Your Personal Meal Planning Assistant
October 17, 2016 / Nicole Villeneuve

Healthy Freezer Meal Prep: The Do’s and Don’ts

freezer bags with frozen corn beans and cranberries

When it comes to saving time and money with meal planning, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps nothing is more effective than planning ahead and freezing. If you’re sticking to vegan meal plans or another specific diet, relying on meal preparation can be a total game-changer. A couple of hours in the kitchen and a few batches of your favorite go-to’s will make for quick, nutritious meals whenever you need them. Plus, cooking in batches tends to be more cost-effective, saving you panicked trips for takeout or multiple trips to the grocery store (which we all know can be time-consuming right now with the long lines) when you realize there are no groceries in the house.

While not everything stands up to a deep freeze, most foods retain their texture, flavor, and nutritional value when frozen. There are a few key things to keep in mind during healthy freezer meal prep to make sure your meals are just as excellent the next time around. Make room in the freezer and read on for how to freeze meal prep and get the most out of your make-aheads.

Want more batch meal help? Try PlateJoy today and get 10 days of free meal plans.

What Not to Freeze and Why

Vegetables with high water content tend to become mushy when thawed. For this reason, cucumber, lettuce, onions, and sprouts are best kept fresh. They’re easy to prep on the fly, so you won’t lose too much time; plus, by freezing your other meals, you’ll have extra space in the fridge for all those fresh greens.

Eggs and egg-based products like mayonnaise also don’t do well in the freezer. Dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and cream tend to become watery when thawed. Both are fine if incorporated into freezer meal prep, such as being cooked into a dish–and then frozen; just try to avoid freezing them on their own.

4 Tips for the Perfect Freezer Meals

You know that freezer meals are time and money-savers. From simple kitchen tool hacks to safe preparation, these tips for how to freeze foods will help you make the most of your family dinners.

1. Casseroles are the Perfect Freezer-Friendly Meal

Cheesy-chicken-broccoli-and-quinoa-casserole-on-blue-plate

Although it might seem old-timey, a casserole really can be your best friend during a busy week, or when you simply can’t decide what to cook. Plus, casseroles are one of those quintessential freezer meal prep items that tend to maintain shape and flavor when reheated. Baking a variety of vegetables, grains, and protein in a reusable pan and transferring it to the freezer once it’s cooled means easy-to-reheat dinners are ready to go.

If you intend to reheat the entire casserole at once, leave it whole and pop it in the freezer. If you anticipate just needing a few portions at a time, you may wish to slice up your casserole into separate portions and package separately before freezing. This is also a great reason to use smaller baking pans so you’ll only need to reheat a bit at a time rather than being stuck eating lasagna for six days straight.

Almost any combination of cream or tomato sauce with protein and pasta can make for a great bake – layer it all together, bake, cool, then freeze. Try dishes like shepherd’s pie (substituting lentils for ground meat if vegetarian) or a Mexican-inspired enchilada bake with chicken or beef, black beans, rice, and sautéed peppers. Leave the cheese off until you reheat it to prevent soggy separation.

2. Freeze Fluids in Bags

Pro-tip for how to freeze meal prep: store liquids like soups and sauces in freezer bags. Whip up a batch of soup or chili on the stovetop or in a slow cooker and allow it to cool completely before attempting to pack it up.

Try this freezer meal prep tip: Put freshly made soups and sauces in an ice bath to help speed up the cooling process. Spread a freezer bag in a bowl and carefully ladle in your soup. Stack bags in the fridge so they’ll freeze flat – this is amazing for saving space!

This is also a great way to streamline your batch cooking of sauces, like tomato sauce, cream sauce, and barbecue sauce. These sauces will keep for about 30 days in the freezer.

3. Label Your Meals

Save yourself a lot of confusion by thoroughly labeling everything before you freeze it. Include the following information on the bag or food storage container:

When it comes to how to freeze meal prep, it’s not just the whole meal that should be labeled. If you are freezing whole ingredients like vegetables or fruit, put them in a bag and be sure to add a label for easy identification.

4. Let Meals Cool Before Freezing

It may be tempting to immediately put your freshly cooked meals into the freezer, but it’s important to wait for a few reasons:

Meals that are extremely hot can be cooled at room temperature until safe to be put in a storage container, then placed in the refrigerator to further cool.

Another great tip for proper freezer meal prep is to use freezer-safe pans and containers. If you have to use glass, make sure it’s tempered to reduce the risk of cracking with temperature change or if the food expands. You’ll also want to make sure the containers are not overfilled before cooling.

How to Reheat Your Frozen Meals

For the best results, frozen foods should be thawed overnight in the fridge before reheating. This will help shorten your reheating time and preserve the texture of your freezer meals.

Foods can be reheated in the same manner in which they were cooked or in the microwave. For example, sauces and soups can be reheated over a medium-low burner, or for a few minutes in a microwave-safe dish. Casseroles can be reheated at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven for about 20 minutes until warmed through, or pre-portioned and reheated in the microwave.

One final tip for how to freeze meal prep safely: once you’ve reheated a meal, do not place it back in the freezer. It should be consumed in the same sitting to prevent the risk of foodborne illnesses.

No Time to Prep a Whole Freezer Meal?

No worries. When you’re already elbow-deep in making a single meal, make a point to chop up a few extra handfuls of things like carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, or broccoli. These prepped ingredients will make easy additions to future meals.

To prevent sticking, freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet first, then move them to a freezer bag. If you are prepping meat, it needs to be cooked before freezing, but that will make preparing it on the other end easy: just thaw and reheat.

The Takeaway

Preparing your weekly meals takes time, but cooking simple freezer meal prep in advance can give you more time to spend with family, friends, and on hobbies. Whether you’re making kid-friendly meals for the family or prepping for your clean eating meal plan, following these tips for storing, cooling, and reheating your food will make your life easier in the long run.

Want more batch meal help? Try PlateJoy today and get 10 days of free meal plans.

Nicole Villeneuve
Director of Content @ PlateJoy

Nicole Villeneuve is the Director of Content Strategy at PlateJoy and a certified Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. A graduate of Yale University, she previously worked in book publishing, with a focus on cookbooks and health, and ran the food blog Paper and Salt. Her writing has been featured in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and The Daily Beast. Nicole lives in San Francisco and loves cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, and running by the ocean. You can (very occasionally) find her on Twitter.

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