How to Keep Premade Foods Fresh
The trick to keeping freezer meals palatable is to choose wisely, and freeze and package them correctly. This requires some trial and error, however I’ve found a few things to be true most of the time. For instance, recipes with a significant amount of dairy—particularly milk—have a different consistency than those without it. When possible, I prefer to omit the milk and add it later during cooking. Also, most soft-fleshed fruits and veggies such as melons, greens, cucumbers and strawberries become squishy once frozen and thawed. Denser produce, however, like beans, onions, peppers, broccoli and cooked potatoes, as well as purees, freeze perfectly.
When freezing, opt for heavy-duty zip-top freezer bags, vacuum-sealed bags or disposable aluminum pans. Zip-top bags work well for chili and soups, as long as all of the air is released. For larger dishes like lasagna and casseroles, disposable aluminum pans work just as well as heavy glass pans. It’s important to press foil down onto the top of the food to prevent freezer burn. If extra protection is needed, wrap the entire container in freezer paper.
Packaging makes a significant difference with dough-based recipes. Cookies, biscuits, pie crusts and pizza dough maintain their “fresh from the oven” taste and texture best when first frozen raw on a cookie sheet, then removed and vacuum sealed. Most foods keep nicely for one to three months, with vacuum sealing protecting them longest.
To keep your family eating healthy, homegrown foods when life gets too busy for a home-cooked meal, experiment with freezing your family’s favorite dishes for ready-made fast food. You’ll find some meals work best when frozen fully cooked and simply reheated in the microwave, while others work better when frozen raw. Each recipe is different, but over time you’ll learn what works best for your family.