Food

18 Must-Follow Freezer and Meal Prep Rules

There was a study that was done that said that people are more stressed these days than they have ever been. This might seem odd when… Simi - August 6, 2018

There was a study that was done that said that people are more stressed these days than they have ever been. This might seem odd when you think about people living in the dark ages. They didn’t have electricity. They were inundated with diseases. They didn’t have technology, and they didn’t have medicine.

The peasant class was enormous, and the person with the most weapon set the law of the land. Well, that last one may still be true, but on the whole, you would think that life would be a bit easier now. We have schools, hospitals, and banks. We have cars, roads, and heaters. We have good food, Hollywood, and airplanes. In fact, when you come to think about it what don’t we have? Well, the answer to that is simple. We don’t have time.

We live in a very competitive world where we have to work every hour of every day to make a small amount of money to buy things that we don’t need. We don’t have time to sleep, and we don’t have time to eat.

In light of this, it is a wonder that people aren’t more stressed out. One thing that you shouldn’t have to worry about is food. It is a fundamental human right after all. Now you might not have the time to cook every day, but that is what freezers are for. Provided you are using them correctly.

Get supplies

Before we head into a whole long thing about what you can and can’t freeze, we need to get one thing out of the way. The first thing that needs to be done is to gather containers and supplies. You can have all the food in the world all ready for freezing, but it will be utterly useless if you don’t have something to put it in. Now you could go off and stock up on Tupperware containers, but it might be a good idea to mix things up a bit.

You could manage with dozens of sandwich boxes, but your freezer needs will be higher than that. To keep all your foodstuffs safe, fresh and untainted you will need a whole host of paraphernalia. This could include tin foil, parchment paper and maybe even a glass container or two. All of these things need to be freezer friendly, and they need to be of varying sizes. The last thing that will be necessary is markers and labels. It is all well and good having a couple of casseroles, but how will you know what is what if things are not labeled correctly. Once this has all been acquired, then we can move on to actual meal prep.

Know how to package things

Okay, the whole meal prep thing may have been a bit pre-emptive. We are not necessarily ready to start cutting and chopping. You may have loaded up with containers and supplies. But, do you know how to use them? Are you about to throw a slice of pizza in a box and turn it into the ice tray? If you were about to do that, then it might be a good idea to read the next part very carefully. The freezer can be quite a treacherous place so beware…

Lets for a moment think about the freezer itself. It’s cold in, there right? Like, cold. Yes, this is stating the obvious but think about that stunning pot of food you just made. Do you think that it would survive in the arctic without the proper protection? That fantastic steak you just bought, imagine how awful it would be if it was riddled with freezer burn. You need to have a careful look at your supplies and make sure that they are freezer friendly. Secondly, food should be wrapped up in wrapping before being put in a container. You need to ensure that there is no place for too much air to circulate around your food.

What about the labels?

You have hit the point where you have all your containers, and you know how to use them correctly. What is next? Do you finally get to start cooking? No, no you do not. Don’t fret; it is almost time to begin preparing. But, we first need to discuss the importance of correct labeling. How great are stews on a cold winters evening? They feel at home. They make you warm from your toes to your hair follicles. They are perfect for when you are happy, and they are even better when you are sick.

But, and yes there is a but, they do kind of all look the same. When all is said and done, when everything is cooked, and all the veggies have been thrown in, there is no way of knowing which stew which is. Is it chicken? Is it beef? You might as well guess. Then there is the question of when you cooked it. Was it last week or a month ago? Also, how many people can it feed? Is it enough for a family of four or can it only fill two people? This is why you label, and this is why you must label accurately.

There are some things that you shouldn’t freeze

The freezer is like a preserving box is it not? It can take a bowl of food and keep it safe for a couple of days, maybe even a week or two if you are lucky. It is almost quite magical when you come to think about it. But, it is not magic. It is just a freezer. A good freezer at that but a freezer none the less. This means that it does, in fact, have limited capabilities. It cannot preserve everything, and it cannot preserve everything indefinitely. There is food which should just not be put in there.

It is utterly useless to prattle off a long list of foods that shouldn’t be in the freezer. For this reason, we will start small. The first rule of thumb when it comes to foods that you can’t freeze is beware of dairy. Milk can be frozen yes, but what about other dairy products? No yogurt and no cheese of any kind. The freezing is not such an issue; the problem comes when you thaw these products. They develop an odd consistency and sometimes even a funny taste when they are fully defrosted.

To thaw or not to thaw

We know what shouldn’t go in the freezer but now what do you do with the things that have landed up in the freezer? The time has come to devour that delicious meal that you prepared last week. The whole ride home you keep thinking about how you are going to settle down on the couch and munch down on a warm bowl of whatever. You even prepared for this in advance. Early in the morning, you took the container out and put it on the counter top. There is nothing wrong with that right? That is wrong.

Not only are there rules about freezing but there are rules about thawing as well. You cannot just put something frozen and place it on the counter. You need to defrost food in the fridge. By doing this, you can prevent bacteria from forming in and on your food. If time is a problem, then a bowl of cold water could be used, or even the defrost option in the microwave but do not just leave it out at room temperature. When using the microwave, remember to remove foil and plastic wrapping. In the case of the bowl of water, make sure there are no holes in the packaging.

Refreezing is a big no

Here is another picture to consider. You have gone ahead and cooked a whole pot of food. You cannot possibly eat it all, or you have perhaps made too much on purpose. The purpose is to freeze the whole lot and eat it at a later time. Now, you are all set to throw it in a container and place it in the freezer, but you didn’t label how many servings there were. The result is that when you take it out in a weeks’ time, there is still food left over that couldn’t possibly be eaten now. You might be thinking that a solution could be to put it back in the freezer. Whatever you do, do not do this.

This has nothing to do with taste or consistency. The big problem here is bacteria. If you go ahead and refreeze already thawed food, you could run the risk of letting bacteria develop in your favorite stew. There is even a time frame that can be considered here. These harmful bacteria can start to develop at least an hour after it has been taken out of the freezer. This is just another reason why labeling is so important.

Ice cube trays can be wonderfully versatile

How great is pesto? Seriously, how great is it? It can go on anything. Well, maybe not everything but it can surely go on a whole range of foods. It can be drizzled over a salad. It can be thrown in with pasta to make a meal in minutes. It can even be smeared on a delicious slice of bread if you are feeling creative. Then we have herb infused oil. This is another culinary marvel. A fried egg in herb oil is to die for. It takes breakfast to a whole other level. But, if you are addicted to such things, how do you store them?

Do you bulk up when there is a sale and then leave them in the fridge? You definitely could do that; these things are made to last. But there is another option hiding right there in the freezer. This option being those ice cube trays. They are the perfect size to hold such things. You don’t have to give up every ice cube tray for such things, but one or two could make for quick and delicious meals. Muffin tins could even work if you don’t want to give up ice space.

Frozen chunks are not fun

Homemade gnocchi may be quite the mission to make, but it is entirely worth it. In fact, it is safe to say that anything homemade tastes better. You not only get the joy out of creating something with your bare hands. But, there is also the fact that you know what is going into your food. You know that you are not putting in a whole lot of chemicals and preservatives. Every little piece is just brimming with tasty goodness. But, what happens when you made too much? Can you store them in the freezer? Yes, you can, but then you run the risk of big clumps of gnocchi. Not the most appetizing idea.

There is, however, a solution. This being to use parchment paper. The process is rather simple. Lay out a piece of parchment paper and line up all your little pieces of gnocchi. Make sure that none of them are touching and then place the parchment in the freezer. Once these pieces have been frozen fully then, you can take them out and put them in a container. This will ensure that you have no huge chunks of gnocchi or even fruit when you are craving a warm dish or fruity smoothie.

Not everything that needs to be thawed

Fresh fruits and vegetable make for a wonderful addition to any meal. They add color, and they add nutrients. They stock you up with vitamins, and they ensure that you get all the required minerals. The only problem with this kind of produce is that it does not last long. Fruit and vegetable can go off very quickly, especially if you are living in a country that is naturally warm and humid. This decreased lifespan of such foods can result in a lot of waste if left to sit there in their bowls.

It is for this reason that people purchase frozen fruits and vegetable. While there may be some who frown down upon such things, there is nothing wrong with frozen vegetables and fruits. In fact, it may even preserve their goodness, resulting in a healthier meal. The only problem with these foods comes when people try to thaw them. The result is a soggy and mushy mess. If you do cook with frozen vegetables, then it is much better to prepare them while frozen. This does not diminish the goodness; rather it preserves the integrity of the ingredients. Thus, producing a delicious and distinctive meal.

Frozen fruit can be very useful

We know that fruit can be frozen without damaging the integrity of the product. But, what do you do with these frozen pieces of sweetness? You could try and let them thaw out, but that will result in another soggy mess. This does not only look awful, but the whole texture is quite unappetizing. So unappetizing in fact, that a person may think it best to throw the whole mess in the bin. Considering how expensive fresh produce is, this should undoubtedly be the last resort. There is, however, something that you can do with this frozen fruit.

What’s more, you don’t even need to cook to use this food up. All you will need is a blender and some good yogurt. Here is the plan. Next time you find a whole lot of fruit that is on sale, go ahead and buy it. Buy all of it if you must. When you get home to chop it all up and divide it into freezer bags. Put a couple of pieces of each into each bag and then throw a couple of spoons of yogurt in there. These bags can then be frozen and only need to be taken out when you feel like having an amazing smoothie for breakfast or maybe after working out.

Don’t put hot food into the freezer

It seems like the list of freezing rules goes on and on. You might have reached this point and started to think whether any of this is even worth it. Maybe you should rather go ahead and freeze what you want and when you want and roll the dice when it comes to food integrity and bacteria. In all fairness, this could be an option. The chances of anyone dying from a freezer mistake are pretty slim. But, it is possible, and if you make these rules a habit, then any mishaps can be very easily avoided.

With this in mind, you should not be putting hot food into the freezer. This doesn’t have much to do with the hot food itself. Rather, it has to do with the freezer. Even if you are only putting a small bowl of hot food into it, the result could be increasing the internal temperature of the icebox. This may not seem like an issue, but if this change is significant enough, then some of the food in the freezer could start defrosting. This is not entirely desirable and can easily be avoided if you let food cool down before freezing it.

Freezers work to stop time

The wonderful thing about freezers is that they almost can stop time. This is not meant literally. But it is kind of true when you are looking at the lifespan of the food that is being frozen. A freezer doesn’t simply slow down the degradation process; it almost stops it altogether. If you put something in the freezer that is a day old and then freezes it for two weeks, when it is defrosted again, it is still a day early. This is where the magic lies. This is where the beauty lies.

But, this logic does have consequences. This being that food will only be as good as it was when it was frozen. You cannot expect it to come out better than it was. It will come out in almost the same way, and that is that. The real-world implication of this is that you should freeze food as soon as possible. Food should not be left in the pot for a day or two and then frozen. It should be frozen as quickly as it cools down.

Things grow in the freezer

Freezers can preserve food, but this does not mean that is isn’t subject to change once it has gone in the freezer. This has nothing to do with bacteria or the food itself. Instead, this is referring to the water in the food. When looking at the molecules in water, there is quite a lot of change that takes place when they go from a liquid state to a solid state. In layman’s terms, something is interesting that happens to water when it freezes.

What happens is that the molecules rearrange and from an excellent structure. This structure is what makes ice hard, and it surprisingly takes up more space than the liquid structure does. It has something to do with the rigidity and the shape of the structure. Regardless of the chemistry and physics that are involved, the result is that ice takes up more space than water. In food, this means that a meal can expand when it begins to freeze. The reason why this is important is that you need to account for this expansion. You should not fill containers up to the top and should make sure that there is enough space for the bulging that is going to happen.

Freeze small portions of food

At multiple places on this list, there has been a sentence or two, at times even three, that hark on about how important labeling is. This point will not stress this more than is needed. But, what do you do if you are not that good at labeling? What happens if your appetite changes and what was two portions yesterday is only one portion today? Are you left to suffer without being able to use a freezer or is there another option available? Well, there is another option. This is cooking; there is no cut and dry rule. Excuse the pun.

If you are not that great in labeling then simple freeze smaller portions. This way you can take out portions as you need them and don’t run the risk of taking out too much that would need to be refrozen. There is another benefit of freezing small portions and that being that they not only freeze quicker but they are also quicker to defrost. This makes for nutritious meals that can be prepared in about an hour as opposed to having to wait the whole day to enjoy that dish from last week. 

If you don’t like the taste of it today, then don’t bother

People could go on and on about what you can freeze and what you can’t freeze. They can tell you how to freeze things and how to thaw them. They will also carry on about how freezing will help you reduce the amount of food that will go to waste. These are all very valid points. The freezer can be a great help to even the most experienced of chefs. It is also very admirable to try and reduce the amount of food that goes to waste in a household. There are people out there who would love to eat the food that is being thrown away by many families.

But, you really shouldn’t be freezing food that you don’t want to eat. Maybe it didn’t taste great or possibly you are just not feeling it. Now, this could change in a weeks’ time but it probably won’t. If this is the case, then you are better off handing it over to someone else. There is no use in freezing things that you are just not going to eat. Give it away on your way to work and let it go.

Refreezing previously raw food

No, you should certainly not refreeze food that has already been defrosted. But, there is a small loophole here. It is not a loophole, once it has been stated you will see that it is pretty obvious. Firstly, the reason why you cannot refreeze food that has been thawed is that this allows bacteria to come back to life and grow. Then if you go ahead and freeze it, then the cycle is just being compounded meaning that when you eventually do eat it, there will be a whole lot of bacteria thriving in it.

But, what happens if the food was raw and then you cooked it. This mostly applies to meat, chicken, and fish. These foods are generally bought fresh and then tossed in the freezer raw. Which is completely okay. Then they are taken out and thawed. Another thing which is fine. What is not fine is refreezing this raw food. What you can do, however, is to cook the food and then refreeze it. The cooking process will kill any bacteria, therefore, making it safe to be tossed in the freezer again. It is unclear as to who would freeze a cooked steak, but it is possible if you are that way inclined.

Keep the freezer full

The reason why all the food in the freezer is all frozen to the same degree, regardless of where it has been placed is that of how a freezer was made to run. The internal mechanism ensures that cool air circulates around the entire freezing which results in all the food being frozen. With this in mind, it makes sense that the more space there is in the freezer, the more air needs to be circulated. Considering that freezers run on electricity, more air means more electricity means a larger electricity bill and finally less money left for you to enjoy yourself.

One way to keep the power bill down is to make sure that the freezer is full. This might sound counterproductive. Wouldn’t more food mean that you need more energy to freeze it? Actually no, more food means less space. Less space means that less air is required. The conclusion of all of this being that it is best to keep the freezer full if you want to save on electricity. This doesn’t need to happen all the time, but it should be a general rule.

What happens when there is no power?

On our very last point, let us consider for a second that you have followed all the rules. You have labeled everything correctly. You have all the right containers, and you have not frozen dairy products. You have even gone and made sure that you froze things correctly and observed the rules when it comes to thawing. You are a veritable freezer genius, and then the power goes out. You are not entirely sure when it happened but you know it is out. Lights may be the first of your worries, but at some point, you think about the fridge.

All your effort, all your time and all your money are about to melt into a puddle on the kitchen floor. Yes, this is entirely possible. But, do not panic just yet. Whatever you do, do not open the freezer to check. This will do nothing but let the cold air escape. It is called an icebox for a reason. It is designed to keep cool air in. Even if the power has gone out, you do technically have a couple of hours before you are in any trouble. Wait it out until the power comes back on to check what is going on in there.

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