You’ve discovered the benefits of meal prepping already: a healthier diet and money saved. Now, you’re ready to take your meal prepping game to the next level. One way to do that is by batch cooking and freezing recipes. Double your favorite soup recipe, for example, and stash one batch in the freezer to enjoy during a particularly busy week.
Here’s how to freeze meal prep — and keep your frozen food tasting great — to get the most out of the recipes you make and save money on groceries.
How to choose which meals to freeze
Some foods freeze well and are ideal for meal prepping. Others, not so much.
Generally speaking, soups, stews and stir-fries tend to freeze well. You can also freeze individual components, such as blanched greens and other vegetables or cooked grains like rice.
Crispy foods, such as anything breaded, tend to become soggy once frozen. The same is true of foods with a high water content, like lettuce or cucumbers. While some recipes with dairy products will freeze fine, others might develop an unpleasant consistency or taste after being in the freezer. If there’s a lot of cheese, yogurt or milk in a recipe, it’s probably not going to work as a freezer meal (with some notable exceptions like lasagna).
How to package meals for the freezer
Choosing the right freezer containers for meal prep can mean the difference between having lots of tasty meals in a few weeks and wasting food that doesn’t survive the freeze/thaw process. Here are a few freezer-safe options to consider:
- Glass containers made from tempered glass, which won’t shatter when exposed to below-freezing temperatures.
- Zip-top plastic bags, but make sure they’re labeled as freezer safe. Freezer bags tend to be made from thicker plastic than regular sandwich or storage bags.
- Foil baking trays, which you can slide right from the freezer into the oven.
- Jars for soups and stews. However, leave about an inch of room at the top before you put the lid on. Liquid expands slightly as it freezes. If the jar is filled to the top, it could crack or shatter.
As an added tip, wrapping foods in plastic wrap before sliding them into a zip-top bag or wrapping foil baking trays in plastic before freezing can help minimize freezer burn. Also, if space in your freezer is tight, you can fill zip-top bags with soup, then lay the bags flat, one on top of another.
How to freeze meal prep
After you’ve prepped the food and put it into the right container, get it into the freezer as quickly as possible. The faster your food freezes, the less chance there is for ice crystals to form on it.
But, to keep the temperature in your freezer from increasing too much, let hot food cool first by putting it in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
Then, before tucking the food into the freezer, label and date the container to avoid confusion later on.
How to thaw your food
Safety is critical when it’s time to defrost or thaw meals before heating and eating. Frozen food is safe indefinitely, but once it warms up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, bacteria can start to multiply. Before you reheat your food, you want to keep it in the safe zone — below 40 F.
There are three safe ways to defrost frozen food. One is in the refrigerator: Take your prepared meal out of the freezer the night before you plan on eating it so it can thaw. Another is in the microwave, in a microwave-safe container. The third is by leaving the food to soak in cold water for a few hours, changing the water every 30 minutes.
You can also cook some foods right from frozen, such as lasagna or a frozen stir-fry. You might have to extend the cooking time slightly if you’re cooking right from the freezer.
Also, be aware of your containers when cooking from frozen. While glass dishes can be both freezer and oven safe, some will shatter when transferred directly from the freezer to a hot oven. It’s better to let the glass container rest in the refrigerator for an hour or two or transfer the entire dish to a new container before cooking.
How long to keep meal prepped food in the freezer
From a safety standpoint, food will keep forever — as long as it stays frozen. From a quality standpoint, the meals you prep will start to degrade after a few months. Squeezing as much air out of the package and wrapping the food in plastic wrap can help to keep freezer burn away and extend the life of your meals.
Make a schedule for eating your frozen meals to avoid wasting food and all that hard work. You’ll save money with batch cooking, meal prep and freezing if you eat what you prep within a few weeks or months.