Freezing leftovers is an excellent way to reduce food waste and cut down on food prep time during the week. However, knowing exactly what and how to freeze food can be confusing.
There are 3 main categories when it comes to storing foods in the freezer:
Leftover ingredients: there are times when you need an ingredient for a recipe but you don't use all of it and aren't sure what to do with the rest. Rather than throwing that ingredient away, you can freeze it. This usually happens with things like canned coconut milk, cooked or canned beans, tomato sauce, canned chilis, etc.
Leftover portions of cooked meals: instead of throwing away leftover portions of cooked meals because you can't consume them fast enough, I recommend freezing them. This is common with soups, stews, casseroles, meatballs, etc. You now have a homemade frozen dinner to pull out of the freezer on a night that you don't feel like cooking.
Foods that go bad before you finish eating them: this will differ depending on how quickly you eat certain things, but some common foods that go bad before you finish eating them are cheese, tortillas, deli meat, bacon, etc. You can freeze both sliced and shredded cheese. However, if you have a block of cheese, I recommend shredding or slicing it before freezing.
Foods that don't freeze well
Almost anything can be frozen. The main exception is freezing foods in cans. It is fine to freeze canned goods, but make sure to remove them from the can before freezing them. Another food you should avoid freezing is eggs in the shell.
Even though most foods are safe to freeze, some freeze better than others. Below is a list of foods that freeze the best.
Fresh chicken, turkey, steak, fish (be sure to only freeze only once. Once you have taken it out to thaw, you need to cook it or toss it)
Bacon or sausage
Soups/stews (recommend storing in single serve containers to make it easy to heat up for quick meal)
Cheese (I recommend shredding or slicing prior to freezing)
Baked foods (cookies, cakes, pies, etc.)
Leftover canned coconut milk (don't freeze in the can)
Leftover canned goods - beans, tomato sauce, chilis (don't freeze in the can)
Ripe bananas (take out of the peel prior to freezing)
Nope. Freeze away!
I prefer to pre-portion out foods into food containers or freezer bags before freezing them. This makes it easier for me to take out of the freezer and defrost the exact portion that I need (again, less food waste).
Food will be safe in the freezer almost forever. However, the quality of the food can deteriorate. Recommended storage times very for optimal freshness. When in doubt, I recommend smelling and looking at the food. If something does not smell or look right, probably safer to throw it out.
Click here for a printable refrigerator and freezer storage chart from the FDA.
In the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. When thawing meat in the microwave on "defrost" option, I recommend checking the meat frequently. It can be helpful to turn the meat periodically during the thawing process to make sure it thaws evenly and the meat does not start cooking. For meats specifically, I prefer to thaw in the refrigerator.
Yes! I rarely use the full can of coconut milk all at once, especially when I use it in my smoothies. Storing the leftover coconut milk in the freezer is an excellent idea to reduce waste.
For healthy smoothie recipes, click here.
Yup! This is great for people who frequently don't use all their tortillas before going bad (same with bread). Tortillas are also a great staple to have in the freezer for a quick and easy weeknight quesadilla!
I often hear that people don't like making chili because most recipes make too much. This is actually perfect because chili is an excellent food to freeze. I recommend pre portioning out your leftovers into single serving glass containers. You now have a home made meal that will be ready in minutes on those nights you just don't feel like cooking.
Sources and additional information:
- FDA freezing and food safety FAQs
- National Center for Home Food Preservation (great information if you are wondering if a specific food can be frozen or not)
- SF Fate The Chill Factor / Guide to what freezes, what doesn't and wh