Spending an afternoon in the kitchen preparing meals to freeze for future use is not only smart, it’s economical.


Food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson of the North Dakota State University Extension Service, recently spent a few hours in her kitchen preparing about 72 servings of food at only $1.50 per serving.


“Frozen foods are readily available in the grocery store, but making your own frozen entrees allows you to prepare your favorite meals. You can also control the amount of fat and salt you add, so the home-prepared meals can be healthier and also less expensive,” she said.

Spending an afternoon in the kitchen preparing meals to freeze for future use is not only smart, it’s economical.


Food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson of the North Dakota State University Extension Service, recently spent a few hours in her kitchen preparing about 72 servings of food at only $1.50 per serving.


“Frozen foods are readily available in the grocery store, but making your own frozen entrees allows you to prepare your favorite meals. You can also control the amount of fat and salt you add, so the home-prepared meals can be healthier and also less expensive,” she said.


 


For beginners


Seasoned cooks know their way around the kitchen, but many people are confused about what foods can be frozen and how long these foods will last, said registered dietician Sarah Krieger, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.


Almost any food can be frozen with the exception of canned foods and eggs in shells, but there are time limits depending on the type of food.


“When in doubt, throw it out,” Krieger advised.


Another consideration is the quality of the food after it’s defrosted. Some foods just do not freeze and defrost well, such as mayonnaise, cream sauces and lettuce. Raw meat and poultry retain their quality better because moisture is lost during cooking.


 


Make it work


Here are a few more tips from the experts:


- Be sure your freezer temperature never goes above 0 degrees F.


- Raw meats, whole chicken and steaks can be safely frozen for about nine months. Prepared meals, such as a chicken and rice casserole, can be frozen for about four to eight weeks.


- Raw vegetables are not “stable” enough to freeze because they will become “woody and watery,” Krieger said. Blanch, steam or even microwave vegetables first then cool them in ice water before freezing.


- Freezing eggs can be done by removing the shells and mixing them well before freezing. Raw egg whites can be frozen and retain their quality, but cooked egg whites become rubbery, and egg yolks become gelatinous. Freeze a few and see if the results work for you.


- Packaging is all-important. Use freezer-quality bags for freezing and be sure to label them. “If you’re just wrapping foods in plastic wrap, it’s like wearing a wind breaker in a snow storm,” Krieger said. Containers should be sealed with as little air as possible. Dead space can be filled with crumpled wax paper.


- Store-bought meats can be frozen for up to two months (because the packaging is permeable). If freezing longer, repackage in freezer quality bags.


- Freezer burn does not make food unsafe, merely dry in spots, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Caused by air coming in contact with food, freezer burn can be cut away before or after cooking. Foods with extensive freezer burn are a lost cause.


- Some foods such as red meats change color when freezing due to a lack of oxygen, freezer burn or overly long storage, but are still safe to eat.


- Lastly, use all products within a reasonable time. “As long as food is kept solidly frozen, it will not become unsafe to eat,” Garden-Robinson said. “But it will lose quality during extended storage — nutrients, flavors and appearance will decline.”