With a little pre-planning, you can stock your freezer with family friendly weeknight dinners, easy sauces and sides, quick dessert toppings and breakfast options. You can also preserve the late summer and fall fruits and vegetables by freezing.
Freezing slows down bacterial growth, but doesn’t kill it, so start with good quality produce. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending your time and money to freeze food and have to throw it away when it doesn’t taste good.
Foods That Freeze Well
- Meat, poultry and fish all can be frozen with success. Raw meat is preferable for long storage because it doesn’t dry out or get freezer burn as fast as cooked meat.
- Breads and baked goods can freeze and do well in the freezer. This includes cakes, pies, muffins, bagels, quick and yeast breads both as dough/batter or baked, cookies raw or baked and pizza dough raw or baked.
- Butter and margarine freeze well.
- Beans can save you money, if you buy dry beans then soak and cook them yourself instead of buying the canned variety.
- Rice can also freeze and cooking it ahead can save time.
Foods That Can Freeze But Will Change In Texture
- Fruits and vegetables all soften and those with high water content do not freeze well. Fruit that still has ice crystals can be eaten as is after thawing but most fruits and veggies should be used for cooking after being frozen.
- Potatoes freeze well and make quick side dishes, however they must be cooked before freezing to insure they don’t turn black.
- Pastas will become much softer after they are frozen and should only be cooked about three-quarters of the recommended time. Also pastas frozen in liquid or sauce will absorb much of the sauce.
- Milk and dairy products can be frozen but may separate after being frozen. Cheese will become crumbly and hard to slice but is fine for cooking or melting.
- Herbs lose their texture but retain their flavor. Frozen herbs can be used for cooked dishes but not for garnishes.
- Raw eggs removed from their shells can be frozen but should be mixed with a bit of salt or sugar to keep them from turning rubbery.
- Cooked eggs that are scrambled freeze well. Boiled eggs don’t do as well because the whites get rubbery.
- Fried foods lose their crispness but do ok when reheated in the oven.
- Salty, fatty items, such as bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs, some lunch meats and some fish do not last long in the freezer. The USDA only recommends freezing these items for 1-2 months. The salt causes fat to go rancid in the freezer. If it looks or smells ‘off’ toss it.
Foods That Don’t Freeze Well
- Cornstarch looses it’s thickening power. Use a roux made of butter and flour (or rice flour if you’re gluten-free) instead to thicken your casseroles.
- Gelatin weeps or loses water.
- Vegetables such as lettuces, celery, radishes and cucumbers become watery.
- Melons get very soft and lose much of their juice. They can still be used for smoothies but generally are not good frozen.
- Meringue toppings become tough and rubbery.
- Custards and cream puddings can separate.
- Mayonnaise tends to separate.
- Crumb toppings for things like casseroles or desserts can become soggy.
- Egg white based icing or frosting can become frothy or weep.
Tips for Frozen Foods
- Before freezing hot food, it’s important to let it cool down. Heat will raise the temperature of the freezer and the food will not freeze uniformly; the outer edges of the hot dish will freeze hard quickly, while the inside might not cool in time to prevent spoilage.
- Poorly wrapped foods run the risk of developing freezer burn and unpleasant odors from other foods in the freezer. Use only specialty freezer wrappings: they should be both moisture-proof and vapor-proof.
- Leave as little air as possible in the packages and containers. When freezing liquids in containers, allow a small amount of headroom for expansion. When using freezer bags, be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing.
- Use rigid containers with an air-tight lids and keep the sealing edge free from moisture or food to ensure proper closure.
- Write the name of the dish and the date on the package with a marker.
- In many cases, meats and fish wrapped by the grocer or butcher need no extra attention before freezing. However, meat wrapped on Styrofoam trays with plastic wrap will not hold up well to freezing. If the food you want to freeze was not specially wrapped, then re-wrap them at home.
- Freeze in small containers with no more than a 1-quart capacity to ensure that freezing takes place in a timely manner (i.e., within four hours). Food that is two inches thick will take about two hours to freeze completely.
- A temperature of 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C) is best for maintaining food quality.
- With the exception of muffins, breads and other baked goods, do not thaw foods at room temperature. Bacteria can grow in the thawed portion of prepared foods, releasing toxins that are unsafe to eat even after cooking. To ensure that your food is safe to eat, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
This information below lists recommended storage times for popular pre-cooked foods–casseroles, soups, lasagna–to ensure high-quality results:
Type of Food
- Tomato/vegetable sauces 6 months
- Meatloaf (any type of meat) 6 months
- Soups and stews 2-3 months
- Poultry and Meat Casseroles 6 months
- Poultry (cooked, no gravy) 3 months
- Poultry (with gravy/sauce) 5-6 months
- Meatballs in sauce 6 months
- Pizza dough (raw, homemade) 3-4 weeks
- Muffins/quick breads (baked) 2-3 months
Recipes below give you some ideas of all the different ways frozen meals can be put together to save you time in the future.
Freezer Corn Saute
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 14 ears of corn, husks and silks removed
- 3/4 cup finely chopped red or green bell pepper (1 medium)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion (1 medium)
- Four 1-quart freezer ziplock bags
In a small bowl combine butter, chives, parsley, salt and black pepper. Shape mixture into a 5-inch log. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Freeze about 1 hour or until firm.
In a covered 8-quart pot cook corn in enough boiling water to cover for 3 minutes; drain. Plunge corn into two extra-large bowls of ice water. Let stand until chilled. Cut kernels from cobs. (There should be about 7 cups.)
Line two 15x10x1-inch baking pans with parchment paper or foil. Spread corn kernels, bell pepper and onion in an even layer in the prepared pans. Freeze, loosely covered, about 2 hours or until nearly firm.
Divide vegetables evenly among four 1-quart freezer bags. Cut butter log into eight slices. Add 2 slices of butter to each bag. Squeeze air from bags; seal and label. Freeze for up to 6 months.
To reheat each portion
Transfer frozen vegetable mixture to a medium saucepan or skillet. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until butter is melted and vegetables are heated through, stirring occasionally.
Eat Twice Lasagna
- 1 package (16 ounces) lasagna noodles
- 3 pounds ground turkey or beef
- 3 jars (26 ounces each) spaghetti sauce or 10 cups homemade sauce
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1-1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
- 6 cups (24 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook noodles to the al dente stage. Don’t overcook. The pasta will have additional cooking time in the oven. Drain and place noodles on clean kitchen cloths.
In a Dutch oven, cook turkey or beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Pour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the spaghetti sauce.
In another large bowl, combine the eggs, ricotta cheese, 4-1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.
Spread 1 cup meat sauce in each of two greased 13-in.x 9-in. baking dishes.
Layer each with three noodles, 1 cup ricotta mixture and 1-1/2 cups meat sauce. Repeat layers twice.
Top with Parmesan cheese and remaining mozzarella cheese.
Cover and freeze one lasagna for up to 3 months. Cover and bake remaining lasagna at 375°F for 45 minutes.
Uncover; bake 10 minutes longer or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
To use frozen lasagna
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Cover with foil and bake at 375°F for 60-70 minutes or until heated through. Uncover; bake 10 minutes longer or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.
Yield: 2 lasagnas (12 servings each).
Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes
You can freeze these in single-serving portions (in ziploc bags) and reheat in the microwave for a quick breakfast.
- 3 1/3 cups self rising flour
- 1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 2 cups milk
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups blueberries
- Maple syrup or maple flavored yogurt, for serving
In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar and baking soda.
In another bowl, whisk together yogurt, milk, butter, vanilla and eggs. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Add blueberries and gently toss to combine.
Lightly coat a griddle or nonstick skillet with nonstick spray or brush with oil. Scoop 1/3 cup batter for each pancake and cook until bubbles appear on the top and the underside is nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook pancakes on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer.
Frozen Spinach and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
What is great about this recipe is that the chicken can be cooked without defrosting first.
- 12 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (not cutlets)
- Salt and pepper
- 6 oz reduced-fat cream cheese
- 1 cup feta cheese
- 4 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped fine
- 12 quart sized freezer ziplock bags
- 2 gallon sized ziplock bags
In a mixing bowl combine the chopped spinach, the cream cheese and feta.
Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Make a slit in the side of the chicken breast to create a pocket.
Fill each chicken breast with the cheese mixture.
Place each stuffed breast separately in a quart sized freezer ziplock bag. Squeeze out all the air in the bag before sealing.
Place 6 bags in a gallon freezer ziplock bag and the other six in another.Squeeze out the air and freeze.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove as many chicken breasts as you need for dinner and place them in a baking dish coated with non-stick cooking spray. Bake, covered with foil, for one hour or until tender and no longer pink in the center.
Kid Friendly Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 carrots and/or parsnips, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 pounds bone-in chicken breasts, skin removed
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup small pasta
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the carrots and/or parsnips, celery, onion, thyme, 1½ teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the chicken, chicken broth and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and place on a cutting board. When it is cool enough to handle, shred the meat with 2 forks; discard the bones.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to the soup and simmer until al dente, 6 to 10 minutes. Add the chicken, lemon juice, and parsley and stir to combine.
This soup can be frozen in freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months. Freezing individual servings can be helpful for a quick lunch.
Run the containers under warm water until the soup loosens from the container. Transfer to a pot and heat over medium, covered, stirring occasionally, until heated through.