Freezer foods are any healthy eater’s secret weapon. Frozen food allows you to get the nutritional quality of fresh produce year-round, and they last (almost) forever. Plus, there are some foods that are simply better to buy fresh than frozen.
But the freezer isn’t just a haven for already-frozen food; you can freeze your fresh food to help prolong your stores. This is crucial in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where we’re all being encouraged to minimize our contact via social distancing and stay indoors as much as possible. By freezing fresh foods, your supplies can last longer, you can batch cook without waste, and cut back on extra trips to the grocery store.
So, what’s the trick to storing food in a freezer without dooming it to die an icy, freezer burn-ridden death? Here are some tips from chefs and dietitians to extend the shelf life and use these items at home.
Your guide to storing food in a freezer, featuring 7 common, healthy items:
1. Fresh vegetables: Blanch first
Freezing raw vegetables is a great way to get more life out of them, especially if you are concerned they might go bad in the fridge. But they tend to freeze better when they are blanched in boiling water first. “It helps minimize the degradation of the product and increases the amount of time you can leave it in the freezer,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Basically, blanching prevents vegetables from oxidizing by stopping the enzyme reactions that would otherwise allow them to turn brown, which mess with flavor and quality. (Ever see what happens when you put a banana in the freezer? It isn’t pretty.) “The color remains vibrant and appealing,” she says.
“[Blanching] also helps clean [produce] which is important, as they will be added right to dishes when you defrost,” says chef and dietitian Dana Angelo White, RD, author of The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook. It’s a great way to preserve vegetables you buy that you aren’t able to use right away, which helps cut back on food fast.
You don’t need to blanch all vegetables before sticking them in the freezer, but veggies that are best for blanching and freezing include green beans, broccoli, onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, carrots, corn (off the cob), zucchini, squash, and dark leafy greens. “Give them a dunk in boiling water—about two mins—followed an ice bath. Pat dry, cool and then they can be frozen,” says White. Blanched produce will last up to a year, she says.
2. Fresh fruit: Use a baking sheet
The best fruits to freeze are berries and stone fruit like cherries, peaches, plums and nectarines, says Harris-Pincus.
But don’t just pop a handful of raspberries in the freezer and call it a day. Harris-Pincus says you should wash and dry them thoroughly, then slice. (It’s crucial to make sure everything is dried before freezing to prevent extra ice crystals from forming, she adds.) To prevent things from sticking together, line the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Once frozen, you can transfer the fruit to a freezer bag or sealed container and scoop out one serving at a time.
3. Soup: Go for single-serve portions
Soup can last about three months in the freezer—so this is a good item to freeze after making a big batch! But rather than freezing it in bulk, divide and conquer your soup for its time in cold storage. “Make sure to store in single-serve, freezer-safe containers or in freezer bags, removing as much air as possible,” says Harris-Pincus. “Make sure it’s already cold before you put it in the freezer to prevent freezer burn.”
Think about portions, then separate and freeze how you want to eat them defrosted, says White. “I often freeze soups in in re-sealable bags, then lay flat until frozen. Once hardened, they can be stacked to maximize storage,” she says.
4. Eggs: Pre-scramble before freezing
Typically basic is best when storing food in a freezer. But you can store eggs in the freezer—just not in their shells. Instead, crack them and beat them first then store in a freezer- safe container, says Harris-Pincus. The eggs can be defrosted in the refrigerator and cooked as you would a fresh egg. “Precooked egg dishes like sandwiches, frittata, and quiche can also be frozen, and they can go right from freezer to oven,” says White.
5. Bread: Pre-Slice Before Freezing
Got a loaf of your favorite healthy bread that you won’t be able to eat before the expiration date? Pop the slices in the freezer, or pre-slice it and freeze. The slices can go right into the toaster when ready to use, says White. You do not need to let it defrost, so it’s a great hack for easy breakfasts on the go, like avocado toast, breakfast sandwiches, or nut butter spread on top.
6. Yogurt: Divvy up in ice cube trays
Keep yogurt in the container or dollop into ice cube trays to freeze. “I use these in smoothies, right from freezer to blender,” says White. It is a great way to use up extra yogurt and to shorten the meal prep time for smoothies.
7. Rice: Freeze instead of Refrigerate
If you made a big batch of cooked rice, but you cannot eat it all, freeze it for later to extend its shelf life. (Just pop in in the freezer within two hours of cooking to prevent food poisoning!) Then you can defrost and reheat in the microwave, says White. “The overall hack here is to prevent waste by freezing to increase the shelf life and to save time,” she says.
Meanwhile, don’t bother freezing these foods
Storing food in a freezer is generally pretty simple (as illustrated above) but there are some foods that are not well-suited to freezing. For one thing, high-moisture veggies like raw potatoes, celery, or lettuce don’t freeze well at all, Harris-Pincus says. So, don’t waste your time with blanching or other techniques. Salads won’t hold up either, as they will get mushy and cannot be defrosted. The cell structure can’t handle the temperature shift, says White.
Meat is also tricky. Raw meat that has yet to be cooked can fare well in the freezer, but freezing cooked meat that isn’t ground (like ground beef or turkey) isn’t ideal, says White. “The ground meats have a better texture that can hold up to being frozen and defrosted—the more intact muscle fibers of cooked pieces of meat often get stringy and touch when cooked, frozen, and then defrosted,” she says. And never refreeze meats that have been defrosted, as they are more likely to contain bacteria, adds Harris-Pincus.