We see three reasons to cook for your freezer: It saves time, it saves money, and it puts food away in case of an emergency. In this article, we’ll give you helpful directions for getting the most from your freezer.
Why Cook Food for the Freezer?
If your home is like ours, we routinely put leftovers in the refrigerator. Then we forget about them and in a few days, throw them out. How much better to wrap them, freeze them, label them, and use them at a later date. And when you’re cooking that favorite casserole, why not double the batch, make two, and freeze the second? If we have a selection of favorite family foods in the freezer, we can bail ourselves out on those busy days when we just don’t have time to cook.
Your freezer can save you money in a number of ways. On those busy days when there is no time to cook—and for most of us, there are too many of those days—we either reach for a store-bought prepared food, call out to the restaurant for delivery, or jump in the car and go out to eat. All three solutions are expensive. Grabbing a casserole, some frozen rolls, and a dessert from the freezer is quicker, better, and will save money. And in an emergency, it’s nice to have food put by.
Tips for Getting the Most from Your Freezer
- Avoid freezer burn: Freezer burn is actually dehydration. It destroys cell structures and affects both flavor and texture. Plastic is not an adequate oxygen barrier. Use wrapping paper designed for freezing. If you do use plastic, it should be the heavier “freezer” bags designed for the freezer and the food should not be stored long.
- Stay organized: Mark and date everything. Group foods by type with all meats going in one area of the freezer and baked goods in another. Meats should be stored on the lowest shelf so that in the event of an outage, melting juices will not drip on other foods. Keeping a pad on the freezer to jot down inventory items and dates is a good idea.
- Rotate: If you don’t rotate the food in your freezer–use it–you’ll throw it out. Know what’s in your freezer and use it often. Don’t wait until the food is marginal.
- Freeze only best-quality foods: Freezing never improves quality.
- Do not overcook foods: Food will continue cooking when reheated.
- Practice safety: Do not let lukewarm foods sit on the counter before freezing. Remember that bacteria will grow below 140 degrees and freezing does not kill them–they only go dormant to grow again when removed from the freezer. If you need to cool foods quickly before freezing, consider placing them in ice. Do not put so much food in your freezer at one time that the freezer cannot freeze the food solid within 24 hours.
Some Commonly Prepared Foods and How to Freeze Them
- Casseroles: Undercook casseroles when practical. To freeze, wrap the casserole tightly in foil to avoid air pockets. Use within four to six months. Reheat in an oven at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Meatloaf: You can freeze your meatloaf baked or unbaked. Use within three or four months. If unbaked, cook the meatloaf for 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees or reheat a baked meatloaf for one hour.
- Other cooked meats: Remove as much fat from the meat as possible before freezing. Keep the pieces large and cover with gravy or broth if possible. Use within two to four months. Thaw in the refrigerator and reheat for 20 minutes in a hot oven.
- Potatoes: Store mashed potatoes in a covered container. Twice-baked potatoes store well. Consider cutting baked potatoes lengthwise, mashing the contents, and refilling the shell before freezing. French fries can be frozen. Reheat them on a baking sheet at 400 degrees.
- Quick breads: Wrap the bread in aluminum foil to freeze. Use within two or three months. Thaw it at room temperature or reheat it in a warm oven (325 degrees).
- Yeast breads: Consider slicing the bread before freezing. Place the bread in plastic bags and then wrap the loaves tightly in foil. Thaw the bread at room temperature or reheat it at 300 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes. Consider toasting individual slices to thaw.
- Cakes: Unfrosted cakes such as fruit cakes and angel food cakes freeze well. Consider slicing them before freezing so that you can get our just what you need. Wrap the entire cake in foil or wrap individual slices to freeze. Cakes with shortening or butter should be used within four months. Many types of icing do not freeze well.
- Cookies: Store baked cookies in heavy plastic bags and use them within two months. If stored in foil in rigid, airtight containers, the cookies may be stored for up to six months.