In my part 2 of my Freezer Meals 101 series, I’ll be explaining some tips for storing to give your food’s freshness an extended expiration date. If you caught my previous freezer meal post, you’ll know that saving money and time has inspired me to revisit freezer meal planning, and prepping. In my other post, I talked all about planning your meals and how the art of freezer meal prepping is what you make it.
First things first, let’s talk about how to properly store your meals to stay fresh, and conserve your freezer space. You’ll never be able to enjoy those delicious freezer meals you’ve prepared if by the time you pull them out to cook, they’re covered in freezer burn.
Some Things You’ll Need:
• Permanent Marker
It’s essential that whatever you do, you’re able to label your foods. A month from now, you’re going to want to know what everything is before you grab it, and exactly when you made it. Nobody likes to play the fresh or not guessing game when it comes to their food.
• Plastic Wrap
Any one of your preferred plastic cling wraps works just fine. You can use plastic cling wrap to individually wrap your portions of meat for freezing. Since the portions will be placed in freezer bags they’ll be protected from the cold. The plastic wrap serves to block out air from touching your food. Air is actually what causes freezer burn on your foods.
• Ziplock bags
Do not cut corners when it comes to your ziplock bags! Make sure to use freezer quality bags to protect your food from the extreme cold. I’m just as fabulously frugal as the next person, but I’ve found that cheaper storage bags are much thinner, and will have you regretting it when after all of your hard work, you find that your tasty meals are now freezer burned. That’s not good for anyone.
• Foil pans or non-aluminum baking pans
This won’t be a necessity for everyone. It obviously all depends on what you’re choosing to freeze and how you’re choosing to freeze it. Foil pans are good options for lasagna or casseroles for you to freeze and just pop in your oven later. Kind of like make your own Stouffers. It’s actually best to buy inexpensive, disposable pans for the purpose of freezing because you end up throwing them right in the trash after eating. If I ever use pans I still make sure to ziplock them for extra protection from the cold anyway, so buying expensive pans for disposable would be a waste. Also, (just a tip) if you’re preparing freezer meals to be gifted, this will be perfect so that the recipient won’t have to worry about returning your dish after enjoying the meal.
• Freezer Tape
Freezer tape is the best option as opposed to other kinds of tape. Remember, it has to stay sticky when it’s frozen, be durable enough to withstand the cold temps, and stick to various surfaces. Most importantly, you have to be able to write on it without smudging and fading. Freezer labels are also a great choice if you can find them, because it basically kills two birds with one stone.
Some Tips For Labeling:
• Always remember the date!
I’ll mention this a few times throughout this post about the importance of adding the date to your meals. I can’t stress this enough. I actually like to label my bags before packaging everything up. It’s easier to write on an empty bag, and it helps to not forget things that I need to label.
• Label Your Foods
(Obviously) You want to know what everything is when you’re ready to go back and cook it. Too many things start to look alike.
• Include Cooking Instructions
If your meals come with a lot of specific cooking instructions, make sure to add that somewhere on your label. I skip this a lot, mostly because I’m the only one who really cooks in my house, and I already know how I want the meals prepared. This is a great thing to do if your significant other cooks, or you have older children who sometimes handle dinner. It will prevent a lot of headache to mention that this meal goes in the crock pot, or this should be cooked frozen in the oven for 30 minutes.
Some Tips For Packaging:
• Portion sizes before freezing
I’ve found this to be most convenient when I’m separating marinated meat, but it’s also a GREAT way to store soups. When I make a large pot of soup or chili, I find that it’s better to freeze one large bag (for family meals) and a few smaller bags. (for individual bowls) and that way if you just want a bowl to yourself, you aren’t thawing and heating an entire pot of food for one.
• Wrapping Meat vs Bagging Meat
Meat that involves a marinade should be stored in its own personal ziplock bag. Meat that will be going into a pot or crockpot with beans, corn, or raw veggies (like a soup or stew) can be stored in a ziplock bag together. Meat that will go with a side of veggies are better wrapped and separated. (I hope that made sense!) If you’re storing something like marinated cilantro lime chicken, store it bagged and ALONE. If you’re storing something like Chicken Tortilla Soup that you plan to throw in a crockpot, you can store it bagged and TOGETHER. If you’re storing raw chicken, a side of fresh broccoli, and red potatoes, wrap your chicken FIRST, and bag everything as one meal.
• Avoiding air pockets
Huge, HUGE tip is to avoid air at all costs. When you’re packaging all of your foods, remember to remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing. Be your own food saver!
Some Tips For Freezing:
• No glass or plastic containers
Glass breaks, which is a MESS (although I have successfully frozen things in mason jars before, still wouldn’t recommend it) Plastic containers can end up being a waste of space, and they also put you at risk for too much air exposure which will freezer burn your food.
• Allow cooked foods cooling
If you’re freezing cooked foods, you have to give your food cooling time. Your freezer will have to work ten times harder to bring down the temperature of food that’s freshly cooked, and this can also cause other things in your freezer to start to thaw. Cool down first, and then store.
Some Tips for Storing:
• Store your meals flat
Storing your meals flat is your best bet your convenience, because it makes them freeze quicker, and thaw quicker when it’s time to cook them. It also helps to maximize storage space in your freezer because you can stack them, and once they’re frozen, you can also lean them up against the freezer if need be.
• Older items at the front, new items at the back
This just makes it easier for you to cook your older meals first to ensure that no food is going to waste.