Skinnytaste blogger Gina Homolka is joining TODAY to share healthy and helpful tips for optimizing your freezer from her new cookbook "Skinnytaste Meal Prep: Healthy Make-Ahead Meals and Freezer Recipes to Simplify Your Life." She shows us how to plan ahead, efficiently prep and the best ways to freeze feel-good dishes.
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Why make freezer meals?
Your freezer is one of the most useful tools in your kitchen for make-ahead meals and freezer-friendly dishes.Not only do freezer meals help on those busy weeknights, but they also cut back on food waste and allow you to stock up on ingredients that go on sale. These benefits all add up to saving time, money and calories.
1. Maximize space in your freezer
Use good quality freezer bags to freeze soups, beans and sauces. They save space because you can lay them flat to freeze. Once frozen, you can stack them up on top of each other or keep them in bins upright.
2. Leave a little extra room for liquids
You can also freeze soups, sauces and stews in airtight containers. Liquids expand so you'll want to fill freezer bags and containers only three-quarters of the way, so they don't explode.
3. Freeze fruits and vegetables
Freezing seasonal fruits and veggies is great, especially this time of year. Freezing your fresh garden veggies now will allow you to use them all year long. Same with in-season fruits, which are sweeter and perfect to add to your smoothies.
To prevent pieces from freezing together (and for freezing delicate fruits like berries), spread the pieces out in a single layer on a plastic wrap-lined sheet pan. Once they are fully frozen, transfer the pieces to your container and place it immediately in the freezer. With this method, any ice films form around each individual piece, rather than freezing all the pieces together in a big chunk.
4. Freeze casseroles
Many nights if I am making a lasagna or baked ziti, instead of making one, I make two: one to eat right away and one to freeze later on. Cook once, eat twice. It's the same amount of work and you will be happy to have a casserole prepared on those busy nights. It's also great to have a made-ahead dish on hand when you want to bring something to someone who's sick or having a baby.
Casseroles can be frozen either cooked or uncooked, but it's a bit better to freeze uncooked or partially cooked casseroles as opposed to freezing fully cooked casseroles.
Assemble casseroles in freezer-safe and ovenproof dishes (glass and ceramic dishes tend to work best) and seal with several layers of plastic wrap and foil, or with an airtight lid to keep out as much air as possible. For the best defrosting results, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight, then cook in the oven.
Of course, if you forget to thaw and want to bake from frozen, make sure you freeze your casseroles in freezer-to-ovenproof baking dishes (such as foil, as most glass or ceramic dishes will crack). Don't forget to remove any plastic wrap on your casseroles before baking (yes, I've done that!).
5. Sign, seal and deliver (to the freezer)
Jot down the item name and date on every meal-prep item you freeze. Depending on what's inside, I like to scribble other details as well, to help me out when I pull meals from the freezer. You might want to make a note of the recipe name, freeze date, number of servings or portions and reheating/cooking directions.