How to Freeze Leftovers to Enjoy at a Later Date
Learn how to prep your food for the freezer with these easy tips.
If you make a big batch of food, but can't enjoy it all while it's fresh, freezing your leftovers is a great time- and money-saving option. According to the USDA, food that is stored at or below 0°F "will always be safe"—in other words, you can store it in your freezer for an indefinite period of time. But preserving the flavor and texture of your frozen food takes a little know-how.
When freezing food, you are battling two forces: air and moisture. Air can cause food to dry out, while moisture can lead to icy or soggy food. Improperly stored foods can also develop off flavors in the freezer. Here are some helpful tips for freezing leftovers. Plus, learn how to freeze specific meals—from soups and casseroles to baked goods.
3 Tips for Freezing Leftovers
Let food cool completely before freezing. If you freeze it when it's warm, it produces excess moisture; the moisture freezes and turns into ice. Plus, putting hot food into the freezer can also partially thaw other food around it.
Related: How to Prevent Freezer Burn
The best way to store food in the freezer is in vacuum-sealed bags or containers because they remove all the air, which prevents moisture loss and keeps food from getting icy. Get our picks for the best containers for freezing food.
The next best choice is to tightly wrap with heavy-duty foil or freezer paper. To double-protect casseroles, press a piece of freezer paper on the surface of the food before wrapping in foil or freezer paper (just remember to remove the freezer paper before baking). Individually wrap items like salmon cakes before storing in an airtight container or freezer bag.
A freezer stocked with ready-to-go dinners does you no good if you don't know what's in there. Label and date everything that you freeze (we like these labels from Amazon, $7). If you're really organized, make an "eat-by" note on your calendar. Eat properly wrapped food within 3 to 6 months of freezing. Vacuum-sealed food will stay fresh for at least 1 year and sometimes up to 2 years.
Related: 9 Foods You Should Never Freeze
How to Freeze Meals
How to Freeze Baked Goods
Most baked goods, including muffins and cakes, can be frozen for up to three months. Meanwhile, items like cookie dough and scones can all be mixed, shaped and frozen, so you can bake them whenever you have a craving for sweets. Check out these instructions for how to freeze baked goods.
How to Freeze Casseroles
The best thing about freezing casseroles is that it often requires just one pan. From the cooking to the freezing to the reheating, you can do it all in one freezer-, oven-friendly dish, which means less clean up for you (we love this 3-piece baker set from Sur La Table, on sale for $50). And get step-by-step instructions for how to freeze casseroles.
How to Freeze Soup
Soup is one of the best, and easiest, meals to make in advance because it's so freezer-friendly. Whether it's a broth-based soup or a hearty chili, soups last well and lead to a quick, delicious dinner when you're in a pinch. Check out these instructions for how to freeze soup.