Tips for Making Freezer-Friendly Meals

It's just as important to cook a healthy meal as it is to spend quality time with your family at the dinner table. Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals by Holly Clegg is filled with delicious and nutritious recipes that you can make in advance and freeze, so that you're not slaving over a hot stove every night. To ensure that your dinners come out well, the recipes include directions on how to prepare and serve, as well as how to properly freeze, each item.

 

But before you put that meatloaf in the freezer, find out the do's and don'ts of freezing. For example, food should be at room temperature before going into the freezer, and some foods, like cheeses and gravies, may change after being thawed.

Below is everything you need to know about freezing meals.

Freezing Facts:

  • Freezing does not improve food quality — select only fresh, high-quality ingredients.
  • Slightly undercook foods that will be frozen, as reheating will finish their cooking. This is especially true for pasta, rice and vegetables.
  • Food must be at room temperature before freezing. Stirring will help cool food faster. Promptly freeze after the food reaches room temperature.
  • Don't overload your freezer. It is best to freeze no more than two or three pounds per cubic foot of freezer capacity within a 24-hour period. Stack the food after it is frozen.
  • The temperature of your freezer should not go above 0 degrees F.
  • If possible, thaw food in the refrigerator. It takes frozen food about 24 to 48 hours in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Eat thawed frozen food as soon as possible once it's thawed, since food spoils more quickly at this point than when it's fresh.
  • Avoid freezing high-sodium foods, as salt lowers the freezing point of water.
  • Do not put a cold dish in a hot oven — it can break the dish.
  • For a time-saver, package foods to be reheated in a microwave oven in freezer-safe/microwave-safe containers.
  • A casserole topping (cheese or bread) is best added when the dish is being heated to serve.
  • Some spices may change flavor after they're frozen.

Refreezing Thawed Food:

  • Foods may be refrozen if they have only partially thawed or still have ice crystals in the package. Otherwise, refreezing can affect the quality.
  • Meat, fish, poultry, prepared foods, vegetables and fruits can be refrozen only if kept at a temperature of 40 degrees F or below and if their color and odor is good.
  • If ice cream is partially thawed, throw it out.
  • When in doubt, it is best to throw out!

When the Power Goes Out:

  • If your freezer is unopened, it's full and it's well insulated, your foods will stay frozen longer.
  • Depending on freezer size and how full it's loaded, food will stay frozen around two to four days.
  • A half-filled freezer will keep food frozen only about 24 hours.

Foods That Do Not Freeze Well:

  • Cottage cheese
  • Cheese
  • Cream puddings and fillings
  • Custard
  • Fruits and vegetables with a high water content, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon
  • Gelatin salads
  • Gravies, some
  • Fried foods
  • Mayonnaise
  • Milk sauces
  • Sour cream
  • Whites of hard-cooked eggs and uncooked egg yolks
  • Yogurt

Foods That Change After Being Thawed:

  • Cheese — may change in texture after freezing; hard cheeses become crumbly
  • Soft cheese (cream cheese) — becomes watery and may need to be beaten or combined with other ingredients once thawed
  • Cottage cheese — separates and becomes mushy after freezing; stir after thawing
  • Gravies — may thicken and need more liquid when reheating
  • Milk, yogurt and sour cream — may separate; stir after thawing
  • Sauces — may separate; whisk before reheating
  • Seasonings — onions, herbs and flavorings may change once they are frozen
  • Vegetables and pasta — soften during freezing

From Holly Clegg's Trim & Terrific Freezer Friendly Meals © 2006 Running Press Book Publishers.

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