Cook Now, Freeze For Later

by in Healthy Tips, May 12, 2009

One of the oldest tricks in the budget-savvy book is buying and cooking in bulk. Thanks to freezing and canning, that’s all the easier these days. My grandpa will only eat homemade food, and when my grandma travels (sometimes for a month at a time!), she prepares all his beloved dishes and freezes them in single-serve containers — from meatballs to stuffed peppers to meatloaf. In that same spirit, here are some great dishes to freeze — plus, a few words of caution.

Dishes To Start With
If you’re not already an old pro, start out with a few of these freezer-friendly classics:

Tomato or BBQ sauces and soups such as minestrone or corn chowder are great for large batch cooking, too. Divide in them in small, freezer-safe containers and defrost when needed. Use the stove top or microwave to thaw them out.

Freezing stock in small batches is also a big money saver. At $2 to $4 a pop, those canned or boxed stocks can start to get pricey. Here’s a tip: for freezing a single-portion of stock, use muffin tins. Dana taught me to freeze pesto sauce in ice cube trays. Once they’ve frozen, you just pop the cubes out of the freezer trays and store in freezer-friendly bags or containers.

Don’t Forget the Sweets
Freshly baked brownies and muffins work in the freezer. Prepare raw cookie dough and freeze it in a roll for easy slicing. You can also spoon chocolate chip cookie dough onto parchment paper and freeze it; then place the pieces in a freezer bag.

Before You Freeze
Now, freezing cooked foods isn’t as simple as spooning it into a container and popping it in the freezer. Before storing your dishes, proper cooling is a must. Never put hot food in the freezer — it will raise your freezer’s temperature (and melt your ice cream); the center of the dish will not cool quickly enough and that leaves time for food to spoil. One way to avoid this is to divide food into smaller quantities.

Portion It Out
Think about what you’ll need the frozen food for. Are you going to reheat for a family of 4 or just make yourself a quick meal? Choose airtight contains that are designed for freezer storage and pre-determine the size you need. Using containers that are less than 1 quart, if possible. Freezer bags are great space-saver since they can easily stack up. Always date and label containers, too — that way you won’t chisel pull something from the back of the freezer later and wonder where it came from. Typically, frozen foods last about 3 months.

Reheat It Up!
Caution: Do not defrost on the countertop! That’s an open invitation for bacteria to come party on your food and a potential for disaster (who wants to poison their dinner guests?). Place frozen food in fridge the night before or use the microwave.

Once you’ve defrosted a frozen dish, do not refreeze! Again, it’s a bacteria thing — bacteria can get into food when handled and defrosted and they aren’t killed by freezer temperatures. Once food is defrosted, eat within several days or throw it out.

Need more ideas? Our sister site, Recipezaar.com, is all over the “Once-A-Month Cooking” trend; they have more than 1,600 recipe ideas — that should be enough to last you, well, almost a lifetime!

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Comments (32)

  1. Julie Rogers says:

    God bless you for mentioning this.
    This is an easy way to have convenient foods that are light on the chemicals normally packed in convenience foods.
    Frozen meals have moved well beyond casseroles. We enjoy chicken curry, ham and swiss pastry bakes, and a host of other foods.
    For folks looking for other recipes, OAMC (once a month cooking) and “freezer meals” are good search terms. There are also two really good books that focus on light versions of freezer recipes: Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals and “Frozen Assets: Lite and Easy.” I love both.

  2. Kim Ripley says:

    I find fresh bell peppers (especially non-grren colors) very expensive in the winter months, so I buy them often in the summer and freeze them. I clean, core, and slice them. I put them in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, then into the freezer. I transfer them to zipper bags when they’re frozen.

  3. Gaby says:

    The information for the frozen foods did help a lot very useful, I used to defrost outside the fridge but I will no longer do that. Thanks, and all the freezer tips are great had no idea u could freeze all those types of food now I’m looking 4ward to save money!! Thank You

  4. Lisi says:

    I’ve gotten into the habit of cooking once a week for the entire week. I make 15-20 meals and store them in my regular freezer. My husband and I eat them for lunch or dinner. Some tips:

    –Use square “tupperware” containers, not round ones. You can fit more square ones into the freezer.
    –Portion out the food into the containers, and let them cool on the counter for 15 minutes or so before putting the lids on. That prevents condensation, which turns to frost.
    –Among the dishes that I find freeze well is chicken and rice. You can come up with so many varieties — Spanish, Thai, Japanese, Indian. Just make sure that you add more sauce than usual, because the rice absorbs it.
    –Pasta dishes freeze well, too.
    –If you make soups, don’t fill the container all the way — when liquids freeze they expand.
    – Keep a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie handy in the kitchen to label the containers. Attach the tape to the containers before you put the hot food in, otherwise it won’t stick.

  5. Joan Trueman says:

    Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries all abundant in
    the summer and freeze great! Use for smoothies, over cereal, whole grain muffins or just micro-wave til tender
    to get your antioxidant fix.

  6. Kimberly says:

    Great article and timely too as I was just wondering a few days ago about freezing cookie dough in "cookie form". I found the comments very helpful too. Lisi-thanks for the tips.

  7. Angie says:

    These are all great tips:

    One thing to mention is that if you plan to freeze leftovers, take out what you want to freeze FIRST, then serve your family….it make the leftovers more appealing than the overcooked 'bottom of the pot'…something I learned when my husband was working out of town, he was able to come home ont he weekends and bring back home cooking…

  8. Mary says:

    Freezing for the future is the best way to go. Also as Angie mentioned pull your freezer meal out first, that way you will eat less. I love to bake but get tired of having too much at one time. Now I will make all the doughs and dish out half to freeze and use later, added benefit I do not eat as many cookies due to over abundance supply.

  9. Jan says:

    cookies will freeze wonderfully if you just let them cool and as soon as they are cool pop them into freezer zip lock bags. When you take them out they taste like fresh baked!

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