A guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (2023)

A guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals – freezing leftovers, make-ahead meals, and extra ingredients savesyou time, money and makes life a whole lot easier. With this guide, I’ll walk you through just how to do it.

A guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (1)

On almost every one of my recipes, I’m asked how to freeze them once prepared. I’ve done a lot of researchand I’ve compiled a list to share with all of you.

Freezing Ingredients

Let’s start with the proper way to freeze unused ingredients you have leftover or can’t use because plans changed, and you won’t be making a dish you’ve already shopped for.

Freezing Raw MeatA guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (2)

All meat freezes the same way whether it’s pork, chicken, beef or lamb.Meat is one of the most expensive items in your shopping cart.I wouldn’t recommend just throwing it in the freezer in the same package you bought it in. If you do, you’ll ruin it.

To protect the meat from the elements, always wrap meat several times before freezing. First in a tightly wrapped layer of plastic wrap, then foil (or another layer of plastic wrap), followed by a freezer bag.

Always label the meat in the freezer.I label my bags with the cut, the number of portions and the date it was frozen.

Eat frozen meat as soon as possible.After freezing for a week, because of its fat content, the meat starts to deteriorate, and frozen tissue starts to form ice crystals which turn to freezer burn ruining the meat.

I recommend eating meat within two weeks of freezing (if not sooner). Although the USDA says that roasts, steaks, and chops can freeze up to a year and uncooked ground meat for up to4 months.

Freezing Raw FishA guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (3)

The fattier the fish, the more it can start to absorb odors in the freezer which can change the flavor.I recommend eating fish fresh, but if you need to freeze it, freeze on the day you by it and always ask at the store if it has been previously frozen. If it has, you won’t be able to re-freeze.

Treat lean, fresh fish with brine before freezing. Brine made of 2 tablespoons of salt and 2 cups of cold water will firm the fish and allow it to thaw better.

Dip each piece of fish for 20 seconds before freezing. This helps to add an ice glaze around the fish that protects it.

If several pieces are placed in the same freezer bag or container, place nonstick baking paper between them for easier separation.

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Triple wrap the fishonce in tightly wrapped plastic wrap, once in foil and then added to a freezer bag.

Eat frozen fish as soon as possible.I recommend leaving the fish in the freezer no longer than a week, but fatty fish (like salmon) can be frozen without harm forup to three months, and lean fish (like flounder or cod) will last up to six months.

Freezing Raw Vegetables

A guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (4)

Vegetables freeze quite well when done correctly.A good practice when freezing vegetables is to blanch them in boiling water briefly first.Blanching prevents enzymes from damaging the vegetable’sflavor color and nutrients. It also destroys harmful microorganisms that might be lingering on the surface.

To blanch vegetables for freezing, quickly submerge them in ice water to prevent them from cooking any further(don’t leave the food at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria).

Drythe blanched vegetablesthoroughly by patting with paper towels.

When packing vegetables to be frozen, use eitherfreezer bags or airtight, freezer safe containers. Fill containers completely too and pack well to allow as little air as possible.

How long to freezevegetables – Vegetablescan be frozen up to 3 months, but I recommend using as soon as possible.

Freezing Fresh Fruit

A guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (5)

Fresh fruit freezes quite well. Be sure to wash them and remove damaged fruit before freezing.

To freeze delicate berries without damaging them(like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries) –Arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan or dish.Once frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag or container.

For fruits that brown easily (like apples, peaches, and nectarine) –Treat with powdered ascorbic acid/Vitamin C. It can be found in health food stores, drugstores, and in the vitamin aisle of some grocery stores.

To treat, dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of ascorbic acid powder in 3 tablespoons water and sprinkle this mixture over the cut fruit.

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How long can you freeze fruit? Fruit can be frozen for up to a year.

Freezing Cooked Food

A guide to freezing leftovers & make-ahead meals (6)

Freezing Stocks and Sauces

Stocks and sauces freeze well and can be a lifesaver on busy weeknights and when you have unexpected guests.

Allow the stock or sauce to cool before freezing, but don’t leave to cool at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria.

Freeze in labeled airtight containers or freezer bags.To freeze in a container be sure to choose one that can be filled completely. If using a freezer bag, fill the bag 3/4 of the way full, force out as much air as possible and once sealed lay flat to freeze.

How long can you freeze stocks or sauces?Properly stored stocks and sauces, it will maintain their best quality for up to6 months.

Freezing Pasta with Sauce

When you’re busy and don’t have time to cook a homemade freezer meal is a wonderful thing! That’s why freezing pasta dishes (like myPasta Alla Norma above) really comes in handy.

One of the great things about doing it this way is portion control. If you pack them right, you won’t have to worry about overeating.

To freeze pasta dishes,cook the pasta until just underdone, drain it and rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop the cooking process. Add a half cup of cooled pasta sauce(don’t leave to cool at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria) to every cup of pasta, coat evenly and pack in an airtight container or a freezer bag.

How long can you freeze pasta dishes? When properly stored, pasta dishes with sauce will maintain theirbest quality forup to 2 months.

Freezing Stews

Stew is a little trickier to freeze than other prepared dishes. It freezes fine as long as no thickening agent is added. The thickening agent can cause it to break down vegetablestoo much and making mushy and unpleasant. If you’re making a stew to freeze, skip any thickening until you reheat.

How do you to freeze stew?Cool it completely(don’t leave to cool at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria) and freeze in a labeled airtight, freezer safe container or freezer bags.

When using a container, fill the container as much as possible to allow as little of air in as possible.

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In a freezer bag, fill it 3/4 of the way through, force out as much air as you can before sealing and lay flat in the freezer to freeze.

How long can you freeze stew for?Properly stored, stew can be stored in the freezer for up to6 months.

Freezing Soups

Making a big batch of soupand freezing the leftovers is something I do all of the time (like with my split peaand ham soup above). It’s an easy, healthy, delicious alternative to canned soups that are loaded with preservatives.

Freezing soups:Soups freeze well. Allow the soup to cool before freezing (don’t leave to cool at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria).

Portion the soup into freezer bags or freezer safe containers.

To freeze soup in a freezer safe container, fill an airtight container as much as possible (to avoid too much air being trapped) and freeze stacked on top of each other.

To freeze soups in a freezer bag: Fill three quarters if the way up, force out as much air as possible before sealing and store flat in the freezer.

Please note that soups that have thickening agents don’t freeze well.Thickening agents cause vegetables to break down causing themto become mushy and unpleasant.

Freezing noodle soups: If freezing noodle or pasta soups, it’s best to preparethe noodles or pasta separately.

Cook until just underdone, strain, rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process and add to cooled soup before freezing.

How long can soup be frozen: If stored properly soup can be stored up to six months.

Freezing Casseroles

When you want a satisfying family meal, but are short on time, a freezer full of ready-to-bake casseroles is the solution.

You can assemble the casserole and freeze it unbaked or freeze it once it’s baked.

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To freeze an assembled, uncooked casserole: Assemble all the ingredients for your casserole and then freeze it in the pan. Wrap it well with two tightly covered layers of plastic wrap, followed by foil.

Label it with the casserolename and date before freezing.

To freeze a fully cooked casserole:Let the casserole cool before freezing (don’t leave to cool at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria).

Freeze it right in the pan. Wrap it well with two tightly covered layers of plastic wrap, followed by foil. Label it with the dish name and date before freezing.

How long can you freeze a casserole?Properly sealed and wrapped casseroles can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Baking a frozen casserole:The best way to do this is to thaw it in the fridge overnight and bake it the next day.

Alternatively, you bake a frozen casserole. To do this, place the frozen casserole in a non-preheated oven.

It will slowly heat as the oven comes up to temperature. It may be necessary to cover with foil and then remove it forfinal 10 minutes of baking at full temperature.

It’s important to heat a casserole thoroughly before serving. Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the casserole is at least 165 degrees F to be safe to eat.

Freezing Breaded Food

Freezing breaded foods is easy. I often make pan-fried chicken cutlets in big batches and freeze them to have whenever we need them.

To freeze breaded food: Cook and cool completely before freezing (don’t leave to cool at room temperature over an hour to avoid harmful bacteria).

Place in a freezer bag, force as much air out as possible and seal before freezing,

If you’re freezing something that can stick together, separate the pieces with nonstick baking paper or freeze in one layer on a baking sheet and then transfer to the freezer bag.

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To reheat frozen, breaded foods:Allow to thaw overnight in the fridge and then place in the oven (at 400F/200C) and cook until crisp.

Alternatively, you can place the frozen food directly in the oven and cook untilan instant-read thermometer reads at least 165F to be safe to eat.


How do you freeze leftovers for meal prep? ›

Freeze large batch recipes in smaller, sensibly-portioned containers for easy cooling, freezing and defrosting. Use bags to save space. Freeze soups, sauces and other leftovers in reseable bags, then lay flat until frozen. These flat, frozen sheets can be stacked horizontally or vertically to maximize storage capacity.

What are the freezing guidelines for cooked food? ›

After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion. Freeze leftovers within 3-4 days.

Is it better to freeze meals Raw or cooked? ›

Raw meat and poultry maintain their quality longer (when frozen) than their cooked counterparts because moisture is lost during cooking.” “Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking. If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.”

What's the best thing to freeze leftovers in? ›

Using containers: Divide cooled leftovers among plastic containers, leaving enough room at the top for swelling. Cover with plastic wrap (this helps prevent freezer burner), then the lid. Label and date top and side of container. Using sealable bags: Place sealable place in a bowl to help stabilise.

How long should leftovers be cooled before freezing? ›

Any leftover food should be put in the freezer or fridge within two hours of being cooked. This is to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. In what? All leftovers should be stored in sealable, shallow containers as this will help them to cool quicker.

What are five 5 important considerations when freezing food? ›

the golden rules of freezing food
  • don't refreeze raw food. Freezing doesn't kill food spoilage yeasts and bacteria. ...
  • it is OK to thaw food, cook it and then refreeze. ...
  • cool your food before freezing. ...
  • freeze things asap. ...
  • choose appropriate packaging / containers. ...
  • allow for expansion. ...
  • freeze smaller portions.

Do you cook freezer meals before freezing? ›

Hot meals will raise the temperature of your freezer and begin to defrost other things in there, causing the nasty freezer burn icicle build-up. Not good! Instead, leave your freezer meals on the counter until completely cool, or wait until they are lukewarm, transfer them to the fridge and then freeze.

When freezing leftovers they should be called within four hours? ›

Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of preparation (or one hour on days over 90º F) to reduce the chance of bacteria growing. Any perishable foods sitting out at room temperature for longer than two hours should be discarded. Leftovers can also be immediately frozen for reheating later.

What meals are not good to freeze? ›

But even properly wrapped, the following foods can be problematic to freeze and thaw:
  • Leafy Greens. ...
  • Sauces or Gravies. ...
  • Pudding. ...
  • Cream-Based Soups. ...
  • Non-Fatty Fish. ...
  • Cooked Pasta or Rice. ...
  • Cooked Egg Whites. ...
  • Mayonnaise or Mayo-Based Dressings.
Feb 10, 2022

Can you freeze meals in Ziploc bags? ›

Zip-top bags are especially good for freezing food because you can more easily get all the air out of them than out of rigid containers. You can use them for everything from blanched spinach to chicken thighs and, after laying them flat to freeze, stack them to economize space.

Do mashed potatoes freeze well? ›

Yes, you can totally freeze mashed potatoes—in fact, it's one of the most freezer-friendly potato preparations out there. The key is to coat your potatoes with plenty of butter and cream. This dairy duo ensures that your potatoes not only freeze well, but also reheat creamy and flavorful.

Can you freeze cooked food and reheat? ›

Not only does it preserve food for the long and short term, it also saves you loads of time in the kitchen when you make and save freezer meals for later. When you ready to eat, you can pull them from the freezer to either finish cooking or simply reheat for busy weeknight meals.

What are 3 tips with regards to storing leftovers? ›

Storing leftovers

Always use a clean container to hold the leftovers, or wrap the leftovers in leak-proof plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination. Keep different types of leftovers separate. Eat refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 3 days, or freeze them for later use.

How do you reheat frozen leftovers? ›

It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers without thawing, either in a saucepan or microwave (in the case of a soup or stew) or in the oven or microwave (for example, casseroles and combination meals). Reheating will take longer than if the food is thawed first, but it is safe to do when time is short.

What do you wrap food in to freeze it? ›

Food grade materials, such as aluminum foil, heavy freezer-weight plastic bags, heavy plastic wrap and parchment or freezer paper are excellent choices. It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping, but this type of wrap is thin and lets air in.

Should you let food cool completely before freezing? ›

Freezing your food

Leftovers and homemade goods should be frozen as soon as possible. Cool any warm dishes before putting them in your freezer. To stop the cold air in your freezer from drying out your food: place food in an air-tight container.

Why do you have to let food cool before freezing? ›

To keep food safe, cool freshly cooked dishes quickly before freezing. Putting foods that are still warm in the freezer can raise the temperature, causing surrounding frozen items to partially thaw and refreeze, which can alter the taste and texture of some foods.

What are the 4 C's Food Safety? ›

The 4Cs of food hygiene

Cleaning. Cooking. Chilling. Cross-contamination.

What are the 4 C's of food safety *? ›

Following four simple steps at home—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—can help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning.

What is the method of freezing? ›

Most commercial freezing is done either in cold air kept in motion by fans (blast freezing) or by placing the foodstuffs in packages or metal trays on refrigerated surfaces (contact freezing).

How do you make frozen meals not soggy? ›

So, here are a few tips for freezer cooking that I hope you'll keep in mind.
  1. Potatoes must be cooked before frozen. ...
  2. Noodles should be cooked al dente, if at all. ...
  3. Vegetables should be blanched or slightly pre-cooked before freezing. ...
  4. You can freeze eggs, but not in all ways.
Jul 13, 2016

What is the rule for leftovers? ›

Leftovers can be kept for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. After that, the risk of food poisoning goes up. If you don't think you'll be able to eat leftovers within four days, freeze them right away. Frozen leftovers will stay safe for a long time.

Which items should you refrigerate or freeze after 2 hours perishables prepared food leftovers all of the above? ›

Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away.

Never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F. This also applies to items such as leftovers, "doggie bags," and take-out foods.

Can I freeze cooked meat after 3 days? ›

Information. Yes, it is safe to freeze cooked meat or poultry. After cooking raw foods that were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.

What casseroles don't freeze well? ›

Mushy casseroles with a grainy texture. Avoid freezing casseroles made with dairy products (especially soft cheeses with a high-water content like ricotta or cottage), eggs, starchy vegetables, and watery vegetables like lettuce and cucumber.

What foods freeze and reheat well? ›

Freezing and reheating soups and stews: Soups and stews can also be frozen in batches or individual servings.
  • Classic Meatloaf. ...
  • Baked Ziti. ...
  • One-Pot Chicken and Rice Soup. ...
  • Mexican Lasagna. ...
  • Chicken Cacciatore (Hunter Style Chicken)

What is the healthiest way to freeze food? ›

What's the best way to freeze food?
  1. Keep things cold: Make sure your freezer is 0°F. ...
  2. Don't put hot food in the freezer: If cooked, allow food to cool completely. ...
  3. Wrap and seal food tightly: Foil, plastic wrap and plastic freezer bags help protect food from freezer burn.
Nov 3, 2020

Is it better to freeze food in glass or plastic? ›

Plastic containers can release chemicals when frozen just as they can when heated. For better food safety, opt for glass. The right glass containers are freezer and refrigerator safe, meaning they won't release any harsh chemicals or break if frozen.

Is there really a difference between freezer and storage bags? ›

Freezer bags are thicker than regular zip-top bags, which makes them tougher and more durable when it comes to storing food in the freezer. While they often look and feel pretty similar to other plastic storage bags, freezer bags are slightly thicker than regular zip-top bags.

Can you freeze food in Rubbermaid containers? ›

Rubbermaid TakeAlongs Food Storage Containers

Made of BPA-free plastic, this set comes equipped with ridged lids that help you stack and store food without taking up too much space. They're lightweight and safe to use in the freezer, refrigerator, and microwave (without the lids).

Why are my frozen mashed potatoes watery? ›

Quick tip: If your mashed potatoes are too watery after reheating, Atanasova says they probably just need more cooking time for the liquid to evaporate. You can also try adding a small amount of cream cheese thicken them.

Can you freeze cooked rice? ›

But, if you've ever wondered about your favorite rice meals — yes, you can freeze rice too! Freezing is also great to store leftovers or if you realize you've made just a bit too much rice for your recipe and don't want to toss it out.

How can I thicken my mashed potatoes after freezing? ›

You can use what you have on hand: Flour, cornstarch, or powdered milk are all solid options that are probably already in your pantry. For what it's worth, we recommend sticking with cornstarch—it has twice the thickening power of flour and it's safe for gluten-free diets.

Can you freeze cooked meat for meal prep? ›

Information. Yes, it is safe to freeze cooked meat or poultry. After cooking raw foods that were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.

How do you store food for meal prepping? ›

Store your prepped meals in airtight containers.

The best way to keep meals fresh is to store them in airtight containers. We love the Rubbermaid Brilliance containers because they don't spill, keep our food fresh, and are lightweight.

What is the best cooked meat to freeze? ›

Briskets, pot roasts, and most other red meat dishes do freeze quite well. Cook the meat till it's just a few minutes away from being done, then freeze.

What containers to use to freeze food? ›

Rigid containers and flexible bags or wrapping are two general types of packaging materials that are safe for freezing. Rigid containers made of plastic or glass are suitable for all packs and are especially good for liquid packs. Straight sides on rigid containers make the frozen food much easier to remove.

What meat is best for meal prep? ›

When you're prepping, focus on choosing easy-to-cook, bulk-packaged foods that store well. My recommendation is to mix and match from these categories and go to town: Protein: Chicken breast, lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, flank steak, lean lunch meat (turkey breast, ham, or roast beef) and low-fat beef jerky.

How long can meal prep last in freezer? ›

Great news, according to the USDA, frozen meals are safe to eat indefinitely. However, after about three months, the quality (i.e. flavor and texture) of food can degrade. Therefore, we recommend eating foods within three months of stashing them in the freezer.

What foods can you meal prep for a week? ›

24 Meal-Prep Recipes You Can Make On Sunday For The Whole Week
  • Slow Cooker Chicken Teriyaki. Fit Foodie Finds / Via fitfoodiefinds.com. ...
  • Turkey Taco Meal Prep Bowls. ...
  • Slow Cooker Butter Chicken. ...
  • Shrimp Fried Rice Bowls. ...
  • Instant Pot Shrimp Scampi. ...
  • Creamy Chicken Tortellini Soup. ...
  • Honey Garlic Salmon Lo Mein. ...
  • Korean Steak Bowls.
Oct 25, 2020

Should I defrost frozen leftovers? ›

First things first, you need to make sure your leftover food is defrosted completely. The best way to defrost leftovers is by leaving them to thaw in the fridge because bacteria can easily grow at room temperature. This means you have to remember to take the food out of the freezer a good few hours ahead of time.

Which foods should not be reheated? ›

6 Foods You Should Never Reheat In The Microwave
  • Rice. Rice contains spores of Bacillus cereus, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning. ...
  • Coffee. ...
  • Hard-boiled eggs. ...
  • Fish. ...
  • Turkey. ...
  • Foods you've already reheated.
Nov 13, 2019

What foods can be frozen and reheated? ›

For ideas to make your own frozen ready meals check these out.
  • Cheese.
  • Milk and dairy-free milk.
  • Eggs.
  • Mushrooms, broccoli and other veg.
  • Cooked rice.
  • Mashed potato and sweet potato.
  • Cooked pasta.
  • Bananas.

What are the disadvantages of vacuum sealing food? ›

Some foods contain anaerobic bacteria, which can grow without the presence of air. Within a vacuum sealed pouch, with reduced oxygen, these bacteria will grow and may pose a risk to your health.

Should you cook food before vacuum sealing? ›

Food should not be sealed while it is still hot, as this can harbor bacteria growth. Once the food is cooled to at least room temperature vacuum sealing is the perfect method for safely storing cooked food, and extending its shelf life.

What are the best foods to vacuum seal? ›

6 Foods You Can Vacuum Seal and Keep in Your Pantry
  1. Dehydrated Fruit. Dried fruits - like apples, oranges, grapes and cranberries - don't need to be stored in the fridge and are well-suited for vacuum sealing, according to USA Emergency Supplies. ...
  2. Trail Mix. ...
  3. Rice/Pasta. ...
  4. Cereal. ...
  5. Popcorn Kernels. ...
  6. Herbs and Spices.


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