Freezing and Other Ways
to Make Eating Healthy Easier
The following is a list of some necessities for making cooking less time consuming and freezing meals.
Food processor - ideal for shortening your time in the kitchen
Crock pot - allows you to prep and walk away coming back to a tasty well-cooked meal
Toaster oven - the preferred method for reheating small portions
Storage containers - glass or freezer safe plastic
Freezer bags - keep various sizes on hand
Heavy weight foil - protects against freezer burn
Freezer paper - protects against freezer burn, place food on shiny side
Wax paper - to separate individual portions
Food Storage Containers
Plastic Vs. Glass
Plastic containers pose less of a problem for breakage but may come with the danger of leaching unwanted chemicals into your food by the effects of the cold temperatures in the freezer. They are also not ideal for reheating unless you are using a microwave, but once again you run into the problem of releasing chemicals into your food by heating the plastic.
Plastic containers are good if you will be thawing the dish completely and then reheating in the toaster oven or on the stovetop. Low quality plastic can become brittle at freezing temperatures and crack. Many plastic containers have a snowflake symbol on them if they are ideal for freezing.
Although the microwave is convenient, its effects on our food quality are questionable. Some are of the belief that cooking in the microwave rather than through regular heating methods depletes more nutrients. And it has been proven that using many plastics in the microwave is not safe. If you choose to use the microwave always use glass or ceramic for reheating. A mini toaster oven is a great alternative to a microwave or reheating a dish on the stove often takes just about the same amount of time. The texture of the food is often better by using one of these two methods and the questionable nutrient and molecular structure loss is of less concern.
Pyrex and Simax brands of glass containers are made of boro silicate glass and must be set out at room temperature for 30 minutes before going into a hot oven. The food stored in tempered glass dishes, such as Anchor Hocking and Duralex must be completely thawed before placing them in a hot oven. Quick temperature changing can cause these dishes to shatter making a very large mess.
If using glass containers be sure to leave about 3/4-inch space at the top to allow for water expansion. If you do not, the glass could crack.
When using freezer bags it is faster to thaw a few small batches than one large one so divide your contents amongst a few small bags. It is ideal to lay freezer bags flat when freezing for easy storage and faster thawing.
Freeze prepared raw items such as hamburger patties, meatballs, and meats in marinade to pull out for quick last-minute meals. All the prep is done you just have to cook it. Add a quick salad and voila, you have dinner!
Separate hamburger patties, sausage patties, salmon or bean cakes, and veggie burger patties with wax paper for ease in separating and thawing. Many of the items can go straight into the toaster oven still frozen.
Freeze complete meals in sectioned containers for easy on-the-go meals that you can take to work. These dishes can be thawed the night before.
Cool foods close to room temperature before placing in the freezer so as not to raise the temperature of the freezer substantially. This also helps to freeze foods faster, which can prevent large ice crystals from forming that can pierce the cell walls of the food and affect the flavor and texture.
Keep your freezer temp as low as possible for long, safe storage. 0º Fahrenheit is ideal. A temperature of 21º F will only keep foods for 3-4 days.
Date and label everything so you do not wind up with a mystery dish, unless you like a little mystery!
The more liquid covering the ingredients the better it will be protected during freezing. Making extra marinade or sauce to cover what you will be freezing is ideal.
What Foods Freeze Well
Protein & fat - meats, poultry, seafood, raw eggs removed from their shell or cooked eggs like those in a frittata (not fried or poached eggs), most hard cheeses, butter, nuts and seeds
Non-starchy vegetables - broccoli, green beans, spinach, collard greens, kale, many fresh herbs, cooked tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, garlic, onions
Starchy carbohydrates and vegetables - most of these foods such as grains, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, beets, carrots, winter squash, celery root, berries, bananas, mangos, pineapple all freeze well
Foods that do not freeze well - cucumbers, celery, raw tomatoes, lettuce, endive, fennel, avocados, apples, watermelon, mayonnaise or other emulsions, milk, cream, buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt. Some of these foods can be successfully added as an ingredient to dishes for freezing but are not best frozen by themselves.
Some foods freeze well in a pureed form but not in their whole form because they will become mushy. Examples are things like pureed soups that contain vegetables like eggplant, asparagus, and summer squash or fruit juices like watermelon, orange and apple.
Mixing Frozen with Fresh
Freezing sauces that can be used over meats and veggies to dress them up with flavor takes away a lot of prep time. Making a batch of pesto, freezing it in ice cube trays, and then storing it in freezer bags for later use allows you to pull it out and flavor steamed vegetables like green beans or squash with it. Another example is a tomato Bolognese sauce that can then top some freshly baked spaghetti squash or pasta.Freezing raw meats in amarinade for stir-fries can then be added to fresh vegetables.
Thawing & Reheating
Refrigerator thawing is the safest form of thawing but requires that you think ahead since some frozen foods can take 24 hours to thaw in the fridge. See the thawing times below for various foods.
8 hours per pound of meat
4 hours per pound of poultry
6 hours per pound of fruit and vegetables
12 -24 hours for stews and casseroles
Soaking frozen items in a bowl of cold water is often the fastest form of thawing but precaution must be taken so as to prevent contamination. First of all you want to be sure the food you are thawing is in a watertight sealed bag. The water should be cool (not cold 70º+ F) and not too hot. Hot water can foster bacteria growth. Change the water every 30 minutes or allow a steady stream of water to drip into the bowl to keep the water circulating. Do not continue this process for more than two hours.
Avoid the microwave if possible for thawing but if you do have to use it be sure the items you are defrosting are small batches. If you try to defrost large batches in the microwave you will wind up with uneven cooking if the item is raw or overcooked food if the item is already cooked.
There are an unbelievable amount of cookbooks available on the market that are specific to cooking in a crock-pot. This is a great way to cook if you have a family to feed and you are short on time. It is simple to place a few ingredients in a crock-pot in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked hot meal in the evening.