We all know meats, fruits, and veggies can be housed in the freezer for quite some time. But what about other grocery staples? Whether the market is having a big sale on grapes or you have a bumper crop of parsley you can’t give away, you’ll be happy to know many common food items can be popped into the freezer for long-term storage. Freezing is one of the easiest, quickest, most versatile, and most convenient methods of preserving foods. Properly frozen foods maintain more of their original color, flavor and texture, and generally more of their nutrients than foods preserved by other methods.
I’ll admit it! I am an unabashed fan of freezing if done correctly. Not only are there entire entrees that can easily be frozen for later use, but there are many parts of meals that can be prepped and frozen to make speedy meal prep easier. For example, when making foods like meatballs, broth, dumplings, sauces, dressings, and anything else I can think of that will freeze well, I usually make at least a double batch so I can put one batch in the freezer.
As you begin this adventure, remember to cool cooked things completely before wrapping in foil and then in plastic wrap. I also wrap uncooked items in foil and then plastic. I find that foil tends to help prevent the formation of ice crystals far better than plastic wrap alone. And ice crystals are the enemy of frozen food!
Freshness and quality at the time of freezing affects the condition of frozen foods. If frozen at peak quality, thawed foods emerge tasting better than foods frozen near the end of their useful life. So it’s best to freeze items you won't use quickly sooner rather than later. Store all foods at 0° F or lower to retain vitamin content, color, flavor, and texture.
While freezer burn looks bad, it does not make food unsafe. It just diminishes the quality by being dry in spots. It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air coming in contact with the surface of the food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food. Heavily freezer-burned foods may have to be discarded for quality reasons.
There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Small items may defrost overnight; most foods require a day or two. And large items like turkeys may take longer, approximately one day for each 5 pounds of weight.
Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, but there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion. Freeze leftovers within 3-4 days. Do not refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than 2 hours; or 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.
There are many good reasons to utilize your freezer, but here are a few that might motivate you:
- It can save money. Freezing allows us to buy local foods, in season, at the peak of their ripeness/freshness when they are the most affordable. It also allows us to capitalize on good sales and deals. We can buy our food when it is cheapest and freshest, and simply eat it later.
- It makes meal planning easier. Take a quick inventory of what you have in the freezer, and then search your recipes that incorporate the ingredients you want to use like “pork” or “ground beef and carrots.” Using what you have makes things easier and it saves money.
- It reduces food waste. If you know you won’t get around to eating those veggies, spend a few minutes chopping them up and freezing them. Add them to casseroles, soups, or stir fry at some later date. If you are not in the mood for leftovers, don’t throw them away. Instead, freeze and eat them in a couple of weeks. If some fruit has started to look sad, freeze it, and add it to smoothies.
- It allows you to cook ahead of time. Typically we run short on time on the weekdays. They are full with school, work, kids events, etc. If that is the case in your life, you can use the slower pace of the weekend to cook some meals or items for meals that freeze well and can be easily reheated. Freezing can give us freedom to cook when we want to and not so much when we don’t want to.
- It saves time. Shopping from your freezer means less time wandering store aisles trying to figure out what to make. It also means you can prep and freeze various ingredients (chopped veggies, shredded chicken, marinated meat) or entire meals when you have more time, and utilize them when you have less time.
- It allows us to eat out of season. Fresh blackberries, sun ripened strawberries, sugar snap peas, spinach, apples, fresh baked bread from the farmer’s market -- you name it, we want it. Freeze some of it, and extend the season and the flavors.
When it comes to freezing food, not everything is a good fit. Foods with a high moisture content such as cucumbers, watermelon, lettuce, and oranges don’t freeze well. Most foods can be frozen with no problems. It is important to note that some foods need preparation before being placed in the freezer. Other foods don’t freeze well under any circumstances.
Having a well-stocked freezer means that you can get a homemade meal on the table even on nights when you’re short on time. Instead of ordering last-minute takeout, you’ll be able to throw together a quick and healthy dinner—which is as good for your wallet as it is for your body.
Whether I’m whipping up a quick breakfast smoothie or suddenly find myself feeding a bigger crowd than expected, these are good reasons that I keep my freezer stocked. A well-stocked freezer is the secret to getting a healthy dinner on the table in a hurry. Pair it with a decently-loaded pantry (with Bellisari’s Gourmet Spreads & Sauces!) and you’ll be able to buy yourself a little time to whip up something fabulous, anytime you need it.