The big idea behind meal prep is saving yourself time in the short and long run, so healthy, convenient meals can be an all-the-time thing instead of a some-of-the-time thing. The freezer, then, is a great tool to stretch out the benefit of that time invested in meal prep, making sure some of your hard work lasts months (not just days).
Some meal preppers like to make entire meals to freeze and keep for months at a time (Think: sheet pans of lasagna, soups, stocks and casseroles.) These main dishes keep in the freezer for up to 18 months, but the nutrients of the meal diminish each day it’s in the freezer.
Not all ingredients freeze well. Meaty sauces typically brave the cold, but pasta won’t survive sub-zero temps, and potatoes turn grainy and dry. There’s always the risk of freezer burn, meaning that delicious meal you make could end up stale and unappetizing later. What a waste!
Instead, we have a few suggestions for how to use your freezer to keep fresh, convenient meals on the menu every day of the week. Here’s the why, what and how of freezer meal prep:
WHY USE THE FREEZER?
Using a freezer as part of your meal prep arsenal makes it easy to save time and money, reduce food waste and eat healthier, with just a little time spent each week. Employing your freezer helps stretch the life of uncooked veggies and fruits for use later and will help keep other components of meal prep fresher, longer.
Most meals last in the fridge for up to five days. Freezing ingredients helps them to stay edible for up to 11 months, but we suggest you use those ingredients within a couple of weeks to maximize the amount of nutrients in your foods. Let’s say you’re making big batch of chicken soup for meal prep this week, but have time to make an additional chicken to use next week. The freezer can help you spend the time to prep now and store the ingredients for you to use next week.
WHAT TO PREP AND FREEZE?
Meat: Pork shoulder, for example, is an inexpensive cut of meat best prepared low and slow, and is easy to portion into bags or containers to use in a pinch. Use some straight away, and store the rest double wrapped in the freezer. Repurpose it in tacos, stews, soups and even salads.
Stock: Stock freezes ridiculously well. Whip up your favorite recipe in a large batch, then use ice cube trays to freeze it and store it in plastic freezer bags. Then, you can pull just the quantity you need to make soups, stews and other recipes in a flash.
Vegetables or fruit: Chop your favorite veggies, then spread them over a pair of sheet pans. Jam the sheet pans in the freezer to allow the individual veggie pieces to freeze (this prevents hunks of frozen veggies from forming.) Once the produce starts to freeze, wrap it in plastic and foil and store for the long haul. These veggies won’t be great to add to salads because the thawing process makes them more limp or soggy than they were fresh, but they’ll be great to add to smoothies or soups.
HOW TO STORE FREEZER FOODS?
Keeping cold air away from your frozen foods is crucial to their prolonged freshness. Here are a few favorite storage options:
- Wrap casseroles, large cuts of meats or bread in a tight, double layer of aluminum foil, then double wrap again in plastic wrap. This option is best for oddly shaped ingredients.
- Use freezer-safe Ziploc bags to seal ingredients for shorter periods of time (since the barrier between cold air and the food is thinner.) Baggies are best for liquids, and anything you want to portion. Lay the baggies on a sheet pan to freeze flat, this keeps the baggies from taking up massive amounts of space!
- Glass containers with lock-tight lids are great for short-term storage and for freezer-to-oven cooking options. Containers are handy to transport frozen ingredients and meals (much easier to carry a glass container than than a plastic freezer bag that grows limp as it thaws in your purse). This also keeps cold air away from your foods.
- Aluminum pans are a good option for short-term storage and offer a disposable alternative to glass.
- Glass jars are a great freezer-storage option. They make stacking and reheating a breeze and allow you to portion ingredients and meals. If you use jars, remember to leave space at top for any liquids you’re storing to expand as they freeze.
Don’t forget to label everything you freeze with the contents and date on the container! This helps you to keep ingredients from stockpiling in the freezer and keeps you from forgetting what is in there.
READ MORE MEAL PREP RESCUE
Next up in our meal prep series, a few tips for how to use sheet pans to help with prep and some gear to get you going!
Check out Healthy Pantry Recipes for easy-to-cook recipes using non-perishable foods with helpful substitutions.