Have you ever wanted to try Freezer Cooking but not been sure exactly how to do it? Alison, an Eat at Home reader, sent me an email asking a few questions about how to store food in the freezer. She’s hoping to stock up her freezer to help get ready for a new baby. I thought I would answer her questions here in a post since others may have the same questions. Freezer cooking really is a smart way to make sure that no matter what goes on, you always have a plan b. This is my easy guide to how I stock up my freezer and save myself a lot of stress when life gets crazy.
Freezer Cooking Supplies
There are a few items you will want to have on hand to store foods in the freezer. Before you start any big freezer cooking day, make sure you have stocked up on all of these so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re in the cooking zone!
- Foil pans – These are handy for freezing casseroles and desserts.
- Foil – It’s nice to have heavy duty and regular foil for covering the foil pans and wrapping bread loaves.
- Plastic wrap – Some people like to cover casseroles with a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of foil. If you’re going to store foods for several months, this is a good idea. You just have to be sure to remember to remove the plastic wrap before heating in the oven.
- Plastic containers – Plastic freezer containers are helpful for storing soups and other foods. They stack in the freezer and minimize spills.
- Plastic zip top freezer bags – I use these for storing almost everything. Buy quart and gallon sizes.
- Freezer tape – I use this for affixing labels on casseroles. You can also use it to secure foil wrappings.
- Sharpie marker – Keep your permanent marker handy for labeling everything!
Label everything! You won’t remember what it was you wrapped so carefully in foil or how long ago the thing at the bottom of the freezer has been there.
- Date everything. Always. – We even date opened packages of lunch meat in the fridge. No one can ever remember when it was opened if it’s not dated. Same thing goes for items in the freezer.
- Include instructions – If it needs to be thawed, uncovered, plastic removed, heated at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time include it on the label.
- Include side dishes or other foods needed, if relevant. – Does the dish get served with rice or pasta? Are there certain sides that you want to serve it with? Include that info on the label.
This may sound like a lot to put on a label, but it’s not. For instance, the label for Chicken Lettuce Wrap Filling would read:
Chicken Lettuce Wraps 2/19/11 Thaw in fridge. Microwave to heat. Need lettuce.
It may seem obvious when you write it, but you’ll be glad it’s there 3 months later when you’ve forgotten what it is and how to fix it.
How Long Can You Freeze It?
According to the USDA Freezing and Food Safety Fact Sheet, foods can be safely frozen indefinitely. The guidelines are more for food quality than for safety.
- Guideline for casseroles and cooked meats is 3-4 months. I’ve seen guidelines of up to 6 months given. Again, the guidelines are for quality, not safety. I’ve eaten casseroles frozen for 3 months and noticed no loss in quality.
- Foods stored in a deep freeze will hold their quality longer than in the freezer section of the fridge. This is mostly because the door is opened less often on a deep freeze.
- Wrapping foods well before freezing will help preserve their quality. If you know something will be in the freezer for a while, double wrap it in heavy duty foil or double zip top bags.
- Cool foods before freezing. This helps prevent ice crystals, which cause freezer burn and loss of quality.
- Keep an inventory. If you’re stocking your freezer with many meals, it’s very helpful to keep a checklist of what’s in there. It’s also helpful to list the kind of container the item is in, so you know if you’re looking for a foil lump, or zip top bag of something. Arminta shared on Facebook that she keeps her inventory on a dry erase board hung on the freezer. That’s genius!
- You can “make” your own foil pans. Line a casserole dish with a couple layers of heavy duty foil. Freeze the recipe in the dish. After it’s frozen, you can pop it out of the casserole dish and it will hold its shape. Pop it back in the dish to thaw and bake.
- Flat freeze items to save space. Some foods that can be frozen in zip top bags, can be smooshed flat and stacked.
Foods that Freeze Well
Now you’re ready to get cooking! Here are some ideas for kinds of foods that you can usually freeze, even if the recipe doesn’t say it’s meant for the freezer.
- Cooked meats. I’ve covered that in this post. You can even grill and slice chicken to freeze.
- Casseroles. Almost all casseroles freeze well, including enchiladas, stuffed shells or other pasta bakes. Thaw in the fridge. Most casseroles will then bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees or until they are hot through.
- Soups and pasta sauces. Most soup freezes great. An exception would be those with pasta or noodles and cream soups. Tomato based sauces and pesto freezes well. Soup can be thawed in the fridge and heated on the stove or in the microwave. I’ve even thawed soup enough to get it out of the container and put the slushy lump in the slow cooker to heat for the day.
- Cookies and cookie dough. Freeze cookies in zip top bags. You can also freeze cookie dough balls in a single layer on a foil lined cookie sheet. Transfer them to a zip top bag after they’re frozen. Fresh baked cookies are just minutes away.
- Cakes and brownies. Even whole, fully iced cakes can be frozen. 9×13 cakes are easy to freeze, but be sure you have plenty of room if you’re planning to freeze a layer cake or bundt.
- Breads and muffins. Yeast breads, quick breads and muffins all freeze well.
- Wine. We don’t drink wine, but I like to cook with it. I freeze it in 1/2 cup quantities.
Want some ideas for recipes that freeze well? Here are some of my favorite posts and round-ups about freezer friendly food.
I just read an article about Jamie Lee Curtis. She freezes things like soup flat and then stores them upright like a file. I don’t know if it saves space, but it would make it easier to rotate older items. Just put the newest in the back and use the older ones in front first.
SandyW, that’s a great idea for the soup, especially if you’re freezing just a few servings in a bag. Mentioning Jamie Lee Curtis makes me want to watch Freaky Friday 🙂
Makes me want to watch her mother in Psycho. Maybe you should have a movie week end instead of cooking for the freezer!
Movie night sounds great!
I heard a similar tip recently. When you freeze ground beef or turkey, put it in a ziplock and roll it out flat. You can freeze it flat, then stand it up.
I never thought about making my own foil pans! Wow! What a fantastic idea!
Freezing cakes can be tricky. If the cake has been iced, freeze it until the icing is really stiff, then wrap in plastic wrap. Then wrap with foil, covering the seam of the plastic wrap. When you want to thaw it, unwrap completely and thaw at room temp on a cooling rack. That will prevent the bottom from getting all soggy.
Andie, thanks for the cake freezing and thawing tips. Those are helpful.
Thanks so much for answering my questions and more! I’m so excited for Saturday! I’ve just got to decide what to make and go shopping.
This may seem like a dumb question but when you thaw meat that was cooked, ground beef for example, can you defrost it in the microwave still in the bag? Or should I dump it out into a bowl to heat up for a dish?
Thanks for your tips. I have never freezer cooked in my life and only after I found your blog a few months ago did I dive into it. I have 5 kids and let me tell you dinner time was not always fun around here! But now that I have pre cooked meats in the freezer it flies by and gives me more time with them.
When I have a bag of cooked chicken, ground beef or meatballs, I stick it in the microwave for a minute. Squish it. Microwave another minute if needed. Just long enough to break it up and mostly thaw it. That’s usually good to get it ready for adding to the recipe.
I have a baby shower on Saturday – but I’m joining you in spirit! One question – we purchased a 1/4 side of beef and had it processed into different cuts: steaks, roasts and LOTS of ground beef. It’s all packaged up and frozen in a large freezer. Do you think it would be a problem to use previously-frozen meats for freezer cooking? I remember reading something about not refreezing meats. What are your thoughts on this one? And, do you do this?
Thanks! I look forward to reading how it goes on Saturday! -Anna
I use previously frozen meats to make casseroles to freeze or cook bbq and refreeze. I think as long as you are careful about it, there’s no problem.
I think the issue is with thawing and then re-freezing raw meat.
We raise our own beef and pork. So like yours, it’s all frozen when it’s processed. I think it’s fine to cook the meat thoroughly and then re-freeze it. I often cook up enough meat for two (or more meals) and then freeze the extras in bags portioned for a later meal. We love to grab a bag of cooked and seasoned meat for nachos, etc, heat it, and eat 🙂
natalie (the sweets life) says
This was such a helpful post! Thank you!
Crystal & Co. says
Excellent list Tiffany! I am sharing this with my Facebook readers.
I’ve found that there are few things you *can’t* freeze, really. I like to buy in bulk to save money and am blessed with a tall upright freezer separate from my fridge. I like to substitute “healthier” ingredients when cooking – but those are often more expensive. For example, I puree low-fat cottage cheese in place of cream cheese, sour cream and ricotta in baked dishes. Cottage cheese looses some of its texture when frozen then thawed, so it’s not good to eat as plain cottage cheese, but once pureed, it’s perfect for those sorts of dishes (lasagne, mac and cheese, cheesy hashbrown potato casserole, etc.) and then can be frozen/thawed/cooked just like if you had used the original ingredient. You’ve cut a huge amount of saturated fat and greatly increased protein and calcium content in this way. I buy a lot of it when it is on a great sale and freeze it. Takes a full day to thaw in the fridge.
I also cook large batches of Quinoa and freeze dinner-sized portions in quart freezer bags. It’s quickly ready to go to be used for any meal where I would have used rice. Again, huge increase in protein, nutrients, fiber, etc., over plain or even brown rice. It’s more expensive than rice, but when bought in bulk, the increase in nutrition is worth it for our family.
I love these freezer-cooking blogs. Thank you so much for yours!
Great tips! Thanks for sharing.