If you’ve just started meal prepping recently then firstly, congratulations! You’ve just entered a world of organization like you’ve never seen before. However, meal prepping can become a bit of an addiction. You start off prepping everything for the next day. Then the next day. And the day after that. And before long, you’re trying to do two weeks’ worth of meal prep in a single day.
That then begs the question: can you freeze meal preps when meal prepping? And the answer is yes. But let’s take a closer look.
Freezing food is not only a good way to keep on top of meal prepping, but it’s also just a really safe way of storing your food. The meals you make need to be kept as fresh as possible. If you’re making things well in advance, then freezing is really the only safe option left to you.
If you are going to freeze prepped meals, then there are certain things to remember:
- Make sure the food is cool beforeputting it in the freezer. Failure to do so will lead to a warmer freezer and all of your frozen things unfreezing.
- Make sure all containers used to store food are airtight.
- Ensure the freezer is at 0 degrees Celsius or less (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Use freezer proof wraps to avoid freezer burn if you’re storing for longer periods of time (anything over a week).
- Mark items with the date they were frozen, what it is, and how to reheat (more on that later).
- Finally, think about portions. Are you doing individual portions or for an entire family? Think about how freezing certain dishes would work. For instance, freeze an entire casserole for a family meal, but freeze individual portions of pasta if it’s for lunch, etc.
Foods that should not be frozen when meal prepping
Now, we said that you can freeze meal preps when meal prepping. But what we didn’t say was that some foods just should not be frozen. That is because some foods are either not safe to do so when it comes to reheating, or they will not keep well in the freezer. Here’s a quick list of the top foods you should avoid freezing:
- Mayonnaise. Anything that has a mayonnaise base sauce, such as a pasta dish or potato salad, should not be frozen. Mayonnaise will separate when you reheat the dish, so you’ll be left with curdled mayo. Avoid at all costs.
- Rice. If you’re making a curry or a chili, then by all means freeze that, but you may want to leave the rice to be cooked on the day. Rice will just go mushy when thawed, and it isn’t pleasant to eat.
- Tomatoes, Cucumber, Lettuce. Basically, any vegetables with a high-water content won’t work well in the freezer. That’s because the water will freeze when placed in the freezer, but then melt while thawing. This changes the integrity of the vegetable itself, causing it to change to a horrible, mushy texture.
- Fried Onions, Crumble, Breadcrumbs. Anything that is meant to add crunchy texture to a dish should be left out if you’re planning to freeze. Add them in once the food is thawed and reheated.
- Soft Cheese. No matter the type, every soft cheese will be awful after thawing. It’ll either split or turn into a watery mess.
Foods that are ideal for freezing
Other than the list of food you shouldn’t freeze, more or less everything else can be frozen. We’d recommend a little trial and error at home for yourselves if you’re unsure about whether a certain meal or ingredient would freeze well. Everybody in the meal prepping community has a different opinion about what works and what doesn’t. But there are some that we can guarantee will work well, and we’ve included a list of the top 5 ideal foods to freeze while meal prepping:
- Bananas (and other fruit). If fresh fruit is about to go off, then freeze them. You can use them in smoothies, bake them in pies, or simply allow to thaw when you’re ready for them to put with some yoghurt in the morning.
- Casseroles. No matter what you put in them, casseroles freeze really well. They are perfect, complete meals that can be reheated when the time comes.
- Pasta sauce. This one comes with the caveat that the pasta sauce isn’t mayo based. Everything else will work great. Entire pasta dishes can be frozen together because pasta keeps well in the freezer too!
- Soups. Any soup will work great and it’s a perfect lunch for the entire family.
- Pizza. If you’re making homemade pizza on the weekend, make a few extra. Shredded cheese, marinara sauce, and most toppings will freeze really well. The pizza dough will also hold quite well.
How freezing affects food and shelf life
Microorganisms and bacteria need two key things to grow: water and warmth. The freezer handles both by keeping the temperatures below freezing. By forcing water to turn to ice, microorganisms and bacteria have nowhere to go. Freezing also affects enzymes in the food too. These enzymes would naturally break the food down over time. But freezing prevents these enzymes from being active.
Once thawed, microorganisms, bacteria, and the enzymes in food are free to carry on as before. The freezing process delays them, but it does not kill them! So be careful with how you treat food after it’s been frozen.
How to thaw and heat meals after freezing
There are a few ways that you can thaw and reheat frozen meals. Thaw frozen meals before reheating to allow it to cook properly (unless the recipe states otherwise). The time between reheat and consumption is also something to consider. Thawed food should only ever be reheated once. If it isn’t consumed after it’s been thawed and reheated, then it needs to go in the trash! So, to avoid food waste, it is best to thaw and reheat when the food is ready to be eaten.
Thawing in the microwave
Often the first option for thawing is the microwave. Set it to the defrost setting and make sure it isn’t operating at 100% power. For defrosting large dishes or thick pieces of meat, set the microwave to 35% power. For smaller or loose dishes, set the microwave to 50% power. Then put on for two minutes but check regularly to ensure the food is thawed. Thawed, but not reheated – that comes later! Stir regularly and put back in for longer if it isn’t defrosted.
Thawing in cold water
You can also thaw in cold water. Fill up your sink and ensure the meal or ingredients are in an airtight container. Place the container in cold water to allow it to thaw at safe temperatures. Only allow the water to cover half of the container for best results.
Thawing in the refrigerator
The final thawing option is to put in the refrigerator. Most recipes for meal preps will tell you to leave it in its container in the fridge overnight. This usually applies to most meals and it’ll ensure the food is at a safe temperature still. You should never leave a frozen meal at room temperature to thaw because bacteria will grow, and the food may be unsafe to eat.
Heating on a stovetop
Once thawed, some dishes are perfect to be reheated on the stovetop. Things like curries, chilies, soups, and sauces. Just warm until piping hot and then serve.
Heating in the oven
Some dishes are better reheated in the oven. These might be casseroles, pasta dishes, and pizza for example. Set to a medium heat (350 F or so) and monitor the food regularly to ensure it is fully cooked and hot before serving.
Heating in the microwave
Finally, some foods can be reheated in the microwave. This might be appropriate for similar dishes to the stovetop suggestions above. When reheating in the microwave, make sure you have taken the defrost setting off and upped the power to 100% again to get your food nice and hot. If you’re using a lid to prevent spillages, ensure it is slightly open so steam can escape.
How does freezing compare with refrigerating
In terms of the taste, textures, and overall enjoyment of dishes, there aren’t much of a difference to compare between freezing food or refrigerating it. However, a major point of meal prepping is to save time and to prevent food waste. That means you need to know whether you are going to refrigerate or freeze meals ahead of time so they can store properly. Meal preppers make a meal plan for every day of the week, so they know the logistics of the dishes they’ve made.
Freezing will mean that you take longer to serve the food because you will need to thaw it first. If the food is in the fridge, all you need to do is reheat it. But it isn’t safe to refrigerate meals for long periods of time, but most meals can freeze for 3 months or more and be fine to consume.
Neverrefrigerate meal preps for longer than three days. That means if you’re prepping for the week on a Sunday afternoon, you can safely refrigerate meals that will be consumed on Sunday evening, Monday, and Tuesday. After that, you risk bacteria growing that could be harmful to you. The rest of the meals from Wednesday onwards should be frozen instead.
Points to take home
Meal prepping is a great way to prevent food waste and save yourself time and money. But it requires organization to make sure you’re eating the right food on the right days to prevent unsafe kitchen habits. When freezing meal preps, consider the ingredients you’ve used, how you plan to thaw the food, and how you’re going to reheat it. Doing this will mean you’re prepared, and you’ll be delivering hot, tasty, and most importantly, safe meals for yourself and your loved ones!