When you're trying to get a delicious meal on the table stat, a well-stocked freezer can be a lifesaver. But what if yours is a messy jumble of fish sticks, chicken fingers, and the odd bag of frozen peas—or everything that comes out of it is blasted with freezer burn? These hacks and hints will help you be better organized and get the most flavor out of your frozen food.
1. Freeze liquids the right way. Soups and stews freeze like champs, so it makes sense to double recipes and freeze leftovers. But, instead of crowding your freezer with bulky storage containers that are bigger than the soup it contains, store leftover liquids in freezer bags. "Once cool, pour the liquid into a freezer safe bag and lay flat in the freezer to save space," says registered dietitian, Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN.
2. Avoid freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when food is exposed to air; happily it's avoidable with a little know-how and a lot of wrapping. To prevent freezer burn, use doubled freezer bags to store liquids or press plastic freezer wrap directly onto the surface of food in storage containers. And don't forget to push the air out of your bags.
3. Marinate proteins before freezing. Not only will the protein really soak up the marinade, but it also makes a no-fuss weeknight meal. "I simply toss pork tenderloins with an easy marinade of honey, ginger, and vinegar and freeze in a sealed plastic bag," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. When she's ready to prepare the pork, she defrosts it overnight in the fridge and tosses in the slow cooker in the morning.
4. Don't let the freezer become a black hole. If you have no idea what's at the bottom of your freezer, you're not alone. Rather than throwing leftovers into the freezer only to have them disappear, stay organized with labeled containers and an inventory list. And if you're feeling really ambitious, ditch the bulky boxes from store bought items and stick a label directly onto the food's packaging.
5. Freeze your mise en place. Chopping veggies can be time consuming, so don't stop at half an onion. Moore suggests chopping the entire onion (or pepper) and freezing whatever you don't need. "Frozen onions and peppers can go straight from the freezer to the sauté pan or soup pot for added flavor and a veggie boost."
6. Cook fish from frozen. You may be surprised to learn that you can cook fish without defrosting. Whether you buy it frozen or freeze leftovers, frozen fish can go straight into the oven or frying pan for an easy protein-packed meal. Brush it with olive oil and cook for 5 minutes longer than thawed fish.
7. Opt for full-fat. If your leftovers are freezer-bound, be sure to use full-fat dairy and cheese in your dish. Low-fat products don't freeze well and tend to get watery during the defrosting process.
8. Defrost the right way. Except for the occasional baked good, defrosting frozen foods at room temperature encourages the growth of bacteria. Instead, defrost foods in the refrigerator the day prior to cooking or run it under cold water until it's defrosted.
And a bonus tip for breakfasts or snacks:
9. Freeze that fruit. If you have a banana that's getting a bit too brown or a pear that is mealy, peel and chop them and throw them in the freezer for later. Overripe fruit is incredibly sweet and perfect for smoothies. "I pour the bag of frozen produce into the blender, add milk or yogurt, and blend up a delicious on-the-go breakfast in no time," says Palinski-Wade.