziploc, but usually I just put directly in the Ziploc and then break off what I need. It thaws in no time.
- Chipotle Chiles: I put in Ziploc and then break off what I need.
- Cheese: (Not for eating, but for cooking,) I’ll freeze cheese that I don’t think I’ll use before it goes bad, or if I get a large quantity at a great price. Freezing does affect the quality – but it still fine if you’re going to use it in an application where you’ll be melting it.
- Tortillas are almost always in my freezer. There’s quite a difference in pricing when they’re on sale.
- Oils and fats are easily frozen if you’ve used them, strained them and would like to get another use from them.
- Butter – buy on sale, stock up and freeze for months.
- Dried beans – I’ll make a double batch almost every time I soak and cook them, then bag in 1 1/2 cup portions.