Chatelaine Kitchen

10 key things to know about freezing and storing food

Proper food storage saves both time in the kitchen, and the strain on your wallet when you visit the grocery store.

Image of green frozen broccoli isolated close up

Photo, iStock.

Determining the shelf and freezer life of our recipes is a big part of the job in the Chatelaine Kitchen. Over the years, we’ve picked up some tricks-of-the-trade in making the most of our freezer space. This comes in handy when you’re trying to save on your grocery bill and avoid unnecessary food waste. Here are 5 tips on how to make sure you’re storing food correctly in the freezer, and 5 dishes and ingredients that last well when you put them on ice.

Freezing 101

1. Use the right containers.
Storing food in the appropriate container maximizes space. Freezer bags are one of the best options for soups, stews, fruit, vegetables. Kitchen tip: For hot liquids, let them cool first before ladling into a heavy-duty freezer bag. Once fully cooled, place them on their side and freeze solid in a single layer. Once frozen, you can stack items to save significant space.

2. Freeze individual items on a tray first.
To avoid crushing goods such as cookies or appetizers, freeze them on a flat tray and then transfer to a freezer bag once frozen.

3. Label, label, label. 
Always have a permanent marker on hand that will withstand the freezer frost and moisture. Label each item, and mark the ‘date in’, as well as the ‘date out’. It is also helpful to include any cooking instructions. This will help you avoid losing track of what’s in your freezer.

4. Freeze in family-sized portions.
Big batch cooking is a huge time-saver. But, in order to make the most of your frozen meals, freeze them in the appropriate portion size to suit you or your family. Refreezing after thawing is not recommended, so make the most of your hard work.

5. Minimize air exposure.
Remove as much air as possible from freezer bags and storage containers to prevent freezer burn. If your storage container is only partially full, lay a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap over the top of your food to minimize exposure to air, then continue packaging.

Related: 9 ingredients you should store in the freezer

Freezer life: When done properly, freezing is an excellent way to preserve nutrient retention and keep your food in a stable state. In terms of quality, here are some general guidelines for the lifespan of freezer favourites:

Fruits and vegetables: 9 to 12 months
Casseroles: 3 months
Uncooked beef, pork, lamb, poultry: 4 to 6 months
Soups and stews: 3 to 6 months
Pies: 2 to 3 months

Related: 11 best tips for big-batch cooking

Dishes and ingredients that freeze well

1. Stews.
This is an ideal meal that reheats beautifully. Beef and chicken both work very well. Thaw in your refrigerator overnight and you are ready to go. Add some freshness by tossing in fresh or frozen vegetables when reheating.
Try it:
Sake beef stew
Stout-braised beef stew

2. Pies.
Whether it is a fruit pie or a pot pie, all the work is done once you put it in the freezer. Ideally, pies will be frozen with a cooked filling and a raw dough, however fully cooked pies can also be frozen. No need to thaw, both bake very well from frozen.
Try it:
Chicken and leek pie
Tuscan-style chicken pot pie

3. Fresh meat.
If having fresh meat on hand isn’t always doable, purchase fresh meat and then freeze it yourself. Often store-bought frozen meats have added salt and preservatives.

4. Lasagna and casseroles.
These are classics for big-batch cooking. Make multiple and then freeze in aluminum trays in order to free up your bakeware. Thaw overnight to reduce baking time. Top with freshly grated cheese when reheating.
Try it: 
Classic lasagna

5. Fruit and berries.
Frozen fruit is far pricier than frozen vegetables. While seasonal fruit and berries are still available, package and freeze them yourself. Be sure to clean and trim prior to freezing. If freezing vegetables, most require a quick blanch first.

How to safely freeze and thaw meat
13 tips for making the best-ever homemade soup
10 ways to speed up dinner prep

Originally published October 2011. Updated February 2017.