How to Freeze a Meal
Properly freezing your meals is a major factor in whether a frozen meal tastes fantastic, or whether it comes out freezer burned. Each recipe in this cookbook has a suggested method of freezing. When you are ready to package your meal for the freezer, remove as much air as possible and provide sufficient protection from the freezer. This will guard your food from freezer burn.
Freezer Bag Method
Use either gallon- or quart-sized freezer bags to freeze meals. This method is often used with meals that contain a marinade, soup, gravy, or sauce. Wait until the food has cooled before adding it to the bag since putting hot food into a freezer bag can compromise the strength of the bag.
In addition, putting hot food directly in the freezer raises the temperature of your freezer and makes it work too hard. Before sealing the bag, remove as much air as possible.
To maximize freezer space when using the freezer bag method, try this idea: Place a cookie sheet in your freezer and lay the plastic bag flat on the cookie sheet. The cookie sheet helps the meal freeze flat, and frozen meals stack nicely on top of each other.
This method of freezing is perfect for when you make meals in a casserole dish but do not want to tie up your dish in the freezer. The idea is to flash freeze the casserole in the shape of the pan so the pan doesn't need to stay in the freezer.
Before adding food, line your casserole dish with aluminum foil, and on top of the aluminum foil layer add a layer of plastic wrap. Leave enough foil and plastic wrap hanging over the edges of the dish to completely cover and seal the dish. Add your food to the dish, wrap it tightly with the wrap and foil, and place the entire dish in the freezer.
After several hours, remove the dish from the freezer, take the frozen, wrapped casserole out of the dish, and place the casserole back in the freezer. Your casserole is now frozen in the shape of the dish.
When you are ready to defrost or reheat the meal, unwrap the frozen casserole by removing the foil and plastic wrap. Place the frozen casserole in the same dish used when freezing, and defrost or cook.
Plastic Wrap Method
Use this method for food items that do not fit into a freezer bag. The plastic wrap method is the best choice when freezing a loaf of bread. To use this method, completely wrap your food item with plastic wrap so no part of the food is directly exposed to the freezer. Because plastic wrap does not always stick as well as it should, use tape to secure the seams.
Tupperware and other sturdy plastic containers come in all shapes and sizes and are a great choice for freezing a variety of foods. The drawback is these containers take up a lot of space in your freezer, and can stain when used for spaghetti sauce, chili, and other tomato-based foods. Make sure you leave space at the top and don't fill these plastic containers to the rim. Because food expands as it freezes, if you don't leave space, the top could pop off exposing your food to the freezer.
To help prevent your plastic containers from staining and absorbing food odors when freezing, try this trick. Spray cooking oil over the surface of the container before filling it with food. The oil acts as a barrier and helps protect the porous container. To further prevent stains, never use plastic containers to heat tomato-based sauces in the microwave.
Flash Freezing Method
Flash freezing is a method used to freeze food items individually. Meatballs are a good example of when to use flash freezing. Once meatballs are formed, place them on a baking sheet that has been lined with wax paper and put the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the meatballs are frozen (1–2 hours), transfer them to a freezer bag. When you are ready to cook, remove as many individually frozen meatballs as needed.
Label with Name, Date, and Instructions
Always label your food before putting it in the freezer. It may be easy to tell what you're freezing before you put it in the freezer, but everything looks the same once frozen. By putting the date on your food, you know at a glance how long it has been in the freezer.
For guidelines on how long food can be frozen, please refer to the Freezing Chart: Maximum Food-Storage Times. Although long-term freezing will not affect the safety of your meals, it will affect the quality and taste of your meals.
Take the time to write out the reheating instructions and attach them to the frozen meal; that way another family member can do the reheating or you can give the dish to someone in need.