As we all continue adapting to making fewer trips to the store for our groceries, many of us have experienced the struggle of using food before it goes bad and cooking more meals at home than we may be accustomed to. At this point, many of us have well stocked pantries, however our freezers can be a bit harder to use effectively. Although frozen meals may seem like a decent option to have on hand for nights that you don’t feel like cooking, they’re often bulky and not the best use of space. Here’s a beginner’s guide to home freezing your own groceries to help assist you in meal prep and reduce food waste in your household.
Most hearty grains can hold up to batch cooking and freezing, and the amount of time this will save you in future meals is completely worth it! Look for heartier grains like rice, farro, buckwheat, and quinoa, and avoid softer grains like millet, amaranth, and teff to ensure the quality of the grain isn’t compromised.
How to freeze: Lay cooked grains out on a baking sheet and spread out so grains can dry out and cool. Fluff them occasionally to ensure the moisture can escape. Once the grains are cooled and dried, divide them out into 1-2 cup portions and store in your preferred container (I like to use small glass jars as a more sustainable option). Make sure to label so you know what product is in there and when you need to use it by. Frozen grains can generally last about two months in the freezer.
What to do with them: Add them to a stir fry, use as a base for a Buddha bowl, throw into a salad, add to soups or curries, or prepare a plain side to your veggies and protein of choice. When you’re ready to use, take your container of cooked grains out of the freezer and either thaw in the microwave or add it directly to your dish towards the end of your cooking.
If you’re like me, you’ve most likely bought a bunch of herbs at the store to use in a recipe, only to end up throwing away half the bunch at the end of the week. Fresh herbs are a great way to add flavor and freshness to your dishes, but failing to plan ahead can end up producing a lot of food waste. Good news is that freezing herbs is super easy!
How to freeze: Roughly chop your herbs of choice, place a small spoonful in each of the ice cube molds, then cover with either water or your cooking oil of choice. If your herbs keep trying to float to the surface, leave a small amount of the mold empty and top it off the following day with additional water or oil. Once completely frozen, pop cubes out of the tray and store in a container. This same method can be used for ginger and garlic as well!
What to do with them: Add a cube to your stir fry, pasta sauce, soups, or curries for an instant boost of flavor and freshness. Avoid using frozen herbs as a garnish as they’ll tend to be soggy once thawed.
Fruits and Vegetables
Although it may seem like an easy thing to freeze on your own, there are a few tips to ensure your freezing experience is painless.
- Cut your fruits and veggies prior to freezing. If you try slicing produce after it’s thawed out, you’re going to have a small mess on your hands. Mushy, defrosted produce will not give you nice, clean cuts like you would achieve by slicing the produce prior to freezing.
- Be mindful of water content. There are huge variations in water content among produce items. Some greens, like spinach, will freeze beautifully, whereas greens with higher water content, like iceberg lettuce, will end up with their cell walls ruptured, affecting their quality once thawed.
- Don’t forget to blanch. Blanching produce is the process in which you add an item to boiling water for a short time, then quickly transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Blanching produce will improve the texture of the item by retaining ‘snap’ in those items. Blanch produce you would use for something like a stir fry, but feel free to skip the blanching step for vegetables that get soft when you cook them anyway, like squash or tomatoes.
How to freeze: Once you’re ready to freeze your produce, spread it out on a single layer on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. Not only does this shorten the time it takes the produce to freeze, but it also ensures that your frozen produce will not be stuck together in a huge block. Once frozen, portion out your produce into small freezer bags and store in the freezer.
What to do with them: When ready to use, add frozen produce to dishes you’re cooking, like soups or stir fries. For your no-cook dishes, thaw produce in the fridge and use within 1-2 days to ensure quality isn’t compromised.
Make sure you’re keeping your family safe and your food edible by following the FDA’s freezer storage guide.
Are you unsure of how to freeze an item in your fridge or pantry? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share our suggestions with you!