The coronavirus outbreak and its resulting self-quarantines have sent us all flocking to grocery stores to stock up on food and prepare our pantries. We’ve been sharing recipes you can make with shelf-stable foods in your pantry like tuna, pasta, rice and beans, but you shouldn’t forget about another valuable item in the kitchen ― your freezer.
Some recipes lend themselves to freezing perfectly, such as casseroles, soups, stews, chilis, meatballs and pasta dishes ― here are a few of our favorites. But keep in mind that a recipe doesn’t have to be labeled “freezer-friendly” to be freezable. You can freeze virtually anything (though the aforementioned foods maintain their flavor and texture the best after being reheated).
Buy fresh ingredients now while they’re still in stores, then cook some dishes and stash them in your freezer for a time when you may not be able to access fresh fruits, vegetables and meats as easily.
There are just a few things to keep in mind when it comes to preparing foods for your freezer. Here’s everything you need to know about food containers, how long the food will last, how to thaw it and more.
How To Prepare Food For Freezing
It’s important to let hot food cool to room temperature before putting it in your freezer. A hot dish of lasagna, for example, will raise the temperature of the freezer, making the food in it less safe.
Follow these helpful guidelines from allrecipes.com for safe freezing:
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 head room for expansion. When using freezer bags, be sure to remove as much air as possible before closing.
Wrap solids foods like meats and baked goods tightly in foil before you bag them.
Use rigid containers with an airtight lid and keep the sealing edge free from moisture or food to ensure proper closure.
Secure wrapped packages and containers with freezer tape, and write the dish and the date on the tape 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 rewrap 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 2 inches thick will take about two hours to freeze completely.
In addition, never, ever freeze in glass jars unless they’re explicitly freezer-safe, as the glass could shatter (particularly if you’re freezing a liquid like soup, which could expand as it freezes). Instead, use plastic containers or a freezer-safe zip-seal plastic bag.
Soups, Stews and Chilis
Freezer bags are a great option here. Pour your soup into a few different bags to keep them manageable in your freezer, and you’ll be able to stack them easily when it comes time to save some room. They also make single-serving thawing a breeze.
Cooked Meat, Poultry and Fish
Freezer bags are also your best bet for these items, because they can seal airtight around the meat, eliminating air gaps that can cause freezer burn. The less air in the bag, the better.
Cooked poultry — 4 months
Uncooked poultry parts — 9 months
Uncooked whole poultry — 12 months
Cooked meat — 2 to 3 months
Uncooked roasts — 4 to 12 months
Uncooked steaks or chops — 4 to 12 months
Uncooked ground meat — 3 to 4 months
Casseroles and Baked Pasta Dishes
You may be tempted to freeze a glass casserole dish or pan, but only do so if you’ve completely cooled it down to room temperature after baking. Otherwise, you could risk the glass shattering. Aluminum pans are a better option. Before you put your room-temp dish in the freezer, seal it well with foil and then put plastic wrap on top of that. BonAppetit.com says you can even take it one step further: You can “line a baking dish with foil, bake and freeze it, then lift the frozen casserole out of the dish whole, wrap it up tightly, and store it in a freezer bag.”
If you’ve got fresh thyme, dill, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, etc., do this: Wash them, chop them finely and pack them into ice cube molds. Just drizzle a tiny bit of water into each cube, then freeze. When you’re ready to use them, just toss them into a hot pan and they’ll dissolve.
You can also blend herbs into room temperature butter, roll the butter into a log between parchment paper, and freeze it. When you’re ready to top your salmon with some dill butter or your baked potato with chive butter, just chop off a slice and you’re good to go.
How to thaw frozen food
The USDA’s guide to safe thawing recommends the following methods:
In the refrigerator: This will take the longest, but it’s arguably the safest method. Some items, depending on their size, could take days to defrost this way.
In cold water: This is a little faster. Place the frozen food in a leak-proof bag and put it in a large container of cold water.
In a microwave on the defrost setting: This is the fastest method, but you must cook your food immediately after it’s defrosted.
How long will frozen meals last in the freezer?
The internet is full of helpful guides that tell us how long our food will last in the freezer, but the USDA says those guides aren’t referring to safety at all. That’s because all frozen food is safe to eat, provided it was safe to eat at the time it was frozen.
“Because freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only,” according to the USDA. “Food stored constantly at 0 degrees Fahrenheit will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage.”
But in case you’re interested in how long your food will remain at its highest quality, refer to this chart: