Since I like my meals to be fresh, I don't freeze prepared meals, instead once a month I make a freezer meal prep plan to make my daily cooking very easy.
This post is Part 3 of a 4 article series: Organize your kitchen and eat healthily.
I go shopping only once per week to stock up my kitchen with all essentials (sauce, meat, carbs and seasoning), I only buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and looks fresh and plan my meals accordingly.
Part 2: Italian Ingredients: A Comprehensive Guide
(plus my favourite brands and a printable shopping list)
How to store different food
Once you are back from your grocery shop, it is very important to store your food properly so it will last as long as possible.
A general rule of thumb for storing food is:
- Carbohydrates can be stored in the cupboard (pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes, bread, flour, pulse)
- Proteins can be stored in the freezer (es. meat, fish, cheese, egg not whole)
- While fruits and vegetables should be eaten fresh (salads, roots, greens, herbs, fruits)
Of course, there are exceptions to those rules, but generally speaking, they work. Most proteins usually freeze well, while vegetables tend to get soggy once defrosted.
This is why it is so important to buy fruits and vegetables that are fresh and will last as long as possible.
Not so much with carbohydrates, eggs, meat, fish and cheese, as they can be stored in the cupboard or freezer and used anytime.
Fruits and vegetables can be stored in the fridge as well as in the pantry. I always recommend using the same storage practice used by the supermarket when you bought them. If they use it, it is certainly the best way to store them.
Freezing meat, fish, cheese and eggs
Whether cooked or uncooked, most proteins can be stored in the freezer: Meat, Fish, Cheeses, Eggs (not whole).
I always freeze meat and fish uncooked and into 4-person portions, so each time I will defrost only the quantity needed for our family meals.
Cheese usually freezes well, from my personal experience it works. I always freeze Parmesan, grated cheese, stracchino, chevre, mozzarella for pizza. I never froze fresh mozzarella or brie, but it should work as it works for the other cheese.
You can also freeze prepared meat or fish but in general, I never freeze them if the recipe has cooked vegetables. There are some exceptions. Here are some meat and fish recipes that freeze well uncooked:
- Classic veal Milanese
- Sausagemeat and Chestnut Stuffing Wrapped in Bacon
- Beef Sausage Hand Pie Recipe
- Scallop, Shrimp, Salmon and Cod Fish Pie with a Mediterranean Twist
- Stuffed Calamari Recipe
- Italian Chicken with Peppers
- Creamy Chicken Marsala Without Cream
You could freeze scrambled raw eggs, but mostly I freeze egg whites leftover from other recipes as for example custard or cream. Once defrosted and at room temperature, you can make fantastic Meringues for a special occasion.
Saving time with frozen meal prep
I like to make all my food from scratch so I don’t buy prepared frozen meals. I rather have my meals freshly cooked but I use the freezer to store meal prep which I prepare myself. So I still cook fresh daily but I save time on my daily cooking by using frozen meal prep.
In using the freezer, what really helps me to save time with the daily meal-making are the Base Ingredients and the Stocks that I prepare and freeze over a boring and rainy weekend.
Just 1 hour spent every second month makes me save hours on a weekly basis. The frozen meal prep I usually make are:
- Mirepoix: Carrots, Onions and Celery
- Grated parmesan
- Homemade Chicken Stocks
- Homemade Br0wn stock
- Homemade Fish stock
Freezing uncooked meals or leftover
I also freeze leftover meals...if there’s any left! But I never re-freeze meal made with food that was previously frozen.
Bread also stores well in the freezer. If you let it defrost overnight on the kitchen counter, it will be like fresh the next morning.
If you warm it up for 2 minutes in the oven once completely defrosted, it will also have the same fragrance as newly baked ones.
I always store fresh baguettes tradition (the best here in France) in the freezer already cut in sandwiches size. Every morning I put one in the oven for 10 minutes to make sandwiches for the boys' school lunch.
You can also freeze pizza dough, but I never do as I can quickly make it in the bread machine when I need it. I do always make it at least one day in advance.
I usually only freeze vegetables that will be cooked or baked afterwards, in stews or quiches for example. Most defrosted vegetables tend to be mushy, but that wouldn’t matter for those types of recipes.
I do buy frozen peas and spinach because they freeze well and they are handy “back-up” vegetables to have on hand when you run out of fresh ones.
The vegetable meals that freeze well are:
- Easy Ratatouille Recipe Baked
- Zucchini and Mushroom Quiche
- Caramelized Squash Ricotta Spinach Bacon Quiche
- Sicilian Caponata Recipe
- Gratin Dauphinoise Recipe
- Healthy Eggplant Parmesan
- Italian Rice Stuffed Tomatoes
- Petit Farcis Stuffed Peppers
- Stuffed Round Courgettes
- Vegetable’ soup with spicy merguez sausages
How to store food in the freezer
I try to keep my freezer well organized so that I can easily find what I am looking for and also to see which stocked food I need to replenish.
I either use well labelled plastic containers or freezing bags and in particular, for the fish, I use double bags as the smell of the seafood can easily take over the freezer.
Labels are very important, first of all, because once the food is frozen you may not recognize what food it is. Secondly, to keep track of the date you froze it. I never keep food in the freezer for longer than 6 months.
Cleaning the Freezer
Normally I do a deep cleaning of my freezer every 3 months.
I wait until most of the frozen food has been used and whatever is left I put into a fridge container with plenty of ice packs. I always try not to have meat or fish.
I throw away whatever is older than 6 months, I defrost the freezer completely and remove the ice that forms on the walls with time.
I disinfect the freezer, turn it back on but only put the food back in once it is starting to get cold again.
Basic safety rules for freezing food
When freezing and defrosting food, I follow these basic safety rules:
- If I want to freeze the meat or fish I’ve just bought at the store, I do it immediately, i.e. without letting it sit in my fridge for days.
- It’s best not to thaw food on the kitchen counter at room temperature, but I do. However, I always make sure to put them in the fridge once they are completely defrosted.
- I never re-freeze thawed food.
- Food can be refrozen though only if it has been gradually thawed in the refrigerator. I never do this anyway.
For more safety food storage rules you can check: Food Safety Basics from the United States Department of Agriculture
This is an additional safety precaution I always use:
- We have a lot of lightning storms here in the region, especially during the end of the summer, and often the electricity gets cut off.
- So this is what I do to make sure the food in the freezer is safe, especially if we are not at home or we are travelling.
- I always leave a cup filled with ice cubes in the freezer.
- If on our return I find a frozen cup of water instead of the ice cubes, then I know something happened. The temperature was not maintained at freezing level, and so the food is no longer safe to eat.
- You can also do that with small plastic water. You freeze it while standing and leave it lying in the freezer.
In the next and last article of the series, you will find hints and tips on how to reduce food waste.
If you are making any of those Once a Month Frozen Meal Prep or if you have any other suggestions, leave your comment below I would like to hear from you. You can find more delicious ideas if you FOLLOW ME on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram or sign up to my newsletter.