Freezer meal do's and don'ts- sharing tips and tricks for stocking up the freezer!
When it comes to meal prep, my freezer is a real hero! It comes in handy those weeks when I don't have time to prep anything fresh. It is often part of Plan A, but when life kicks in, it is almost always my Plan B.
There are so many questions when it comes to freezer meals.
Is that safe to freeze?
Will that get mushy?
Will that turn brown?
Which containers should I use?
So today, I'm answering all your burning freezer meals questions and giving you the do's and don'ts of freezer meals.
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Part of my February 2019 TruLocal order
Do: stock up the freezer with healthy ingredients
Having healthy meats and vegetables in the freezer means that when I reach for Plan B, I am reaching for something healthy!
Here are some of my favorite healthy ingredients to stock up on:
- TruLocal meats- I stock up once a month on these high quality locally sourced meats. TruLocal delivers it right to my door and I am set for the month! *this is available for Canadian residents only. Use code DENISE7297 for $25 off your first box!I advise my US friends to check out Butcher Box! I can't personally endorse a product I haven't tried but my friend Natalie has written up a great post on them here!
- Frozen vegetables- my faves are frozen brussels sprouts (you can roast them from frozen!), peas (the kids love them), riced cauliflower, and spinach. And I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a bag of sweet potato fries in my freezer at all times 😉
- Frozen fruit- I always have a ton of frozen fruit on hand. I add them to my steel cut oats, overnight oats, baked oatmeal and smoothies
Bottom shelf: my lunch stash (mostly leftovers, portioned out with rice)
Do: freeze leftovers
One of my favorite ways to 'meal prep' is to make a big batch of something, portion out with rice, and freeze in single serve portions...I call this my lunch stash! When I don't have time to meal prep, I thaw out a lunch portion and have a healthy meal waiting for me.
- Check out my favorite Freezer Meal Prep Lunch Recipes
- Soups are another great option; you can portion out individual servings in 1 pint mason jars (props to Steph at Meal Plan Addict for this tip!)
Some vegetables like broccoli need to be blanched before freezing
Don't: freeze the wrong ingredients
We've all been there...pulling something out of the freezer and it's just *not* the same anymore. Certain ingredients just survive the freeze/thaw process better than others.
Ingredients on my 'do not freeze' list?
- yogurt (although coconut yogurt is fine!)
- watery produce (zucchini, raw tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage, green beans, fresh herbs, oranges)
- uncooked mushrooms
- uncooked potatoes (sometimes works in freezer slow cooker meals)
- roasted vegetables including sweet potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini (become slimy)
Meatballs freeze amazingly well! Freeze on a baking sheet before portioning them out. Read more here.
Do: freeze the right ingredients
Well duh, I think we all want to freeze the right ingredients...but what are they?
Here are some of my favorite ingredients and recipes to freeze:
- stir fries (portioned with rice)
- fried rice
- curries (portioned with rice)
- lasagna (cooked or assembled and uncooked)
- cooked rice
- cooked beans
- cooked corn
- fresh berries
- fresh herbs chopped and stored in olive oil (in ice cube tray)
- quick breads
- pasta sauce
- chicken + marinade
- breakfast sandwiches
- breakfast burritos
- steel cut oats
Pictured: bag holder & freezer bag for my Smoky Turkey Chili
Do: use the right equipment
When it comes to freezer meals, you don't want to skimp on cheap equipment...you will most likely live to regret it.
For freezer meals, my toolkit includes:
- good quality freezer bags (make sure they say 'freezer' on them!)
- jokari bag holders
- glass meal prep containers (I use 2 cup ones for single serve lunches, 6 cup ones for muffins, energy bites and more, and 3 quart ones for freezer crockpot meals)
- reusable silicone bags for chicken marinades, freezing portions of meat, freezing leftover berries or fresh produce, and more
- plastic wrap
Canning jars are perfectly safe to freeze in. More info below.
Don't: be afraid of freezing glass
If you have good quality glass meal prep containers or canning-quality mason jars, they are perfectly safe to freeze. You can freeze in mason jars as well!
I hate how much disposable foil and plastic is involved in freezer meals and just wanted to share that glass containers are perfectly safe to freeze (so long as it says so in the manufacturer's instructions).
- never freeze in jars that are not canning quality (ie: old pasta sauce jars). Save those for a pantry storage!
- fill jars no more than ¾ full and leave lids ajar until completely frozen
- never put jars or containers into the freezer when still warm/hot
- find more plastic-free freezer storage ideas here!
Pictured: freezer chicken marinades.
Don't: re-freeze previously frozen food
Never freeze/thaw an ingredient more than once.
Let me clarify on this:
- If you are thawing chicken to put into a casserole and freezing it before baking (the chicken still raw), this is a no-no.
- If you are thawing chicken to put into a casserole, baking the casserole, then freezing (the chicken is cooked), this is perfectly fine.
Does that make sense? A more obvious example: putting chicken into a freezer marinade or freezer crockpot meal: assemble all ingredients, add the *frozen chicken* last, and pop it back into the freezer asap.
Tip: Make sure if you are purchasing meat or seafood that it does not say 'previously frozen' because you do not want to freeze it again.
Please ask me to clarify if this does not make sense!
Tips for freezing food: lightning round!
1. how to avoid freezer burn:
- squeeze as much air as possible out from bags
- cool completely before storing in the freezer
- 2 layers: wrap in a layer of parchment or plastic and store in a larger container or reusable bag
- consume within 1-3 months
- label everything with recipe name, date, and cooking instructions
- freeze bags flat, then upright in a bin or office folder oganizer
- use large bins to organize based on contents: frozen meats, freezer crockpot, soups, snacks, etc
- eat within 3 months (this is more for the quality of the food than actual food safety)
- never put glass from the freezer directly into the oven, it may shatter
- never re-freeze food that has been previously thawed
- slow cooker: thaw completely before cooking or you run the risk of food poisoning
- Instant Pot & oven: often can cook from frozen; refer to instructions on recipes. Check out this guide for How To Cook From Frozen in Your Instant Pot
Your freezer meal questions:
Have a question I didn't address? Please ask it in the comments and I will update the post to answer it!
I would like to know if it is ok to freeze individual freezer meals after cooked. I’ve frozen some that seem fine and some that taste awful.
- yes, you can definitely freeze meals in individual portions after cooking, but it's important to pick the right kind of meal. I like picking anything with a sauce and portioning it out with rice or quinoa. Other good picks: soups & stews as well as casseroles. Check out my favorite Freezer Meal Prep Lunch Recipes!
Can you freeze rice?
-yes, you can freeze rice! The important thing with rice is to make sure it does not sit at room temperature for long periods of time. Cook it, cool it and get it in the freezer as quickly as possible. To thaw, you can leave it in the fridge overnight, and reheat in the microwave or in a pan. When I was testing these 7 Easy Rice Recipes, they pretty much all got frozen at one point or another 😉
If I unfreeze something and then decide I don't want to use it anymore can I refreeze it?
-never freeze something that has already been frozen! Make sure when you purchase meat or seafood at the grocery store that it doesn't say 'previously frozen'.
How do I avoid freezer burn without using a lot of plastic wrap?
-I have had success in using parchment: I wrap the items in parchment then place in a larger storage container or bag.
I've heard mixed info on freezing potatoes. Can you clear that up?
-here is my experience with potatoes:
- freezing raw baby potatoes (leave whole) works great (I do this with my Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken Stew all the time!)
- freezing raw & cut white potatoes doesn't work well (they get brown and a weird spongey texture)
Will glass containers break if frozen too long?
-in my experience, no. The risk of breaking glass containers is if you shift temperatures too quickly (like freezing something hot or transferring frozen containers to the oven without thawing). Or if you don't leave enough space for expansion in a jar (I also leave the lids loose until it's completely frozen).
Always make sure you are using durable glass containers for freezing...check the manufacturer's directions and never reuse jars that weren't meant to be frozen (ie: pasta jars)
How long can I leave items in the freezer without the taste being affected?
-first off, the flavor will almost always be influenced to some degree by freezing, so you may want to lower your expectations slightly. That being said, I have found my freezer meals to taste best within 3 months of freezing. After 3 months, freezer burn starts to creep in.
Freezer crockpot meals may be an exception to this rule. I always advise to consume within 3 months, but I'll be honest: I've eaten freezer crockpot meals that were a year old and I couldn't taste it in any way. Since it's being cooked for the first time after thawing, they are more flexible (in my opinion).
Another exception to this rule is if you use a foodsaver to vacuum seal fish or other meats. This keeps them fresh for so long! A year at least.
That wraps up the do's and don'ts of freezer meals! I hope this was helpful!