By Monique Heller
With winter conjuring memories of slow-cooked soups and stews, and staying cosy at home, it might just be the perfect time for you to reacquaint yourself with your freezer. However, forays into freezing can be futile without a little bit of prior prep and knowledge. Here’s what you need to know to make freezing work for you.
Label, label, label
First things first, labels are going to be your best friend. If you’re about to dive head first into freezing, make sure to label everything. A simple description and date should be enough to make sure you feel confident when pulling out a 3-month old container of lentil soup for lunch. Often people have the best of intentions freezing their food, then let themselves down by not being able to identify it later. Get creative with labelling sustainably - the most creative idea I’ve heard is to cut up toilet paper rolls and label these, attaching to containers with some twine.
But don’t I need to freeze things in plastic?
It’s a common misconception that we need to freeze things in plastic freezer bags or glad wrap. There’s plenty of plastic-free options that won’t compromise the quality of your frozen food.
For dry foods and larger items: Baking paper is an easy way to wrap foods to protect from freezer burn - and the paper is easily reusable after a quick wipe once the food is defrosted. Just make sure to wrap tightly. Another option is aluminium foil - these two options work well for foods like meat, bread, cakes and other larger, solid items.
For wet dishes: For liquid-based items like soups and stews, freezing in glass jars can be a good way to use jars leftover from pasta sauce, pickles and the like. Just make sure to leave a couple of centimetres of space empty as your liquids will expand a little when it freezes. Thick-necked bottles like pasta sauce bottles work best and are unlikely to shatter.
You can also freeze any foods in silicone pouches like these or other sustainable glass or metal containers.
What are the best meals to cook in big batches and freeze for later?
Luckily, many of our favourite winter warmers work really well frozen and reheated. Think soups, stews and curries - my favourite for freezing is this mushroom and lentil bolognese. I freeze the sauce alone and cook up pasta when I defrost it - frozen cooked pasta is never as good as freshly cooked! Avoid freezing meals with raw or lightly cooked vegetables, like stir-fries, as they tend to lose their texture in the freezer.
Help - I’ve got so many leftover odds and ends!
While many of us are used to composting our leftover food waste, odds and ends like condiments and sauces sometimes get forgotten and we’re at a loss for what to do. Your secret weapon here is an ice-cube tray - freeze sauces like tomato paste or pesto in ice cube trays then transfer to a sealed container once frozen. Then you’ve got a steady supply of flavour bombs on hand when you need to spice up a meal. You can also freeze herbs in the same trays - add enough olive oil or water to the chopped herbs to cover. They can then be pulled out and added to soups and stews or made into pestos and dressings.
About the author:
Monique Heller is a dietitian and nutrition communicator with an enthusiasm for finding scrappy ways to reduce her footprint through food. When she’s not experimenting in the kitchen, she’s probably talking, writing or thinking about food.