How to Safely Freeze Leftovers to Make the Most of Your Meals

Everything you need to know about freezing your big batch dishes.

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Photo by: Qwart/Getty Images

Qwart/Getty Images

One of the benefits of big batch cooking is having leftovers. Storing leftover chili, soup or even meat can save time and money on days when cooking just seems like an impossibility — plus, it helps prevent food waste. A win-win. Whether we are talking meal prep, reducing food waste or money-saving strategies, knowing how to freeze leftovers is an important kitchen skill to have to keep you and your family safely fed. Here's how to safely freeze your leftovers for enjoyment later on.

Keep Your Freezer at the Right Temperature

The goal of proper food storage is to prevent the growth of potentially hazardous bacteria and the foodborne illness it may cause. Keeping food safe begins with a safe place to store it. Freezer temps should remain at or below 0 degrees F.

Pick the Proper Containers

Store food in the proper containers. Freezer-safe zip-top bags and containers are durable and designed to withstand the arctic and potentially crammed environment of your freezer.

How to Prep Food for Freezing

Leftovers or newly-cooked foods should not sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours — 1 hour in hot conditions (at or above 90 degrees F). Always keep an eye on the time or set your smart phone alarm as a reminder to pack up leftovers. Place food in shallow containers as to promote quick cooling and place it right in the freezer when it is at or approaching room temperature (70 degrees F).

Best (And Worst) Foods to Freeze

Some of the best leftover foods to freeze include cooked chopped meats, casseroles, pizza, soup, tomato sauce, breads and baked goods. Leftovers that don’t like the freezer include hard boiled eggs, stuffed and uncooked meats like chicken breast and pork chops, cold tuna and pasta salads.

Tips to Make Freezing Food Easier

Don’t just freeze safely. Optimize your food storage situation and freeze like a pro with these tips.

  • Portion your food. Ever attempted to defrost a life-size block of frozen chili? Things can get messy and once defrosted, it must be utilized in a timely fashion. Freeze large batch recipes in smaller, sensibly-portioned containers for easy cooling, freezing and defrosting.
  • Use bags to save space. Freeze soups, sauces and other leftovers in reseable bags, then lay flat until frozen. These flat, frozen sheets can be stacked horizontally or vertically to maximize storage capacity.
  • Label and date! You think you will remember, but you won’t. Label and date your frozen leftovers so you can defrost in an ideal time frame. While you don’t have to worry about spoilage for frozen foods, quality can be negatively impacted when food stays in the freezer too long. Most foods maintain their quality for several months. For a full list of freezer timelines, visit the USDA website.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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