Frugal foodies, this one's for you. Freezing foods is a great way to stretch your grocery dollar and prepare great meals on the fly.
How Long? How Cold?
Freezing stops enzymes and the growth of microorganisms and bacteria that lead to spoilage. While technically you can keep most foods in the freezer indefinitely, you will get the best flavor and texture if you thaw and eat your reserves within nine to 12 months.
For food safety, ensure that your freezer is set to 0°F. Keep a thermometer in the freezer and check the temperature about once a month. An over-crowded freezer makes it harder to keep the recommended 0°F setting.
Proper Freezing Technique
To keep food safe, cool hot dishes before placing in the freezer. Cooked foods that are still warm can raise the overall temperature of the freezer, causing partial thawing of foods in the freezer — this can affect safety, taste and texture. To chill items like stew or soup, place them in a bowl and set the bowl in an ice bath. Stir the soup occasionally until it is properly chilled. If any fat rises to the top, skim it off and discard it; over time, even frozen fat will spoil and reduce the life of the dish.
Just like in the fridge and pantry, practice a "first in, first out" rotation in the freezer. Place the newest food packages in the bottom or near the back of the freezer. Then, move the oldest items forward so they are next in line for use.
To store foods for a short period of time, use plastic bags or plastic wrap. Wrap foods tightly to decrease the chance of freezer burn, which occurs when air meets frozen food. While it’s not harmful, it does affect foods texture and appearance. To freeze foods for longer than a month or two, use heavy-duty aluminum foil, and designated freezer bags or wraps. Don’t forget to date and label all packages with contents.
When it's time to defrost, do so in the refrigerator or in the microwave. To avoid the risk of contamination, never defrost food at room temperature.
Which Foods Freeze Well?
- Baking chocolate and chocolate chips
- Nuts — keep shelled nuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity
- Flour and sugar
- Dairy products like butter, blocks of cheese, cream cheese and milk
- Fresh herbs (Chop and mix herbs with a little olive oil, place in ice cube trays and freeze; then, when they're frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag for storage. Use in soups, stews and other meals.)
- Pasta sauce — store in a plastic container; glass jars should not be frozen
- Fruit (To prepare: Wash, dry well and freeze individually. This will make it easy to quickly grab what you need without defrosting the entire batch.)
- Beans (Consider making a large batch of beans and freezing in smaller portions. Cover cooked beans with a layer of water or oil to make an airtight seal, making sure the container lid is tight to prevent freezer burn.)
- Coffee (Make too much coffee? No problem, freeze the rest in ice cube trays — you can do this with wine and tea as well! Drop cubes into soups, sauces, drinks or blend to make a frozen coffee drink!)
- Tofu (Tofu changes texture when frozen, and that can be a good thing! More chewy and spongy than regular tofu, it’s perfect for use in veggie burgers or stir-fries. To freeze: drain, rinse and store or place the whole container in the freezer.)
- Cooked rice — perfect for last-minute fried rice!
But Skip Freezing These Foods
- Lettuce and crisp raw vegetables — you can freeze them to make stock, but they turn watery and limp in raw salads or sandwiches
- Eggs — raw eggs expand and crack, while hard cooked eggs become tough and rubbery in the freezer
- Sour cream, heavy cream or whipping cream
- Gravy or sauce thickened with corn starch