Now how do I fill it?

By Mir
July 12, 2006

Charlotte writes:

Mir, you are so smart, thrifty and pretty. However, your recent posts about freezers still leave me with some questions.

I love the IDEA of the freezer and the convenience, savings, time and health benefits it promises. I have a medium sized upright.

My problem seems to be with actual usage. I still lose things to freezer burn because I obviously don’t know how to properly package things for storage. What is the best way to package freezer items for storage? Do you use ziplocs, a vacuum sealer machine, tupperware or corningware? How do you get the best space usage from your chosen packaging?

I’m also having trouble getting started. I never seem to find the time to cook extra and feed the freezer just to establish a beginning inventory. I think if I got started I could handle replenishing. Around here, every night is a busy one. And, frankly, I hate to cook. I’ve also never quite got the hang of think-ahead meal planning.

More freezer info please!

Well, seeing as how I’m so smart, thrifty and pretty, how can I resist trying to help Charlotte out? Flattery will get you everywhere, ’round here.

Let’s talk about proper storage, first. You’re absolutely right: If you’re losing stuff to freezer burn, it defeats the entire purpose of having the freezer. Rule number one of owning a freezer is, you don’t talk about freezer club.

No, wait. My bad. That’s something else entirely. No, rule number one of owning a freezer is, you have to know how to package your food so that it lasts. And the truth is much simpler than you might realize.

Freezer burn is caused by air coming into contact with the frozen food. (Get your fancy scientific explanation here.) As such, freezer burn can easily be prevented with airtight food wrapping. Voila!

Are you buying packages of chicken or whatever and tossing them directly into the freezer in their little styrofoam trays with cling overwrap? Shame on you. No wonder everything is ending up burned. You must repackage items before freezing them.

My favorite method is Ziploc bags intended for the freezer (okay, I often buy a generic, but always one labelled as a “freezer bag” because they tend to be thicker). I take whatever it is that I’m freezing and place it gently in the bag… and then squeeze the livings daylights out of it. More or less. Seal the bag to within an inch and then just get out all of the remaining air that you can.

I’ve heard good things about that Press ‘N’ Seal stuff, but I’ve not tried it. Given the principle of it (that you can tailor the size, that you can squeeze out a lot of air), it certainly sounds good. I’ve not yet been able to find it at a price I’m willing to pay, though, so for now, I’m good with the zipper bags.

What about aluminum foil, or plastic wrap? Well… no. Probably can’t get out enough air that way. Although if you want to, say, wrap a loaf of bread in foil and then… put it in a zipper bag… go ahead.

“But Miiiiiiiiir,” the treehuggers are crying, “that’s not good for the environment! You should use reusable containers! And plastic is bad!” Yes. And yes, and yes. And yet, it’s what I do, because when my ecofriendly conscience whispers that I should freeze in a reusable container and I heed its dulcet tones…

… I end up with freezer burn. There’s just not a good way to get the air out.

If you are really serious about freezer storage, you may wish to invest in a vacuum sealer. Maybe something like… this vacuum sealer? (Coupon code CLEAROUT is still good for another $25 off.) I think it would be a lovely thing to own, but I don’t have one, myself. It’d be nice but I don’t think it’s necessary. [One caveat: If you do decide to invest in a sealer, don’t get a cheap one. This is one of those things where you get what you pay for. Read the reviews, do your homework, etc.]

When portioning items for storage, be realistic. If you’re a family of four and you buy the mondo-family pack of pork chops, don’t freeze all ninety-seven chops in the same bag. Neither should you use every Ziploc in your county, freezing each one individually, if you’re usually cooking for more than one. Just use some common sense.

Okay, next topic: What state should you freeze things in? I’m all for having prepared foods ready to defrost, but you’re also going to want to freeze some items that haven’t been prepared yet. In addition to portioning things appropriately, think about how you might want to use them. If you like marinade, throw it in the bag prior to freezing. This serves two purposes: One, the added moisture will help keep any freezer burn away (not that you’ll have any, because you’re so pretty and smart that you squeezed all of the air out of your storage bag); and two, when you’re ready to use, your food will marinate as it defrosts. Handy, right?

[Extra! Special! Bonus! Tip: Throw a splash of red wine into the bag with red meat like steaks or roasts, before freezing. It tastes great and goes with nearly any future preparation. And for this purpose, a cheap wine is fine. I buy those little mini four-packs of cabernet just to use on meat.]

Now let’s talk prepared foods. Charlotte says she can’t find the time to cook extra. To this I say: PSHAW. (Seriously. I pronounce the P and everything. I sound like a total dork, but I say it anyway.) P-SHAW!

Listen; if you have the time and the inclination to set aside part of your weekend to whip up a bunch of stuff and freeze it, great. If you don’t? That doesn’t mean you can’t cook ahead and freeze. If you think you can’t, you’re overthinking.

Here’s the secret: It doesn’t have to be separate activity. Get into the habit of cooking twice as much as you need. Instant freezer meal, in the same time it takes you to make dinner, anyway.

Okay, in fairness… it will take a little bit more prep time than usual. But only a little (depends on the dish). Also, I’m cooking for a family of three, so cooking twice as much as we’ll eat is trivial. If you have a family of twelve I can see where you might think I’m on crack or something. But honestly, it’s not that hard.

First of all, I am a crockpot devotee. Not because I’m an earth mother or incredibly well-organized and having dinner cooking right after breakfast gives me joy joy joy joy down in my heart, but because I am lazy. Here is how most of my favorite crockpot recipes go:
1) Chop some stuff.
2) Throw it all in the crock.
3) Turn crock on.
4) Eat dinner 10 hours later.

It might take me 5 minutes longer to chop some extra, or open an extra can. Plus, crockpots cook better and more evenly when they’re relatively full. So whatever I’m making in there, if it freezes well, I fill ‘er up and what we don’t eat, I freeze.

I do a similar thing when I’m roasting something in the oven, or grilling outside. I just make twice as much (if I know it’s something that will freeze well).

And if I’m making lasagna? You know I’m making two. Anything that’s labor-intensive to assemble I make two of without fail. Why do it again?

So. That’s all good and well. But obviously you’re not going to make twice as much every single time you cook. For one thing, sometimes you just don’t have time. For another, not everything freezes well. Anything with a cream sauce doesn’t freeze well, for example (the sauce is likely to “break” upon defrosting and reheating). If I make something like, say, stroganoff, I still make twice as much… but I scoop out half for freezing (because I’m making it in my crockpot, natch) before I add the sour cream. And pasta tends to freeze badly. If you’re doing the lasagna thing? Freeze it assembled but uncooked.

But I do hereby solemnly swear to you that if you get into the habit of cooking extra, it will cease to seem like extra work and your freezer will be full in no time. Pinky swear.

If that’s not enough incentive for you, consider this: A full freezer actually costs less to run, because less energy is needed to maintain its temperature. Really, filling that freezer is a cost-saving measure in and of itself. Finding a nice meal in there on a busy night when you’re dreading cooking is just icing on the cake.


  1. Press-n-seal rocks. Not sure about it for the freezer, but for other stuff? It is so awesome. Especially if you’re always losing the lids to plastic containers. This keeps the food from spilling into lunch boxes. Also, if you’re kids want to paint or do something messy, you can lay it on the table, let them do their thing, then peel it up and throw it away.Love it! Also–Sam’s Club or Costco and places like that carry it in bulk. You may like the price better there.

  2. There are quite a few books out there with recipes built specifically to be frozen. “Once a Month Cooking” or “Frozen Assets,” to name a few. Both of those advocate cooking like a maniac to fill the freezer in one day, which I have done a few times. But if you don’t have that kind of energy (and I don’t any more), I find the recipes good for expanding my boring dinner repertoire, and I’ll whip up just a few at at time and freeze them.

  3. I agree with the Press-n-Seal being absolutely awesome… but be aware there is a specific Press-n-Seal Freezer version.

    One other bonus of it, is that it is microwave safe (unlike plastic wraps and metal foils).

    While on the surface it does appear somewhat more expensive than some alternatives, the fact that you can use just as much as you need and not really excessive amounts (like is typical with Aluminum Foil or “Cling” Wraps) it actually goes further in the long run.

    (Despite my raving about the product here in such detail, I am in no way affiliated with Glad Products Company… I just happen to really like this one).

  4. I bought some store-brand press-and-seal stuff and I HATE it. It doesn’t stick. It sticks to itself. It doesn’t tear off the roll, it stretches and then sticks to itself. I hate it. So. I’m just sayin’. Don’t waste your money on the off-brand.

    “Dinner’s in the Freezer” is another good book using the “mega cooking” idea that you cook whatever you normally would, but double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe and freeze the extras.

  5. Great suggestions. I’ve got a box of Press-n-Seal, but haven’t really taken the time to figure out its many uses. I’ll have to try it.

    One way I keep my freezer stocked is by going to a meal assembly place (Let’s Dish, My Girlfriend’s Kitchen, Meal Makers, Dream Dinners – there are literally hundreds of them). It’s not as cheap as doubling up when you make lasagna, but it is super easy and saves me from going out to eat a lot of nights. Given the cost of eating out and the pain of doing a lot of food prep and clean up, a couple of bucks a serving can be a bargain.

  6. I don’t own a freezer, but my parents always filled theirs when we were growing up. A few times of year they bought a side of beef and occassionally a side of pork from the local butcher. We lived in a area where people also hunted, so sometimes we also had venison. Our meat was wrapped in white freezer paper from the butcher, and we never had any problems. My mom also stocked up on frozen vegetables when they were on sale, loaves of bread, and sometimes gallons of milk (drain a little out before freezing.) We had a garden, from which most things were canned, but she did do mass freezing of chopped of green peppers and onions that were used in cooking, fruit pie filling to be used in holiday pies, and zucchini bread for when we wanted a treat. She used her seal-a-meal or freezer bags. She did not freeze ahead meals, but she used her crock pot much the same way you do. Throw a bunch of stuff in. It works!

  7. I agree with Kristine above. We wrap all our meat in the brown freezer paper (butcher’s paper?) and it doesn’t freezer burn. I buy a giant roll at Costco and it usually lasts about two years. For other foods, I also use the Ziploc freezer bags (I squeeze and roll and practically sit on the bags until all the air is out…mmmm, squashed fruits and veggies!)

    Large regular Ziploc bags are also great for keeping pre-made salad in the fridge. I usually cut up my lettuce and veggies at the beginning of the week and store the leftovers in a Ziploc. It keeps salad fresh for 1 to 2 weeks (and I can easily serve salad with every meal, which means the kids are eating vegetables at least once a day)…way better than the Tupperware “salad crisper” that wilted my lettuce in 2-3 days.

  8. I (HEART) my freezer.

    I am obsessed with Ziploc bags, in spite of the fact that I try to be eco-conscious in the other areas of my life. I try to re-use them as much as possbile, but I always throw out the ones that I used for storing meat. There is nothing better for keeping things frozen.

    And I must concur on the crock-pot thing, too. It’s almost like not cooking, only better for you.

    But even so, my upright freezer (which someone gave me for free) is much bigger than I really need. To try and keep it working efficiently, I filled the top shelf with Glad Ware containers of water, and just leave them in there frozen. Doing that has had the added benefit of providing an on-hand supply of ice for filling up my cooler during road trips.

  9. What about how long things will last in the freezer?

  10. Most things will last about 6 months in the freezer, although some things are better used within 3 months. My Good Housekeeping cookbook has a list of how long things freeze. I frequently make more than we need and freeze the rest for another day, I even make my own frozen pizzas, freeze them in slices for individual lunches. Love my freezer so much I have an upright and another little one on top of my extra fridge!!

  11. Maybe I’m anal. Maybe…ahahahaha

    Okay, I’m anal, but I ALWAYS label and date my frozen foods with a sharpie. Also, I keep a list on my fridge, next to my grocery list, of what I have in the freezer. That way I don’t have to check before shopping and the things I’ve stocked don’t get forgotten.

    Quit laughing, Mir.

  12. Seriously?? You CAN freeze milk?? THis could be a verry good thing for us! We go through a LOT and it’s so expensive unless it’s on sale!

  13. I just wanted to say that the vaccum sealers work wonders. My sister-in-law has one, and I’m going to be getting one for myself soon. She lives out in the sticks, and a farmer neighbor makes his own sausage. She bought something like 50 pounds of the stuff at once and passed it out to the family. We’re still eating the stuff a year later, with NO freezer burn.

  14. My tip for freezing chicken breasts is to use those cheap sandwich bags. Turn one inside out and grab the chicken out of the package one at a time and then flip it up around the chicken. Do the sandwich fold over thing and then throw it in a Tupperware bowl. Since they are all huddled together, no air is really getting to them and they squish into a bowl shape. When you get ready to use, just pull out however many you need! You never touch the raw chicken until it’s time to cook it, I’ve never had them get freezer burn, they fit in a more compact area and I don’t waste any.

  15. We call them Planned-Overs at our house.

    And the crock-pot is my friend. My recipe for soup is this: Throw in one cup of every vegetable in the house. Throw in lots of leftover chicken (sans bones). Cook for 9 or 10 hours. Eat. If you want noodles or rice or dumplings, add them an hour before eating.

  16. I have one of those vacuum sealers. The same brand as the one you referenced – but I got mine at Sam’s for a lot less $$$. The primary reason I got it is to freeze the very expensive fish that my DH and Ds’s catch each summer. Very expensive because by the time you figure in the cost of the boat, gas, insurance, storage and the constant repairs – the price per pound of fish is higher than gold. BUT they love it…..I have been very pleased with the sealer – no more freezer burn and no more bags of fish suspended in water (ice) that will break your toe if they fall out when you open the freezer. check Ebay and the Friday sale on Amazon for special prices on bags and rolls of sealer. Also works great on venison – another very expensive meat…

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