Many of you know that my new cookbook, Clean Eating Freezer Meals, is now available. But when I first announced what type of book I was writing, I was surprised by the number of questions I got. Questions like, “what can be frozen and for how long?“.
Other questions were, “how do you freeze in-season foods to enjoy year round” and “how do you properly reheat foods you’ve frozen“.
Understand that almost all foods can be frozen at 0 F. indefinitely. But at some point, their quality, flavor and nutrients start to degrade. So it simply becomes a matter of eating them before they begin to truly lose those qualities. How you package them will also play a large roll in how long they last once frozen.
WHAT CAN BE FROZEN AND FOR HOW LONG?
In doing research on this, I realized that, while some foods have different shelf lives than others, in general, it’s safe to say that 4-6 months is a good cutoff. Now obviously, many foods can be frozen for much longer than that, and as I said, you can freeze indefinitely. But it’s been my experience that flavors and textures are best if the food is eaten before that 4-6 month time is up. Because of that, I have now started labeling my frozen foods with my own “expiration dates”. Call me a rebel, but I want my food to taste good, have good texture AND still have it’s nutrients!
IS IT BETTER TO PURCHASE FRESH OR FROZEN FOODS FOR FREEZER MEALS?
This is completely a personal choice. The thing with produce is, very often fresh produce is picked very early because it has to usually come a long way to it’s final destination to be sold. But frozen foods don’t need to be picked that early. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. Produce is harvested later so that it will taste like real food when you thaw and/or cook it. So while a few of the nutrients may be lost in freezing, in some cases, you could actually be getting the same if not more nutrients because the food was harvested later. That’s not to say you can’t purchase freshly harvested foods in a store, but it is a reality of our current food system. Foods are picked very early so they can ripen on trucks instead of trees.
You have two options with freezing fresh foods:
- Freeze from raw.
- Freeze from blanched.
The truth is, I could write an entire book on how to handle each piece of produce (and I may very well do that!). But these days, all you have to do is google a particular fruit or vegetable to find out if it needs to be blanched or if it can be frozen raw. Many vegetables need to be blanched, while many fruits are best frozen raw.
HOW DO YOU PROPERLY REHEAT FROZEN FOODS?
This is a loaded question simply because each food can be different. But in general, if you are dealing with fresh or “single-item” produce, simply thawing it in a bowl in the fridge (for frozen fruits) or steaming it in a pot (for cooked veggies) will do the trick.
However, when you get into things like soups and casseroles, it will first depend on what type of container you have frozen your food in initially (no plastic in the oven please!), and also what type of food it is.
But generally speaking, the safest place to thaw a food is in the fridge. Heating it will depend on the food in question and how you would normally cook it. Once the food has been properly thawed, you would heat it like you would any other time.
HOW SHOULD I PACK MY FOODS FOR FREEZING?
While I go into more detail about this in my book, I think it’s worth talking about here as well.
The thing with freezing foods is that air and moisture are your enemy. The second air or moisture get to your food in the freezer, you will end up with freezer burn and bad tasting food. So packing it well is critical if you intend on leaving whatever food you have in the freezer for a while. Your container choice is a personal one. It must fit your food, be made of a material you are comfortable using and be air-tight. I personally use a lot of glass containers I got at Costco that have snap on lids. But I’ve also used gallon Ziploc bags and they work very well. But no matter what you use, makes sure the air and moisture stays at bay for a more solid freezer shelf life.
FROM STOVETOP TO FREEZER
When you cook foods to store in your freezer, for food safety, you want to chill the food as fast as possible before actually putting it in the freezer. For some foods, this could mean cooling in the fridge and for others it could mean an ice bath. Whatever method works best for you is the one you should use.
It helps to freeze in smaller portions sizes so that the food can freeze quicker as well. The overall quality of the food will be better maintained if you cool and freeze as quickly as possible. In other words, don’t put a hot soup in a glass dish in the freezer. Not only do you run the risk of the glass breaking, but your freezer will probably have to work all night to actually freeze it completely. This leaves a window for bacteria as well as lessoning the quality of the food when it’s cooked to serve.
WHAT FOODS SHOULD NOT GO IN THE FREEZER?
The list is pretty short. As I said, most foods can be frozen. But there are a few that should never go in the freezer because they will not return to their original texture once thawed.
- High water content produce such as lettuce or watermelon (unless you use/eat the watermelon frozen).
- Some dairy such as cottage cheese or sour cream. They will separate in the freezer.
- Toppings or sauces made with cornstarch or flour (as in – used to thicken a sauce)
- Herbs frozen by themselves. You’ll want to chop them, mix them with olive oil and freeze them that way. Just don’t leave them in the freezer too long! (I’d say 1-2 months tops would be your best shot here)
I hope that clears things up a bit. And if you have specific questions about specific foods, please feel free to ask in a comment below. I will do my best to get you the information you need.