On today’s episode, I’m sharing a quick Freezing Foods 101 roundup with my tips and methods for freezing and defrosting foods.


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Episode 107 Transcription

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Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. I’m so excited to be here with you today. My name is Cassy Joy Garcia. I am the owner, founder, author, nutrition consultant, blog writer behind the brand Fed and Fit. If you’re new here, I’m so happy to have you here. Normally; well, not normally. I do a lot of interviews on this podcast, and I also like to sometimes tuck away a little quality time between just you and me. And that’s what you’ve got today. On these shows, I like to either jump into a mindset topic, sometimes a really fun food science topic, and today we’re going to zero in on a healthy lifestyle trick that can really go a long way in helping to make you feel like you’re really on top of your game.

So we’re going to talk about freezing foods. We’ve got a little mini course called freezing foods 101. It is a question I get all the time, and I’m excited to finally give you a concise single resource to reference. I’m going to talk about a bunch of stuff, and of course as always I will provide links to everything that I talk about so you guys can have a quick reference. And hopefully this will be really helpful for everybody.

Ok, so let’s start off with a little background information. Why is freezing foods such an important topic? And why am I giving it its own dedicated podcast episode? It seems a little bananas. So let’s jump into it.

When it comes to starting a healthy lifestyle, whether you’re just kicking it off or whether you have been at this for a very long time and you’re trying to find a way to make life a little bit easier for yourself. There is something we can do. I like to call it knitting ourselves some safety nets; some fallback nets. Because there’s nothing like bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on a Sunday afternoon when you’re planning your week ahead, and you’re planning your meals, and everything looks so good. And you go to the grocery store, and you get all the groceries you need, and you come back and you do your meal prep. And you’re like; “Gosh darn it, I’m on top of the world. We got this going on.”

But what happens when you miss that Sunday afternoon of planning time? And what happens if, even though you do plan, you have a really long, hard, unexpected day during the week? And you actually don’t have the time to finish preparing the meal that you had planned for that dinner. What do we do in those instances? Usually in those instances, and I’m speaking from personal experience, I will either turn to take out; I’ll call my husband and I’ll say, “Honey, I need you to swoop in and bring us something home for dinner,” or like a delivery gluten-free pizza. Something to make life easier. Because I just don’t have time to think about cooking up fresh food. It happens all the time. And the reasons are endless. And it’s real life. I want you to know that that is real life, and it’s ok if that happens.

So what do we do to help lessen the impact of those real life hiccups? What do we do to really set ourselves up for long-term success? Because success and healthy lifestyle has nothing to do with how perfectly you’re living. It has everything to do with the whole sum. It has everything to do with your consistency, attitude, and choices. And when you set yourself up a fallback method, you’re really setting yourself up for success. And if you don’t have a fallback method, it doesn’t mean that you’re not being successful. I’m just saying that this could absolutely make life a little bit easier.

Ok, so let’s jump into it. Freezing foods 101. Why, first. Let’s dial back. Why is this even a topic that I’m so passionate about? It started when I was writing my book, the Fed and Fit book, which hit shelves in August of 2016. And the book has 190 recipes in it. They’re all super healthy, “squeaky clean” paleo, which means they don’t have any junk or any flours or anything like that in there. So there’s no slippery slopes into accidentally eating too much of a thing that may be not that good for us. So really, really healthy foods. And a lot of them were meal based. Because that’s what I found that you guys liked. You wanted really hearty soups. You wanted slow cooker meals. You wanted casseroles. You wanted big family portions. So that’s what I provided.

But when I was writing this book, because of the timeline of a book and what goes into it, I was making between 7 and 9 of those dishes a day. And in my house, it’s only myself and my husband. And although we have friends and family that are close by, we just couldn’t we could not eat all of that food. It was impossible. And I sure as heck was not going to throw it away. That was not an option. And I joked with some of my friends at the gym. I said, “I’ll bring you a casserole, but you have to know that there’s going to have two to three scoops missing out of it.” And maybe, gosh. I don’t know. Who knows what else. It’s not a professional kitchen; it was my personal kitchen that I was cooking out of for the book. And so I felt a little weird just taking people a third of an eaten casserole, or soup that had a bunch of servings out of it.

So what we wound up doing was we invested in a deep freeze, and then I set up a game plan. I was very intentional. It was part of the routine for the day. And getting into this routine while I was writing the book has really developed; I have developed some very helpful habits from it that I think could be helpful for anybody. You do not have to be writing a book to learn these lessons and develop these really wonderful habits.

So the way that my day would go is I would make all this wonderful food. Actually, rewind the clock. The night before, I would sit there, I would upload my photos from the day before. I would look up the grocery list of the dishes I was going to make the day before. And because we had to go so fast on this project, I would have groceries delivered to my house. I would schedule them to be delivered at 6 a.m. the next morning for the groceries we needed that day. Because we were cooking so much, I didn’t have enough storage for the groceries to do like a weeks’ worth of groceries. So I would have groceries delivered at 6 a.m. I would start cooking, prepping as soon as I got up. And then as soon as the light, the natural light was good outside, then I would start cooking and photographing. That went right until the sun went down and the light was no good anymore.

And then at that point, I would take the meals. And I was kind of doing this throughout the day. But I would then at that point, it was like the assembly line. The freezer assembly line. I set out all my little containers. I had all my post-it notes lined up with my sharpie and my tape. And I would write the information I needed on the post-it notes, label the food. I would portion out; I froze individual portions for everything, because that’s what’s worked for us. And I’ll talk about how to know what to do in that instance in a little bit. But I would label everything, put a portion in a container, seal it, and then off into the freezer it went in a very organized fashion. And I did that every single day.

And then at the end of the night, I’d clean all the dishes, get everything packed up. And every single day I would joke to my husband. I’d be like; I don’t know what kind of attitude. I was so tired. And I would look at my kitchen that looked like I just cooked Thanksgiving dinner again, and again, and again. And I would say, “Can we just burn down the kitchen and start over?” {laughs} It was just one of those; you know, when your kitchen is so, so, so messy it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel? But we did it. We persevered. We cleaned that kitchen. And we had a stocked freezer. And by the end of this book, you guys. My husband and I were able to live off of these freezer meals. And it was such a life saver.

Because first came photographing the book. I photographed the recipes, finalized all of the directions and everything. And then I wrote the front part of the book, which was the 100 pages of information about the four pillars of health, finalized all the details on the program. And then we went into the editing process. So we spent about 2 to 3 months after I finished photographing everything working on the book. So I was glued to my computer. They were long, long days. Plus I was still blogging fulltime. And so it was hard. It was hard days that I didn’t really have the energy or the desire to cook. Because after cooking essentially 30 Thanksgiving dinners in a row, you just get a little bit burnt out on cooking. And I was so thankful that I had all that food saved up. My husband and I got into a routine, and we lived off of those leftovers. And if I didn’t have them; if I had given them away or pitched them or whatever, I don’t think I would have been in such great health by the time I finished that book.

I actually felt like I was at a healthier state by the time I finished the book, and it went off to print than when I started it. And it’s because out of necessity, that’s the only thing I had to eat, so I ate it. It’s kind of like kids growing up. I remember growing up thinking; gosh, when I came home and visited my parents from college, I ate so well when I was at home. And that’s because that was my only option, was what she cooked. And I did. I always felt better. But when I went back to school, and I was making my own decisions and I had pizza and burritos staring me in the face, and no knowledge of actual nutrition at that point in time, I would eat those and I didn’t feel quite as good. So there’s something wonderful about only having the option of healthy food that really helped. But I didn’t have time to think about; or didn’t want to give the time to think about cooking or about indulging or about going out to restaurants or about ordering delivery pizza. We wanted quick, easy food that was going to fill us up, and that was what was in the freezer.

And, it just so happened to be delicious. And it just so happened to be really healthy. So it was an absolute game-changer. I remember I posted about my freezer meals constantly back then, because that’s all I was eating. I was like, “Another meal from the freezer.” And if you guys followed me on Snapchat around that point in time. I think I talked about it a little bit on Instagram. Many of you were asking me lots of questions about proper freezing techniques. And I definitely learned a whole lot. I talked about a lot of it in the book. A lot of it did wind up in the Fed and Fit book. Best tips on freezing methods for the various dishes. But it was a huge hit.

And what I have learned from that is to cook for my freezer. I will do that. Let’s say I’m making a big family dinner. My family gets together every Sunday. And if I’m already in the kitchen, and let’s say I’m making a casserole. I’m just throwing out the example of a casserole because it’s an easy one. Let’s say I’m making a casserole for my family that’s coming over for dinner. I will double the recipe. Now, I will double the recipe. We’ll enjoy one fresh that night, and one will be dedicated for the freezer meals. And for my family. I’ll get into that in a second. But that’s kind of the idea. We either cook explicitly for the freezer, so you have a safety net so you have something to fall back on when things are tough so you can just throw it in the oven. Or you can just go ahead and defrost it on the stove, and you have a really yummy soup ready to go.

So it’s a huge game changer in that regard. So either cooking explicitly for the freezer, or portioning off your leftovers ASAP and putting that in the freezer, as well. So that’s always been helpful. And sometimes I will make; I have these big breakfast bowl recipes on my blog. The three egg-free breakfast bowls. And my husband’s favorite one is the chorizo breakfast bowl. And what I will do is I will make that chorizo breakfast bowl; I will double the recipe so we have a bunch of servings. And he and I will enjoy one serving fresh day of, and I will immediately freeze the rest of them in individual serving sizes.

Because even though my best hopes and intentions are that we’ll eat leftovers the rest of the week, sometimes eventually a few servings go bad in the refrigerator. Because we either decided to go meet somebody for breakfast, or we went out of town, or something happens and we don’t quite get through the entire batch of leftovers from the refrigerator. But if I froze them immediately after cooking and after they cooled, then they’re fresh, fresh, fresh. And that way, there’s no pressure when we have to eat them. And it becomes much more fun, and much less daunting than eating leftovers before they go bad.

Ok, so freezing foods 101. We’re going to break this up. I’m going to talk about what freezes well, what does not freeze well. Best freezing containers. Best freezing practices; so the actual method to go through. And then best reheating practices. So let’s get into it.

Let’s talk first about; actually let’s reverse this order a little bit. Let’s talk first about what does not freeze well. Because that list is shorter. The things that I have found that do not freeze well are raw uncooked vegetables. There is an exception to this. If you have, let’s say, a garden. I have a garden. And we grow okra like you wouldn’t believe. We grow so much okra. And if you have a garden as well, you understand this a little bit. We cannot eat the okra as fast as it grows. And that’s fine with us. So what we do is I take the okra fresh, I wash it, and then I chop it up into little bitty disks, I freeze them first, and then I keep those frozen. So those are fresh, raw vegetables. But it’s just fresh raw vegetables. I do not think that; if you want to reheat something that you’re freezing later, the fresh vegetables are not going to reheat well with the rest of it, if that makes sense.

So let’s say; this is not a good example. Let’s say you have taco salad leftovers. Freezing the taco meat on top of the lettuce is not a good idea. Because when you reheat it, the lettuce is going to become mushy while you’re trying to reheat the meat. So if that makes sense. This also goes for raw garnishes. I don’t have, not a huge fan of freezing raw garnishes. They’re fine; if you think of cilantro, parsley, scallions, green onions, those kinds of things. Even purple onions. Those kinds of raw garnishes, if they’re chopped up really well, know that the texture, when you reheat it, is not going to be great, but it will be fine. So I would avoid things like lettuce on top of frozen food. So that’s one of the big things that does not freeze well.

Another big thing that I found that doesn’t freeze super well are egg dishes. Dishes with a lot of egg. Now, there’s actually a very ironic exception to this rule. When I say egg dishes, I’m thinking, when people order eggs at a dinner they typically want. You have your fresh either over-easy egg, maybe you have it poached, maybe you have it soft-boiled. Maybe you have it hard-boiled. Whatever it is. Eggs by themselves like that, cooked up in mass quantities but as individual eggs, in my opinion do not freeze and reheat very well. Now, an exception to that, funny enough, is an egg casserole or a frittata. I’ve actually found that those reheat pretty well. The texture is not going to be quite as amazing as when you first made it. But it’s not quite as gummy as some of you might be fearing. So I think that’s a good one. So that’s pretty much it on what I have that does not freeze well.

On things that do freeze well is everything else under the sun.

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You guys ask me this a lot. “Can I freeze sweet potatoes? Cooked sweet potatoes?” Yes. “Can I freeze…” Oh gosh, what are some other options? Meat. “Can I freeze some versions of cooked fish, like a cooked,” What are they called? Shrimp! I was making a sign with my hand but nobody can see that! Shrimp. Yes, I have a gumbo recipe that I use shrimp in, and it reheats just fine in the soup. There are certain things that if it’s more delicate; if it’s more of a delicate protein. Like fish, seafood, shrimp, something like that, I think it’s better to freeze it in a broth or in a soup-base. Otherwise you might be more prone to getting a weird freezer texture on the outside of it. But if it’s in a soup base, it’s going to be fine. So those things do really well. Pretty much everything else; cooked vegetables do really well. Everything does well. Ok, so. That’s a very broad answer, but I hope that helps a little bit.

Ok. Best freezing containers. I’ve broken this up into good, better, best. Because you choose what’s right for you. There’s no reason to be a hero and feeling like you have to choose the best option here. You do what’s right for you and your family and your budget. And if just getting meals in the freezer means you go with the good option, then that’s awesome. Pursue that. Ok, so freezing options, packaging. In the good category, I have plastic and aluminum containers. It’s fine. For the most part, my thoughts on plastic containers when it comes to food storage, is that especially when it’s cold. The warmer it gets, that’s when we really need to be the most concerned about our food touching plastic. Think about a water bottle in the car, that’s maybe in a really, really hot car. Have you ever noticed, if you’ve taken a sip of hot water in a bottle in the car, it kind of tastes a little funny? And that’s because the plastic has heated up. And if you guys can kind of rewind the clock a little bit, go back to science class, probably from around middle school. When something heats up, the molecules in that substance starts to move faster. And when they move faster, they tend to emit things. So the molecules in that plastic bottle are heated, moving faster, and emitting things. Different things, different toxins potentially, into the water.

So when it comes to using plastic containers, I recommend only using them for cold purposes. Frozen is even better. Because the opposite of when it’s hot and the molecules are moving quickly, when its frozen and the molecules are moving extremely slowly, there’s a very, very small chance that it’s going to emit anything into the food. So I just wanted to clarify why this is on my list. I personally use cheap plastic containers for my individual meal portions. Because it’s the most economical, it’s not every heavy, and it’s easier for me to store in my deep freeze. Aluminum containers; that’s for if you’re freezing entire casseroles all by themselves. That’s a really good option.

Ok, better options. So good; now we’re moving up to better, would be instead of sticking something right into plastic. Let’s say you baked a whole bunch of sweet potatoes. You baked a bunch of sweet potatoes, and you’re going to freeze them in advance. You bought one of those giant 5-pound bags of sweet potatoes. You’ve let them cool on the countertop, and now you want to freeze them. So I would say a better option than just tossing them in a giant Ziploc back would be to wrap them in wax paper, and then stick them in the bag. So wrapping them in the wax paper helps insulate them from any potential contaminates from the plastic. Now as we just heard, the plastic is not a huge deal when it’s frozen. What we want to make sure we don’t do is we do not cook in the plastic. But the wax paper will help insulate it further.

And then the best option out there. I don’t want to call it the hero option, but if you really want to go for it, you go Glenn Coco; is to use glass containers. Glass is going to transmit the least amount. Stainless steel would be fine, also. I think in stainless steel for the freezer, you might find a little bit more propensity for freezer burn. But it will be fine. An air tight glass container would be great. Those are more expensive, and they can be more tedious to store, but that’s definitely an option. For the amount that I freeze, that’s not a realistic option for me. But it might be for some of you.

Ok, best freezing practices. Let’s talk about it. I’ve got 6 steps here. Number one is to cook the meal or the casserole, whatever it is, completely. So cook it all the way through. I get this question a lot. “Cass, if I’m going to make the barbecue chicken potato casserole from the Fed and Fit book, do I precook it before I freeze it, or do I cook it afterwards?” Now, some of my casseroles, once you assemble them, they’re all cooked together. The potatoes on the bottom are cooked, and the meat on top is cooked. Right? In that case, it’s cooked. What I do not recommend doing is if you ever have to make something. Let’s say you assemble a soup. It would be like assembling the soup without ever turning the heat on. You just put all the ingredients into a big pot, and then you freeze that with the raw chicken, and the raw onion, and all the other raw ingredients. So make sure that the components are cooked. You’ve cooked the soup ahead of time. You’ve followed the steps of the recipe, and with the casserole all the components are cooked. So once it’s cooked, then it’s eligible to go to the freezer.

Number two step; after you cook it thoroughly, number two is to let it cool completely before you start to freeze it. This will help eliminate ice buildup on your serving of whatever it is. This will help eliminate maybe even if you’re using plastic, right? We don’t really want to put hot food on plastic so it will help eliminate some of the transfer of toxins there. So let it cool completely. It will also really help your freezer overall, and energy bill. So let it cool on the countertop completely. This is maybe 30 minutes, not a crazy amount. The amount of time it would sit on your dinner table during dinner. And then it’s ready for the freezer.

Number three, decide whether you’re freezing whole or portion it out. If you have a family; if there’s a 6-person family that you’re in and you know that one of those casseroles will last one meal. If that’s the case, then freeze the casserole whole. That’s a really great option. But if that’s not the case; if you’re like me and it’s just a two-person family, what I like to do is I like to freeze individual portions. I like that for multiple reasons. A) It really helps me not have to think about portioning out my food. I’ve already done it. I’ve already though through that, I don’t have to think about, “Is this the right portion size for me?” it also allows my husband and I to choose what we want. There are a lot of times for lunch I will say, “Hey honey, do you want corned beef hash or do you want jambalaya?” And we just get to choose, and that’s kind of fun. So decide whether you’re doing whole or portioning.

And then from here; I have a bonus step four. Well, going back, number three. Whole or portioning. So if you’re freezing it whole, let’s say it’s a casserole. You have it in your aluminum pan, then I would put a layer of wax paper right on top of the meat, or whatever the food is in there, and then I would put aluminum foil on top of that. Seal it really, really, really well. And then if you’re portioning it out, spoon everything off into your individual containers, put the lids on all of them, and then we’ll talk in a second what we do before we freeze it.

And then bonus step number four. If you are freezing; let’s say sometimes I will want to freeze; oh gosh, let me think of a good example. Let’s say I want to freeze butternut squash puree. Because sometimes I will freeze things individually. Maybe if I make a couple of pork tenderloins I will chop those up already cooked, freeze them. So I will have components in my freezer. I’ll have just pork tenderloins. Then I will have just containers of lemony bacon super greens. And then I will have just containers of starchy vegetables. So let’s say it’s butternut squash puree. Well how the heck do you freeze butternut squash puree? I will take it, and I will spoon it into a silicone muffin container first, freeze that hard, and then pop those out. Then I’ll have individual serving sizes of that butternut squash mash. And then I will transfer those into a freezer gallon bag. So if you have something that could stick together, but you’re wanting it all to be in one big container, or one big bag, then freeze it on a sheet pan, or in a muffin tin, or silicone something first, and then pop them out, and then transfer them to a bag.

Ok, number five. Label. This is important. And you don’t have to use a label maker to do this. I really just pull out my sticky note pad, a sharpie, and then I use scotch tape to tape it to the containers. And what you label it with is the name of what it is, and the date that you made it. Not the date that it goes in the freezer, but the date that you cooked it. And that will essentially, what I like to tell folks, is budget about 5 to 6 months from that date is your best buy from the freezer.

And then number six is to stay organized! Try to stay as organized as possible. Because if your freezer is organized, you’re more likely to use those meals. So clean everything out, reorganize it. Have a shelf for raw foods. Have a shelf for maybe frozen; I don’t know. I don’t know if you have ice cream or something like that in the house; treats. And then have a shelf for your prepared meals. So you have an easy button. You have a place you can just go to and pull food from when you need it.

Ok, and then let’s quickly talk about best reheating practices. So this is probably where the majority of my questions come from. And my answer is very simple, and I hope this is helpful for everybody. My essential answer is reheat it; the best place to reheat a food is where you cooked it first. So if it’s a soup, the best to reheat it is on the stove. You’re going to get the best texture on the stove. If it is a bunch of steak fries, French fries, that you made in bulk and you froze, best place to reheat those is in the oven. Right? On a sheet pan, on parchment paper, where you made them the first time. The best place to reheat a casserole is in the oven. Where you would be cooking it anyways, right? So think about where you cooked that food. That’s the best place to reheat it.

And as far as bringing it up from frozen temperature, it depends. So casseroles, it’s kind of a passion project of mine. You can put a casserole, a frozen, solid casserole in the oven, a cold oven, shut the door, and then turn the oven on and leave it in for about 45 minutes, and it will come up to temperature. But that heating it up will help it defrost while it cooks. Another option is you can take food from the freezer and you can stick it in the refrigerator for a day, and it will help it defrost a little bit in the refrigerator, very slowly. And then if you’re putting something on the stove. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve taken one of my plastic containers, chunked out a serving of my soup or stew into a sauce pan, frozen solid. We’re talking about an ice block of soup. And I just put a lid on it, I turn the heat down very low, and I just let the steam and the heat that builds up in that pot to defrost and to melt the soup. And then once it’s melted, then I’ll turn the heat up and I’ll bring it up to a simmer, and then it’s ready to serve.

So I hope that’s helpful for you guys. The best place to reheat is where you first cooked it, or where you would have finished cooking. And if you use the microwave; go for it. Use the microwave. It doesn’t bother me at all. That’s a personal choice. If you are familiar with the microwave, I’m sure you know how to use it. That’s fine. Just make sure you don’t heat it up in the plastic container if you use plastic. Try to transfer it to some sort of a glass or ceramic dish. Ok?

I hope you guys found this episode helpful. Like I said, I will link up to all the products I talked about in the show notes. And as always, we’ll be back again next week. Thanks for dialing in. Talk to you soon.

About the Author

Cassy Joy Garcia, NC

Cassy Joy Garcia, a New York Times best-selling author, of Cook Once Dinner Fix, Cook Once Eat All Week, and Fed and Fit as well as the creative force behind the popular food blog Fed & Fit.

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  1. Just started listening to your podcast – decide to start with this one because I have so much produce from my garden to freeze. Curious about your comment on using the microwave – I personally hate using it because the food tastes so soggy but I’m wondering if you have more insight into what it does to foods?

    1. I’ll make a note to put this into a future podcast episode! Great idea!

  2. Loved this episode! Learning to freeze meals has changed the way we eat, live and budget. Thank you, thank you, thank you!