My Grandma Fritzi, who is 95, was the ultimate champion at preparing freezer meals in her cooking hey day.
My dad said that, as a kid, he used to come home from school to the delicious aroma of freshly-baked chocolate cake, only to find that it had already been wrapped up and stuck in the freezer for a future special occasion.
I am not far behind!
I'll make big batches of soup, sauces, entrees and cookies and keep some to eat fresh and freeze the rest for later. If we need a quick and easy dinner, we'd rather defrost a freezer meal than turn to grocery store frozen dinners - even the organic ones - or takeout. The next best thing to fresh food is eating our own frozen meals, where minimal nutrient loss occurs.
Back in 2008, when my grandma was still living in her condo, she offered us a tour of the building's "freezer room". These women lived through the depression, through wars, through several children and they learned to be prepared at all times. When they moved into the building from their homes, they all brought their secondary freezers with them, which stay in a single room affectionately referred to as "The Freezer Room."
Enjoy this video from the archives as my grandma Fritzi Telpner tours us through her "Freezer Room".
While I don't have a 'freezer room', I have learned a thing or two about creating the best freezer meals and freezing ingredients for optimal health and culinary deliciousness.
How to create awesome freezer meals
1. Pick the Right Recipe
Some recipes simply don't stand up to freezing and defrosting. Delicate pastries, structured foods, or creamy sauces that will likely separate are not freezer candidates. Generally, hearty soups, stews, muffins, cookies, granola bars, cooked grains, cooked beans and legumes, casseroles, burgers, gluten-free lasagna or dairy-free mac and cheese make great freezer meals.
2. Don't Overcook
Remember that once you defrost a meal, you'll be heating it up again, so it's important not to overcook the first time around. If you're not planning on eating a meal before you pop it in the freezer, leave it a little 'al dente' so when you reheat the taste and texture will be perfect.
For foods like lasagna or casseroles, don't bake the dish after assembly. Freeze raw and then you can cook fresh when you're ready. Seal the prepped dish in a freezer and oven safe dish.
For burgers or patties, either cook straight away and freeze prepped, or freeze them on a parchment lined baking sheet, and once frozen, transfer to a container or freezer bag to fry or bake later.
3. Let Your Freezer Meals Cool Completely 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.
4. Use Freezer-Safe Storage
I prefer to freeze most things in glass containers. Use tempered glass if possible, as sometimes regular glass can shatter after things shift and expand in the freezing process. If glass isn't an option, plastic bags can work too - but plastic has a number of health and environmental impacts and there are many other ways to store food without it. For foods that might stick together, like cookies, bars, burger patties or muffins, layer them in parchment paper and then enclose in glass.
If you are freezing liquids like soup, bone broth or almond milk, leave an inch or two of headspace at the top of your container to allow for expansion. Nobody wants a jar of soup to explode!
5. Label Your Freezer Meals
You might think you'll remember which jar contains that homemade BBQ sauce. Trust me, in two months you won't. Get out your masking tape and a marker or pen. Label the jar contents and the date.
6. Defrost + Reheat Properly
For plant-based meals, you can defrost them on your counter or in the fridge. With freezer meals that contain animal products, I like to defrost in the fridge as much as possible, just to ensure no bacteria develop while the meal sits on the counter.
No matter what you're eating, reheat your food in a pot on the stove or in the oven. No microwaves please.
7. Share The Freezer Meals!
Everyone loves a good freezer meal to have on hand for those days when we just don't feel like cooking. Parents, students, busy people, whoever you love - freezer meals make great gifts!
Quick Tips For Awesome Freezer Meals
- Fruits and vegetables with a high water content typically don't freeze well. Celery, cucumber, cantelope, honeydew, watermelon and most lettuces defrost limp and unappetizing.
- Lay your fruits and vegetables on a parchment-lined baking sheet in one layer. Once frozen, you can transfer them into a container and they won't stick together.
- Freezer meals don't last in the freezer indefinitely. I don't like to leave things in there longer than three months, but you can also follow this guide to freezer storage for more specific times. If something is freezer burned and looks gross, you're not going to eat it. So let it go.
- Freeze large recipes into single or double servings so you can take them out as you need them for a quick meal, rather than having to defrost the whole thing.
- If you didn't enjoy last night's dinner, don't stick it in the freezer. It's not going to taste better in two months.
- Freeze ingredients when they are at the peak of freshness so you can maintain the flavour and nutrient quality for months to come.