March is National Frozen Food Month. Why not make your own frozen dinners and save the extra money? By using better quality ingredients and controlling the cooking method, you’ll always have a supply of quick and tasty meals on hand.
To get started, use these 10 meal-preparation and storage tips.
The containers you use to store your meals in should be both microwave- and freezer-safe. Both glass and plastic may work well, if they meet these standards (all glass and plastic containers are different). Another option is large freezer bags. Certain foods will freeze well in a bag, and can then be defrosted in the refrigerator, placed in a microwave-safe container, and then reheated.
Before portioning out cooked food into containers, allow it to cool completely first and always leave extra room at the top of to allow for expansion of the food during freezing.
Make sure food is wrapped well and/or covered with air-tight lids to prevent air from getting in.
Foods with high moisture content (such as soups) tend to freeze better than drier foods.
Use a permanent marker to label each dish with a name and a date. For maximum quality and flavor, use each meal within a couple of weeks. Just like in a store, rotate your stock so that the newest meals are in the back and the oldest are in the front for easy access.
Vegetables should be slightly undercooked to prevent them from becoming mushy when you reheat them.
Be careful about bacterial contamination. Completely cool hot food before freezing it to prevent the growth of bacteria. Bacteria can grow when the outside of food freezes while the inside remains warm.
Consider posting a freezer inventory list nearby to track the meals (and dates) of everything in the freezer. Check off each item as you remove it and you will know exactly what foods are available at all times. This also prevents forgotten foods from going to waste.
Freezing your meals is a great way to keep foods longer, but frozen doesn’t mean forever. As a general rule, fruit and vegetables will stay freezer-fresh for around eight months, fish and shellfish for up to six months, and meat and poultry for three. Trust your instincts and throw out anything from the freezer that smells or tastes “off.”
Don’t re-freeze defrosted foods because the taste and texture will decline and you could be risking bacterial contamination.