If you’re like millions of other American workers, your free time comes at a premium. Between regular work shifts, commuting and overtime, many of us are thoroughly exhausted by the time we finally get home. This often means that our diets wind up suffering from this time crunch, with many people turning to pre-made frozen foods and take out to satisfy their appetites. Any plans of cooking a nourishing and healthy meal seem to fall by the wayside.
Though it you may feel as if you’re destined to eat low-quality meals for the rest of your life, the answer to your conundrum may lay in an unexpected place – the freezer. Rather than preparing dinner from scratch everyday, your freezer allows you to store a number of cooked foods for later consumption. As helpful as it can be, the freezer is not a silver bullet; some foods handle the freezing process much better than others. Before you start cooking your favorite dishes, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the foods that are best-equipped for the freezer.
What to Freeze, and What Not to Freeze
Food can be a rather complicated subject; even after decades of research and study, many people are still clueless as to how certain foods affect their bodies. Likewise, many cooks sabotage their own handiwork due to a poor understanding of how various foods respond to freezing. The following lists highlight which foods hold up well under frigid temperatures, and which items wilt while frozen.
Foods that Freeze Well
Baked Goods – Generally speaking, baked goods contain relatively low levels of moisture, allowing them to survive the harsh conditions of your freezer. Baked breads, muffins, cookies, frosted cakes and cheesecakes can endure long stretches in freezing conditions without suffering permanent damage. Beware of freezing pastries that are filled with jelly or custard, however; these ingredients develop a watery texture upon thawing, can seep into the pastry’s surrounding contents.
Eggs – Whether they are uncooked or scrambled, eggs tend to maintain their taste and flavor even after long stints in the freezer. Amateur cooks should be interested to know that egg whites share this very same trait. Many recipes call for only using the yolks of eggs, which leaves a lot of unused material lying about. Instead of being thrown away, egg whites can be frozen to be used when needed.
Meat – Frozen cooked meats can be successfully thawed and eaten, though certain steps should be followed to prevent bacterial contamination. A cook has several options for preparing frozen meat. The most obvious method is to simply move the frozen meat from the freezer to the refrigerator, and to wait for the food to thaw. The length of the waiting process will vary depending on the amount of meat you are thawing; small portions of beef can thaw over the course of a day, whereas large chickens or turkeys may take several days before they ready for consumption.
Most Kinds of Soup – Broth-based soups are usually not adversely effected from being frozen and later thawed. As an added bonus, homemade soups tend to be healthier than their canned counterparts, which are brimming with sodium and other undesirable additives (of course, this advantage is largely nullified if you go crazy with the salt when adding your ingredients). Soups made with cream and butter, in contrast, are not as fortunate. These bases get watery when thawed, diluting both the taste and texture of the soup. Soups with potatoes experience a similar problem. Finally, take note if you are partial to soups with pasta; pasta pieces in frozen soups can take on a doughy taste.
Baked Chicken Breasts – When prepared correctly, chicken breast qualifies as both a delicious dinner item and a nutritious addition to your diet. This popular slice of poultry can also last 2 to 3 months in your freezer without going bad.
Foods better left unfrozen
Lettuce – Lettuce has a hard enough time surviving in your refrigerator; many shoppers wind up wasting grocery money on lettuce that goes bad in a short timeframe. Against the wrath of your freezer, lettuce is simply no match, and will begin disintegrating soon after being thawed.
Cooked Pasta – Your freezer tends to treat cooked pasta of all sorts very harshly. Novice cooks are often disappointed to find that their pasta becomes tasteless blobs of mush upon thawing.
Potatoes – Lettuce and cooked pasta have nothing on potatoes when it comes to being negatively effected by freezing. It doesn’t matter if they are raw or baked; weeks or months of being in a frozen state can actually turn potatoes black, an ugly transformation that renders them inedible. Even if your potatoes don’t change color, they will almost certainly devolve into a mushy mess when thawed.
Soft Cheeses – Cheese that has been frozen is still safe to consume, but you probably won’t like the taste. Well, at least not if it’s a soft cheese, a category that includes cream cheese, ricotta and cottage cheese (hard cheeses, including cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan, tend to fare better). After it has been thawed, soft cheese takes on a crumbly texture and loses most of its flavor. There is one sliver lining, though; frozen soft cheeses can still be used as an ingredient in cooked meals, such as casseroles and enchiladas. The heat used to prepare such items helps these cheeses regain much of their taste and texture.
Celery – Celery and lettuce share a good deal of things in common; they are both vegetables, each is high in vitamin K and both are universally praised for their positive impact on the body. Unfortunately, like its leafy cousin, celery is also a poor candidate for the freezer. The freezing process saps celery of its flavor and crispiness, leaving it soggy and rather unappealing. Thawed frozen celery isn’t entirely useless; despite its relative lack of taste, it can still be used in stews and soups.