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Top tips for batch cooking and getting the most out of your freezer

Want to build up a supply of batch-cooked meals and frozen supplies? Here are our top tips , plus some dos and don'ts

putting_meal_prep_in_freezer_in_containers
Last updated: 17 March 2020

A spacious, well-stocked freezer can be a saviour for large families, batch-cookers or entertainers. If your regular freezer isn't cutting it and you're thinking of building up a store of frozen meals and goods, it might be time for a standalone freezer. 

Whether you'd like to opt for a separate upright freezer or perhaps a larger chest freezer, CHOICE expert Ash Iredale gives you top tips to help you get the most out of your purchase. 

And if you're planning on cooking up a storm to create a stockpile of delicious dinners, you can freeze and defrost when needed. Our kitchen expert Fiona Mair has put together a few tips you can follow to guarantee success. 


How to become a batch-cooking boss

  • Choose the right dishes and recipes. Some dishes freeze and reheat much better than others. When you are selecting recipes, think saucy, easily re-heatable dishes such as lasagnes, curries, bolognese, chilli, dahl, soups, saucy pasta dishes, pies and stews. Cream-based soups and sauces don't always freeze well, or some noodle-based dishes. For some dishes, you may just like to freeze the sauce and add to freshly cooked pasta, rice or noodles. 
  • Use airtight containers or freezer bags. Store food in airtight containers, either glass or plastic. Aluminium trays with lids from supermarkets or variety stores are good, too. CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair also suggests storing portions of stews or casseroles in plastic or reusable freezer bags to save on space. "If you store food in a plastic container, place a piece of baking paper or freezer separator sheets on top of the food so it stops any air between the food and the lid of the container, as this is how freezer burn can occur (those frosty ice crystals that form on your food, which can affect the colour, taste and texture of your dish when it's reheated)," says Fiona.
  • Uncooked doughs and pastries (such as pizza dough or pie shells) are great for freezing and adding fillings or turning into meals and desserts later. Cooked cakes and muffins can be frozen before they are filled and/or iced, but ensure they are wrapped in plastic a couple of times to stop freezer burn. Biscuits are best frozen when raw: make a batch of cookie dough and freeze in portions on a tray. Then transfer to a container and bake when needed.

Label everything with what dish it is and when you made it. It will be easier to identify things when you have a freezer full of food

  • Label everything with what dish it is and when you made it. It will make it easier to identify things when you have a freezer full of food and you need to rotate stock to avoid waste. 
  • Defrost and reheat meals properly. Some frozen meals can be put straight in the oven for cooking, but some you'll have to defrost before reheating. The best way is to thaw foods overnight in the fridge until they are fully defrosted before reheating. Leaving food out on the counter could be unsafe if it forms bacteria or is contaminated by the kitchen surface. If you're defrosting in the microwave, ensure the container is microwave-proof and always use the defrost setting.
  • Use your food processor and blender to make food prep for big-batch cooking easier. If you're chopping up more than a couple of onions or a few bunches of herbs, it's worth getting the food processor out.
  • Got leftover sauces? Portion them out into individual serves in ziplock bags, then lie them down flat to freeze – once they're frozen, you can stand them up like a file-card system, and you've got quick pasta sauce ready to go when you need it. 
  • Rotate your supplies. While food in your freezer is technically safe to be stored forever, it's good practice to rotate your containers, putting new things at the back and taking the old ones out to use first. This will ensure you're eating everything when it's at its best.
  • Don't overfill the freezer. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, but you should still leave room for air to circulate for effective operation.
closeup_of_blueberries

A berry good idea: most fruits freeze well, including blueberries. As well as preserving them, freezing fruits also means you'll have ready-to-go ingredients for desserts and smoothies.

Things you should and shouldn't freeze

Should I freeze rice and pasta?

While you can certainly freeze cooked rice and pasta, CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair advises against it. "As pantry staples like these have a long shelf-life anyway, it's best to cook these when you need them," she says. "This is because the freezing process changes the texture, and you'll get best results if they are freshly cooked." Having said that, freezing saucy pasta bakes or lasagne is fine.

Can I freeze pre-cooked vegetables?

Pre-cooking and freezing vegetables is a great way to reduce food wastage and retain nutrition. Think corn kernels (sliced off the cob), beans, peas, broccoli, carrots, edamame, cauliflower, asparagus and more. You should blanch, steam or cook them in the microwave, rather than boiling them, as these cooking methods absorb less water, so there's less chance of overcooking. Dry vegetables on a paper towel, leave to cool, then place in a freezer bag or zip-lock bag. Flatten the bag and stack in your freezer.

Which vegetables shouldn't I freeze?

Not all vegetables will freeze well, particularly those with a high percentage of water. On our 'no' list for freezing are capsicum, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, tomatoes (yes, technically a fruit) and sprigs of leafy herbs such as parsley or basil (but, just like other herbs, you can chop them up and freeze in ice-cube trays, then transfer to labelled plastic bags).

While you can certainly freeze cooked rice and pasta, staples like these have a long shelf-life anyway, so it's best to cook these when you need them

Which fruits should I freeze?

Most fruits freeze well, saving you money and reducing food waste (plus, you'll always have a supply in the freezer ready to make smoothies and desserts!). Berries, bananas, oranges, stone fruits, mango, kiwi fruit – the list goes on! It's easier if you prepare the fruit before you freeze it. Wash and dry it thoroughly, then peel and chop into pieces and pat dry with paper towel. Freeze on trays (to avoid the fruit sticking together), then transfer to labelled plastic bags.

Can I freeze nuts?

Yep! Fiona says: "Nuts such as almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, either whole or crushed meal, freeze well. Once you open a packet of nuts, they can go rancid quickly if you store them in the pantry (in as little as two to four weeks), so I freeze them in a reusable zip-lock bag, ensuring it is sealed well. They can last up to a year or more in the freezer, and you can cook with them straight from the freezer, or add to the food processor to make your pestos, cakes, nut butters or smoothies."

Freezer hacks to try

  • Making chips? Your freezer will come in handy. One secret to super crunchy, delicious chips is to have the surface as dry as possible when it hits the hot oil. We normally say don't put food in the fridge or freezer until it's cooled down. But banging your parboiled chips in the super dry air of your freezer for 10 minutes can strip the moisture from them pretty well, giving you delicious, crunchy fries every time.
  • Leftover wine, coffee or stock? Stick it in ice cube trays and freeze. If you need some stock for cooking it's already portioned out, or you can chill your wine or iced coffee on a hot day without watering them down. 
  • If you have leftover herbs, chop them up and freeze with olive oil in ice-cube trays. Add to stews and bolognese for extra flavour.
  • Want a fun treat for the kids? Cut fruit into amusing shapes, put a skewer or icy pole stick into them, and freeze them for a super fun, healthy snack. Likewise, if you have some yoghurt with a looming expiry date, blend it up with some fruit and freeze it in an iceblock mould – it's like a regular iceblock, only healthy and with extra protein.
cup in freezer coin test

Protect yourself from food poisoning and food waste with this simple trick. All you need is a cup and a coin.

Blackout or no blackout? The freezer coin trick

Let's say you've just returned home from a week's holiday and you notice all your digital clocks are flashing – it looks like there's been a blackout while you were gone. But there's no way of telling whether it was just for two minutes or two days. 

If it's the latter then your frozen salmon may serve with a side of salmonella and your porchetta's probably putrid. But if it's the former then you're fine. Do you need to throw away all that food just in case? Not with this simple trick.

Before you leave the house for an extended period, freeze a cup or container of water. Then put a coin on top of the frozen water and put it deep inside the freezer. 

If you get home and suspect there's been a blackout, check the cup. If the coin is still on top of the frozen water, then everything's fine: your freezer stayed frozen, even without power. 

But if the coin's at the bottom of the container, you'll know that the freezer thawed enough for the ice to melt, allowing the coin to sink to the bottom. 

CHOICE tip: Put several containers of frozen water at different points throughout your freezer so you'll know what's thawed and what hasn't. Fully laden freezers don't warm up evenly so you might be able to salvage some of your supplies. 

Insurance for food spoilage 

If the worst has happened and the entire contents of your freezer has thawed, you'll need to chuck everything and start again – an expensive exercise! But before you reach for the credit card, check your contents insurance: it may cover you for food spoilage if your fridge or freezer dies, temporarily or otherwise. 

Of course, every policy is different, both in terms of the amount covered and the circumstances under which you can claim, so check your policy carefully. Cover for food spoilage typically ranges from $500 up to $2000. 

But whether or not you're covered can depend on how your freezer came to be, well, unfrozen. Some policies will cover you only for appliance breakdowns or blackouts due to insurable events such as floods and fires. And many policies offer coverage for motor burnout as an optional extra. 

The good news is that, as a general rule, food spoilage doesn't incur an excess, so refilling your freezer might not cost you a cent. 

Where's the best place to put your freezer?

Think about where you're going to put your new freezer. Keeping it in the garage or any area that experiences significant temperature fluctuations can mean higher running costs or poor performance. Check our freezer reviews to find a freezer with good warm-up and ambient temperature scores.

It's also important to have your freezer set to the right temperature, and the best way to confirm this is using a fridge thermometer. It pays to check this regularly throughout the year to make sure your freezer stays at a stable temperature. 

If you'd prefer to keep your freezer in the kitchen but you want more storage space, you could opt for a 'pigeon pair' – a matching fridge and freezer. This configuration isn't all that common in Australia, but if you need more than average freezer space, this could be a good option. 

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