Oh my…wow….just the memory I am about to share is enough to make me cringe…
I can still remember the days before I figured out what meal prep actually meant, trying to get supper on the table. Witching hour for my boys happened to be right at the moment when I was stuck in the kitchen, something boiling over on the stove, the meat not even in the oven yet, ingredients for a salad that I knew I wasn’t going to make…and dinner already way behind schedule…oh yeah, those were the days!
Now to be honest, these days still happen to me sometimes but they are much less stressful because I have found ways to at least have one thing prepared in advance to make my life easier at dinnertime.
And the way that I accomplish that is often by making food that I freeze. It can be a whole meal, just the main or just the side dish. Honestly, anything helps.
But deciding what to freeze can be a bit tough because you can’t just freeze everything…some things break down when frozen and some things do not reheat well after being frozen.
So today I am going to help you get clear on what to freeze and what to keep out of the freezer when you are doing meal prep.
There are going to be a handful of key pointers in this blog and you can get even more tips about meal prep in our free Meal Prep Checklist (which you can get HERE. )
So let’s jump right in.
Yogurt does not freeze well.
The problem with freezing yogurt is that it becomes watery.
That means that a dip like tzatziki can still be prepped in advance, but it needs to go in the fridge instead of the freezer and be eaten within a few days.
But since yogurt dips are so easy to make you can also just make the dip the day you need it.
Freezing cheese works well so feel free to make up a big lasagna and freeze it, no problem
Also, you can save money by buying cheese in bulk and then freezing it. I like to buy big rolls of goat’s cheese and cut them into five portions to freeze. Then I just take out what I need.
And I also like to buy large blocks of mozzarella, shred them in my food processor and then freeze it in separate containers.
Sour cream is actually the answer to your wish if you plan to make mashed potatoes in advance. If you can get your hands on some high fat sour cream, then you can add that and some butter to your mashed potatoes and they will freeze and thaw well, without becoming watery! (If you follow these instructions and still find them a bit watery, just add a bit more butter and give them a good stir).
But with that being said, sour cream doesn’t freeze well on it’s own.
Veggies and Fruits
Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and beets freeze and reheat well whether they are fresh or cooked. Even roasted cauliflower works!
But veggies that have more tender membranes will not freeze well on their own. For example, zucchini will turn to mush if you freeze it. That means no Stuffed Zucchini Boats or Zucchini Noodles made in advance….
well sort of…
For a dish like that, you would just cook up the ground meat on meal prep day, along with some peppers, onion and garlic and store that in the fridge or freezer until needed. And then, when you are ready to eat that meal, you would cut a section out of the zucchini, stuff it with the meat mixture and bake it! The zucchini never gets frozen but you still have most of the meal prepped in advance.
Cucumbers, celery, spaghetti squash and raw peppers will also loose their pizzaz if you freeze them. But there is an exception…If you have cooked these veggies into a dish, like a soup, stew, casserole or lasagna they will freeze and thaw just fine.
Again, the tip here is to make as much of a dish beforehand as you can and then add these veggies to the plate on the night that you need them.
So, if you were making spaghetti during meal prep, you would prepare the sauce only and just cook the spaghetti squash the day you need it. Of course, you can also cook it during meal prep and refrigerate it until needed if you plan to eat it within a few days.
And as for fruits, you can absolutely do up awesome smoothie bags in advance and freeze them like this one (which is one of my favourites). These are packs that have all of your smoothie ingredients, ready to dump right into the blender with some protein powder and liquid of your choice.
Some fruits and veggies will require blanching first (placin them in boiling water for a few seconds) and others do not.
Here is a great resource on freezing fruits and veggies.
Meat and Poultry
You might be surprised to know that you can cook up chicken, freeze it, and then thaw and reheat it and it can still taste like you just cooked it.
The trick is to freeze it with a sauce. The sauce will help to keep the meat moist when you reheat it.
Any soup, stew or casserole that contains meat and that is previously cooked should also reheat well.
I also think that you could get away with freezing cooked steak or roast if you were to freeze it within a sauce like gravy but honestly, if it were up to me, I would just cook steak the day I needed it because it is so quick and easy to do.
For a meal like steak and veggies, I would likely make my side dish or salad on my meal prep day and then just throw the steaks on the grill the night that I was enjoying them. See how easy that sounds?
I actually used to cook and then freeze salmon. I would cook it up in a maple sauce that it had been marinating in and then I would freeze it…until I realized that the reheating method was pretty much exactly the same as the cooking method so I was basically cooking the fish twice (which just dried it out).
So, now what I do is buy the fish fresh or frozen. If frozen, I leave it frozen. Then I create the marinade which I add to the fresh or frozen fish, in a container and it goes right (back) into the freezer. That way, all I have to do on the day that I want to have salmon is defrost the fish and then bake it right in that great marinade that it has been sitting in for so long.
That method is awesome!
Some fresh herbs freeze well so another money saving tip is to keep your heartier fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano in the freezer so that you do not have to buy a new package every time.
Basil is not that hearty but I freeze it all the time and find it tastes great when added to a sauce. Just buy it fresh if you are garnishing with it (like putting it on a salad for example).
I am pretty sure you know the answer here but just in case…
no, mixed greens and lettuce do not freeze well. Spinach and swiss chard can be frozen but they should be blanched first and they will totally loose their structure (which means they are only good for soups and stews, not salads).
What does this mean? Do not freeze your salads. Just make a salad on meal prep day, leave it undressed and eat it within a few days.
Good to freeze…a few more.
There are some items that are generally great to freeze and reheat.
Casseroles, By Design Quiche, cooked Enchiladas, Lasagna, soup, stew, broth…these are all great in the freezer.
Also, baked goods like grain free muffins and cookies freeze well as do cooked waffles and their batter.
Notes on Freezing
Now, when you do freeze food you want to take a few special precautions:
- If you are freezing liquid leave a bit of space in your container so that the liquid can expand. Otherwise your dish will crack.
- On the flipside, do not leave too much air in any container or the food will not stay fresh and may end up freezer burnt. So, if there is a big gap between your food and the top of the container, put a layer of parchment paper, wax paper or plastic wrap over the food and then put the lid on.
- Do not freeze hot food. This will raise the temperature in your freezer which may compromise other food and it will also allow ice crystals to form in your food.
So there you have it! Please let me know what other questions you have about freezing foods for meal prep by asking in the comment section below!
And don’t forget to grab this freebie! Get your free Meal Prep Checklist HERE. ). We take you through step-by-step all that you need to learn in order to create a smooth meal prep day in your kitchen.