The Busy Woman’s Guide to Freezing Food

freezing foods without a vacuum sealer - tips for busy womenWhen you’re a busy woman, taking the time to cook for yourself can be a luxury.  It’s better from a health perspective — you know exactly what’s in the dish, as well as how fresh/healthy the ingredients are– and you can much more easily accommodate special desires (low calorie, low sodium, low fat, low carb) by cooking for yourself.  Furthermore, frequently it’s far cheaper than eating out.  The easiest way that I’ve found, when I get time to cook for myself, is to cook large batches — but then the problem becomes that my schedule is so unpredictable that half of the batch (or more) goes to waste.  Not to mention you get “food fatigue” from eating the same dish so many days in a row.

My personal answer has been to cook large batches and then freeze them with a fairly, um, elaborate system.  (I’m a bit crazy, but we all knew that.)  A friend came to visit a while ago and was fascinated by my system, so she encouraged me to share it here. When I was single, I used this system ALL the time for pasta sauce — I hated opening a jar of sauce, then seeing the jar in the fridge a week and a half later and throwing it out 3/4ths full because I hadn’t had time to make myself more pasta.

1.  Get good quality freezer bags. I like to buy Ziploc bags that are designed for the freezer — when I’ve used no-name brands or non-freezer bags I’ve had problems (leaky bags, freezer bite, etc).  I prefer to buy quart-size because I’ve found that those tend to hold two servings — the perfect amount for me and my husband.

2.  Cook a bunch of food. I’m a big fan of the crockpot, so a lot of what I cook for myself and the hubs are things like stews and soups.  I also will freeze a lot of raw chicken and raw beef, as well as things like leftover tomato sauce.  I haven’t had a lot of luck freezing fresh vegetables or fish, but your mileage may vary.  Two things to note about the food:  It’s going to be easier to fill the bags when the food is not piping hot — either lukewarm or chilled is preferable.  Second, when possible I try to freeze my food as soon after cooking it as possible (rather than waiting 3-4 days) — I’m not sure if it’s right or not but my perception is that as the ingredients (like veggies) age, they loose some of their health factor.  That said, freezing will kill a multitude of bacteria (I think), so you shouldn’t be too shy about freezing food at the tail end of the time when you would be eating it.

3. Label your bags before putting any food inside; this way the writing is neater.  I like to include the name of the dish, the date I made it, and occasionally the amount (1lb chicken) or the Weight Watchers Points value per serving.

4.  Next, get tall glasses (or sometimes even a vase if it’s a gallon-sized bag) to help my Ziploc bags “stand up.”  This is hard to describe, so hopefully the picture helps — you push the bag inside the glass and then open them up.

5. Ladle the soup or stew inside. You’ll find that the Ziploc-inside-the-glass gets full faster than the Ziploc will, so after a while you have to remove the glass from the equation and let the Ziploc stand by itself.

6. Continue to fill the bag(s) until all of the soup is ladled out. If there’s some spillage on the bag, wipe it down.  Next, you may want to weigh the bags using a digital scale — I really do use mine frequently and it has been a great investment for the kitchen.  If there’s any huge inequity between the bags, you can take this opportunity to balance it out; otherwise you can just eyeball the bags and close ’em up.

7.  A note on closing the bags: there should be as LITTLE AIR IN THE BAG as possible.  Air causes freezer burn, and no one wants that.

8.  Next, get out a plastic cutting board (or other smooth, flat surface).  This is key to a neat freezing process — even if you’re just freezing chicken breasts or something simple like that.  Layer your Ziploc bags on the bag — it’s okay if they overlap a bit — and then slide the plastic cutting board into the freezer.

9. Then, let it sit for 4-24 hours. The bags freeze nice and flat, at which point you can remove them.  If you like an organized freezer you’ll find that the flat quart-sized bags even fit in a shoebox, pictured at the very top of the post.  (I bought a box of 20 clear shoe boxes from The Container Store when I was changing up my shoe storage system, and have found that they come in ridiculously handy in a lot of places, including the freezer.) Here’s one bag after it’s been frozen.

10.  Voila! Healthy, homemade dinners (or lunches) for the next 3-6 months, depending on ingredients.  If you’re heading off to work in the morning and want some of the leftovers for lunch, it’s easy enough to grab one of the frozen Ziploc bags and chuck it in your purse — it should stay frozen for your commute, and should defrost (either in the freezer or under a watchful eye just on your desk) enough to get it out of the bag before heating it up for lunch.  I’m also a fan of taking out a Ziploc bag in the morning and putting it on a plate (or in a large bowl) to defrost in the fridge during the day, meaning all my husband or I have to do at night is to heat it up.  Personally, I prefer to let the food defrost entirely so I can transfer it to a proper bowl or pot to reheat it — I like to avoid putting plastics in the microwave whenever possible (both because it is never pretty when you overcook plastic, and because I’ve heard rumblings that plastic in the microwave may not be so safe for you).

OK, readers, that’s my insane little system for freezing food.  What tricks do you use when you cook?  Any favorite recipes that work particularly well for the freezer?


Freezing food can be a great way to save money -- and you don't need a vacuum sealer or bulk cooking methods to do it; even busy single women can freeze food. Kat has her system for freezing food down pat -- so she shared it with a ton of pictures.


  1. I agree it’s great to freeze little bits of this and of that. I have discovered, though, that when I don’t use the whole jar of spaghetti sausce (for three of us) I can use it up during the next few days by adding it to other soups and sauces or to a veg such as string beans. It has a nice way of blending in.

  2. I love this “how to.” I freeze food in small, stackable, one-portion size plastic containers but just may switch to freezer bags now. I do like your glass trick; I use that for pastry bags, when I’m have to fill frosting/cream into piping bags.

  3. MeliaraofTlanth :

    Making sure the date is on there is key. Many a time have I forgotten and stood staring into my freezer months later trying to figure out when I made something.

    Also,the USDA has a chart on their webiste as to how long frozen food is okay for. I’m leaving out the link to avoid moderation, but if you just google “how long is frozen food good for?,” it’s usually the first link.

    • That sort of chart is useful, but, at least in my experience, as long as your freezer is operating properly, most anything is going to be “good” (as in, safe for consumption) pretty much indefinitely. It’s more about quality loss.

      I’m sort of a cheapskate, and I’ve eaten things that have been frozen for years- if they’re old enough to have lost quality, the trick is to incorporate them into something else, as in, you may not want to grill a too-long frozen steak, but you can put it in a stew.

      • I used to feel this way, but a few months ago my husband had a burger that had been in our freezer chest since the previous summer and ended up with food poisoning. I woke up at 3am after hearing a thud – him fainting in the bathroom after having been sick for a while. He insists on well-done burgers, so I think it was because the meat was old, not because it was underdone.

      • Research, Not Law :

        IME the difference is deep freeze vs standard.

        But still, date is key. We use our stash in reasonable time, but not all batches are equal.

  4. When the boneless skinless chicken breasts go on sale (buy one get one free around these parts), I stock up (end up with 4-8 pounds) and spend a good afternoon trimming them ALL for the freezer. I separate them into 1 pound each (which is what our go-to recipies call for – chicken tacos, enchiladas, etc). I’ll trim breasts and leave them intact for baked chicken dishes, but go ahead and cube those that I know are going in for the tacos or something. I’ll do the same thing for ground beef (just buy the club pack, divide into Ziploc baggies and tada!). Soo easy! Also love doing big batches of chili which freezes and reheats well, and lasagna. A complete meal that I’ve made and does well is sausage and pepper penne – just add a little extra sauce than you might ordinarily to keep the moisture.

    I REALLY want to learn how to properly blanche veggies for the freezer. I know there’s a ton of instructions out on the interwebs, just haven’t sat down long enough to do it….

    • For veggies, it depends a bit on what you are freezing, but a safe bet for items like beans is a very brief dip in boiling water (3 minutes or so), throw them in the baggy, and freeze away. You can do the same thing with corn. With tomatoes, you can put them on a cookie sheet, put them in the freezer till they get frozen solid, and then put them in a baggy. You don’t have to worry too much about the vegetables since you are most likely going to be cooking them when they come out of the freezer anyway. You just boil them to kill any surface bad guys and freeze away.

  5. Makeup Junkie :

    one of my co-workers does this. She uses the 30 Meals in One Day method. I have to admit that her food always looks so much more appetizing that whatever sandwich or frozen dinner I have. I’ve googled variations this plan, but it seems so daunting! It’s probably a great idea for me though because I need to get my sodium intake under control.

    • Elizabeth :

      A friend and I did this last month. Rachel Ray’s August issue had this very topic, and the recipes are delicious. It takes a commitment of one pretty full day, but the daily recipes go very quickly after that initial time commitment. If you do it with someone, visiting and drinking wine, the day-long cooking phase is pretty pleasant.

  6. I like to use ziploc containers rather than bags for wet stuff (chili, stews, etc.) – some gets frozen in “lunch size” containers, others in “family size”, and once a week (when I do the menu for the week) I can pull what I need for lunches and dinners without worrying about tears/leakage. I do recommend the name brand ones – I find that over time, the lids maintain their fit better than the no-name ones.

    I have a chest freezer, and have found that milk crates make great dividers (lift the top one to get at what’s in the bottom of the freezer). I also have a whiteboard hung over top of the freezer that I use to list what’s in each crate – that way when I want to find the chicken stock, I take a quick look at the list, see it’s in crate #4, and know exactly where to go to find it. It also makes for better inventory management – I don’t accidentally buy chickens when they’re on sale if I already have 4 in there, and I won’t plan to make chili if I already have a batch there. I also tend to keep things grouped with the crates – ready-to-eat foods, stock all goes together, chicken goes together, fruit goes together, etc. Seriously, the chest freezer is one of the best investments I’ve ever made as far as work/life balance and family budget goes.

    I tend to cook one big-batch thing a week, plus one medium-batch (enough for either a week of lunches or one extra supper for the whole family) plus the occasional blitz on “ingredients” (I prep pie fillings in the summer for use in the winter, for example). That means there’s always lots of variety.

    Along with all the freezing goes menu planning. If it’s a busy week, we’ll plan on extra “leftovers” nights, and we write the week’s menu on the side of the fridge (covered in whiteboard paper). That helps for planning the grocery, makes daily dinner prep simple (especially important when you have to start prepping dinner as soon as you get home if you want the kid to get to bed at a reasonable hour), and gives us a flag for pulling stuff from the freezer to let it defrost properly. We also use the menu whiteboard for writing down the grocery list as we run low/out of things – just a little convenience that saves us about 15 minutes a week when getting ready to do the shopping.

    • MissJackson :

      Thanks for this. I’ve been wanting a freezer for our basement for awhile to take advantage of buying in bulk (hello, Costco), but I wasn’t sure how we’d keep track of what we had, what needed to be used soon, etc. Your whiteboard/calendar system sounds amazing!

      Related question: my husband is really against freezing meat. This is somewhat foreign to me because my family literally put everything in the freezer unless we intended to use it the say day that we purchased groceries. Are there certain things that you do not freeze because there is a noticable taste difference? Any imput you have on this issue is welcome.

      • I freeze meat all the time (when it goes on sale). I think defrosting it in the microwave changes the flavor and moisture since it is hard to do it without partially cooking the meat. If you defrost in the fridge, I think the flavor difference is negligible.

      • I’ve found that it depends on the cooking method. For stuff that’s going to be stir fried, baked/roasted, or slow-cooked, freezing is fine, but for stuff that’s quick-grilled (particularly steaks), there is a bit of a loss in quality (true whether vacu-bagged or wrapped in butcher paper).

        Defrosting in the microwave also par-cooks it, which can result in some weird textures – that’s why I like to pull meat a couple of days in advance (up to a week for large items) to let it defrost in the fridge.

      • I buy meat in bulk and freeze it all of the time. I probably wouldn’t do it with, say, a really good steak (but I only would be buying those for special occassions anyway, so no need to freeze), but I’ve never noticed a difference in quality once it’s cooked.

      • Steak tastes better if never frozen, imo.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this, Kat. The in-cup idea and the cutting board are brilliant solutions.

    (If you think this makes you “crazy,” then by all means, keep sharing your “crazy” tips for living your life. It seems like it’s way more organized than mine.)

  8. LadyEnginerd :

    Finally! A thread when my broke grad student skills are useful :)

    Instead of ziplok bags, I use mason jars to freeze soup for lunches (microwave and eat out of the mason jar when you get to work – no nuking plastic!). I use silicone muffin tins to freeze tomato sauce/pesto in individual portions (I pop them out and store them in ziplok bags). Ditto garlic paste and ice cube trays. I’ll have to try the ziplok bag vertical storage/filing system you’ve worked out, Kat, but I will be hard pressed to give up my mason jars for lunch.

    Oh, and I store my bread in the freezer – I can always toast it if I need some (lets the healthy, preservative-free stuff last long enough for me to go through it). If I throw it in my lunch, it is always thawed in an hour or two (to dip in the soup, of course!).

    • Consultant in NoVA :

      “I use silicone muffin tins to freeze tomato sauce…”
      Thank you for this tip! I have needed to know this for a very long time without realizing I needed to know.

      • I agree with the muffin tin recommendation. It is a lifesaver for small servings of almost anything. One muffin of taco meat is perfect for one large or two small tacos. I also discovered the muffin tin secret when I was making homemade baby food and soon realized it could be used for so much more.

        I also make lasagna in the small loaf pans. I just assemble and then freeze. They are perfect for a single serving or for two people depending on the size.

        I freeze everything when I stock up on a good sale – bread, cheese, taco shells. sandwich meat. We invested in a stand alone stainless fridge and stand alone stainless freezer when we remodeled our house. It was the best thing we ever did.

        • Jules' Law :

          I love the idea of making lasagna in the small loaf pans but question … how do you freeze it? In the pan? And you freeze it uncooked? Just thinking that you’d be out a pan until you ate the portion you had set aside . . . .

          • When I do this, first I line the pan with aluminum foil. Assemble the lasagne and then freeze it solid as is (an hour or two). Then I remove the rock-hard lasagne from the pan with the aluminum foil around it. Then I put wrap it in freezer paper or put it in a ziplock bag and stick it in the freezer. The pan can now be re-used.

            When I want to cook the lasagne, I just find the same pan again and stick it in, wrapping the aluminum foil around the outside of the pan. Saves cleanup time too, as the pan stays pretty clean.

            If you don’t want to have the aluminum foil on the pan while cooking (like if you had guests and want the serving container to be pretty) I have had some success with removing the aluminum foil before the final baking and just plopping the whole thing in the pan frozen.

          • Do you precook the noodles or use no-bake noodles?

          • Bonnie, when I freeze lasagne I just use regular noodles and don’t pre-cook them. The moisture from freezing/defrosting cooks them perfectly. I also use the same technique if I prepare the lasagne the day before, leave it in the fridge overnight and bake it the next day.

          • I freeze assembled, uncooked lasagna in disposable loaf pans. Usually a full size lasagna recipe makes three loaf pans.

          • I have a few pans and I’m not a baker anyway so I just tie the pan up in the freezer.

    • Similar to this, when I was making baby food for my kids, I would freeze the mush (carrot, sweet potato, zucchini etc…) in an ice cube tray, and then pop them out and store in a ziplock bag. You can then take just 1/2 cubes out, defrost and serve to bebe.

      • I also freeze left over wine as ice cubes, and use them for making sauces.

        • Love this tip! I think I can manage to fit an ice cube tray into my freezer.

        • PS now I need to know – what is leftover wine? :)

        • MeliaraofTlanth :

          that is brilliant. I could never figure out what to do for recipes that just need a little wine or sherry when I didn’t want to drink the rest. Perfect.

        • MissJackson :

          This is brilliant!

          I can invision myself accidentally spiking my ice water with wine-cubes, though. I’m probably observant enought to notice red wine, but I’m not so sure about white!

      • I freeze egg whites in ice cube trays, too. (If I’m making something that calls for just yolks, like ice cream.) Two cubes per white for large eggs, and they defrost really quickly for scrambled whites if I’m feeling healthy.

        Doesn’t work for yolks, though- they get a weird texture.

        • If you sprinkle sugar or salt on the top of the yolks, they will freeze well. (Sugar for sweet dishes, salt for savory.)

    • I do chicken broth in ice cube trays. Defrost what we need in the microwave.

    • I use yoghurt containers to freeze soup, chili, etc. They work great, are free (I’ve already paid for the yoghurt), and reduce waste. Of course I don’t put the yoghurt containers in the microwave when I am defrosting – I run hot water over them under the tap, just enough to loosen what is inside. I can then put the contents either in a microwaveable container or in a pot on the stove to defrost/heat up.

      I also do chicken broth in ice cube trays, and pesto.

      My other tip doesn’t incorporate the freezer, but is for keeping ginger. I always find I buy ginger and it dries up before I have the opportunity to use the entire piece. This solves that problem. Partially fill a glass jar with brandy, cut up your ginger into chunks, put it in, and put the sealed jar in the fridge. Your ginger will stay nice and moist and you will also get ginger-flavoured brandy for later consumption. :-)

      • You’re desi, aren’t you? =). We use yogurt containers for everything, too.

        Ginger, we buy like 5 lbs at one time, peel and chop into small pieces and blend with some garlic and pour into containers. One stays in the fridge and the others go into the freezer. One hour’s worth of work gives us about a 2 month supply of gingery freshness.

        • I’m actually not desi but a lot of my close friends are, and my food choices reflect that! When I’m really organized I actually make my own yoghurt too, which I learned from my desi friends.

      • Cats Ahoy! :

        You can peel and freeze ginger.

        • Yes, peel and freeze ginger, take out a piece as needed, and grate it with a microplane grater while still frozen. If you need it in slices or chopped, you’ll have to let it defrost a bit.

  9. Great post.
    I especially appreciate the tips on “standing up” the baggies and freezing them all nice and flat.
    I freeze chopped herbs, particularly dill and parsley, also basil, oregano and cilantro. I think the flavor keeps a lot better in frozed herbs than dried. It also helps to limit waste because I normally do not use up the entire bunch and the tricks to keep the herbs fresh in the fridge somehow do not work for me.
    Chopped herbs, of course, are well-aerated and some freezer burn is inevitable if they sit in the freezer for a long time. Still, a great way to add fresh flavor to your cooking.
    There are similar products one could buy. Trader Joe’s sells frozen herbs and garlic packaged in small single-use cubes, but they are too finely chopped – minced, rather – for my taste, and the variety is poor.

    • I do this too. I always have Ziploc baggies of chopped cilantro, curry leaves and Kaffir lime leaves in the freezer.

  10. If I may… after reading this post, I would recommend you to buy a vacuum sealer which can be used to freeze your food for more than 3 -6 months. Since the bags are sealed, you can also put them in hot/boiling water to reheat your meal.

    • I have a vacuum sealer and love it. I vac-pack chicken, steaks, hamburger meat, etc. But you can’t vac-pack soups/stews (unless you buy the specially made for containers).

      • AnonInfinity :

        I have vac-packed soups before. I will take an unsealed bag and ladle the soup in. I put them in a roasting pan with the open side up so that they are all standing and then put the whole thing CAREFULLY in the freezer. I take out the still-open bags once the soup has frozen and then vacuum them. It is a bit of a process, but it has word for me.

        • Ah, I see, you vac-pack after you freeze.

          • You can also vac-pack if you put the soup or stew in a regular plastic bag, and then put that in the vacuum bag. Uses more plastic, BUT if you cut the vac-bags to a larger size you can reuse them once you cut them open and remove the bag of stew. I’ve also bought vacuum attachments that let you seal mason jars, which I’m quite fond of. Of course, now I’m living overseas without my vacuum sealer, vitamix blender, crock pot, juicer, kitchenaid mixer, and perhaps worst of all, in an apartment without a freezer! I really don’t know how I manage to eat.

  11. Anonymous :

    Great system! I never have used cups in the way you do to fill up the freezer bags, and the use of a cutting board to keep things flat is a good idea too. Lately, I realized that herbs come in huge bunches and I can rarely use them all before they go bad. So I froze some parsley, by taking it off the stem, freezing the leaves in a single-layer on a cookie sheet, then transferring to a freezer bag.

    • Have you used the defrosted herbs yet, and was the quality comparable to fresh? I have the same problem with store-bought herbs, but I never tried freezing because I’m concerned about things turning black or losing their flavor in the freezing process. If this was a success, I’m definitely stealing the idea. Thanks!

      • SF Bay Associate :

        Blanch and shock to prevent browning. Drop the herbs in boiling water and quickly fish them out with a spider. We’re talking 60 seconds or way less. For herbs, I’d say much less than 30 seconds… basically drop them in, take a breath, then fish them out – you are not trying to cook them. Then immediately drop the herbs/veg into a big bowl of very icy water. This needs to happen instantly, so have that bowl ready to go. The ‘shock’ of the ice water locks the vivid green color in somehow. This works with veggies too.

      • I have never had this work out too well. I don’t think the herbs taste the same after. At least it hasn’t worked out for me. But I do get these single serve frozen herbs at Trader Joe’s by a company called Dorit (?) — they’re like mini ice cubes and taste really great in sauces or soups and keep forever. They come in basil, parlsley, garlic and maybe a few other varieties.

        For herbs that are going to go bad, what I do is throw them into the food processor with some olive oil and whatever nuts (walnuts are great) and improvise a pesto. It extends the shelf life by a couple of weeks, and is great on fish, veggies, pasta, eggs… you name it.

        • Anonymous13 :

          Pesto freezes well, too, btw. You can make it and save it in an ice cube tray. :)

        • AIMS, how do you extend the shelf life by 2 weeks – by keeping pesto in the fridge?

          • Yep. The herbs that would not keep tend to last an additional 10-14 days or so when made into a pesto. Longer if you freeze them (thanks, anonymous13, I forgot about that!). I also find that you can substantially increase the life of the herbs at the outset by storing them in one of those “herb savers” or even just a mason jar with a bit of water on the bottom.

    • a passion for fashion :

      I’ve used frozen basil and although dark instead of bright green, it tastes great still. Also, I always make pesto with my basil and the end of the season and freeze it — just leave out the parm cheese. Add that back in with a bit of fresh olive oil when you are ready to use.

  12. if you’re going to be freezing food on a regular basis it might be worth the investment to get one of those food saver vacuum sealers. my parents have one (i still live with them) and you can actually notice a difference in the quality of food that’s been frozen for awhile. the stuff for the bags comes in a roll so you can size them exactly to fit, too.

  13. My sister and I do Once a Month Cooking…about every 2-4 months in actuality, but the idea is the same: bulk assembly/cooking of 12-15 meals (quadrupled, so 2 of each meal for each of us), all tossed into the freezer. The first time we did it, we used one of the meal plans from Once a Month Mom, but we generally put together our own menu, plan, and shopping list now. As we’ve done this more and more, we’ve also figured out some useful shortcuts like ordering most of the groceries for pickup instead of doing the shopping ourselves, and buying some of the ingredients differently to save time – like bigger cans of beans, or frozen diced onions. We also purposely tend to pick recipes that only need ingredients combined in a freezer bag to be cooked later, rather than cooking and freezing complete dishes. It takes a couple hours of planning, but only two weeknights or one weekend day to put it all together and we get a great, healthy variety of food this way. Some of the recipes we use are ‘company-friendly’ or don’t need to be thawed out in advance, making it super convenient for unexpected visitors or busy weeks. Asian-marinated flank steak, only requires thawing, tossing on the grill, and slicing on top of a salad for dinner? No thinking ahead to have marinade ingredients on hand for the meat I tossed in the freezer after a good sale? Yes, please!

    Doing the cooking together with my sister is pretty key – it makes the prep time go faster and we get a wider range of food for both of us. Plus the economies of scale mean that the time we spend putting together 48-60 meals is not really that much more than if I were just doing a fraction of that for myself.

    Grocery store checkout people do look at you pretty funny when you come up to the register with 35 pounds of chicken, though :)

  14. Love freezing leftovers for quick ready meals. BUT: Freezing does not generally kill bacteria. It just slows them down to the point that they do not keep reproducing. When you thaw food, the bacteria will start reproducing again, which is one reason why experts recommend you thaw in the fridge rather than out on the counter. Keeping the food cold will stall the reproduction of the bacteria. I admit that I do thaw on the counter, when I’m crunched for time and the food is going to be cooked immediately after thawing (in other words, it’s not hanging out there with bacteria having orgies) but it’s not recommended.

    • I’m glad someone pointed that out.
      It’s one of the most common misconceptions when handling food.

  15. Freezing does not kill bacteria that may make us sick – so it is essential to reheat chilled or frozen food thoroughly to make sure it’s safe to eat.

    Great NYT article on this recently:

  16. OMG. Some people are just so much more on top of their sh-t than I am. The mind boggles.

    I’m lucky if I can keep my freezer stocked with frozen meals that come in little cardboard boxes. So, threadjack: what are everyone’s favorites? I pretty much only buy Amy’s organics, and I really like the macaroni and cheese, which I eat with a bowl of tomato soup.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I’ve been through most of the Whole Foods freezer case for work lunches. I honestly like Amy’s vegan black bean enchilada in green sauce. Anything from Evol has been good so far, too.

      • I love all of the Amy’s enchiladas.

        Also, I can’t believe I didn’t mention this, but the roasted veggie cheeseless pizza is AMAZING. I eat it like 3 times a week, dipped in yogurt.

    • Trader Joe’s has some good frozen stuff. We like their pizzas in particular.

    • Anonymous Poser :

      Yay Amy’s! Kashi’s stuff is also good when it’s on sale. I second the Trader Joe’s…I know there’s a brand I like but am forgetting….

      • CA lawyer :

        Amy’s, Kashi’s Mayan harvest bake, and I just tried Organic Bistro salmon, which is surprisingly good

    • I like Smart Ones.

    • work-in-progress :

      The Whole Foods brand frozen burritos are the best. I think they’re better than Amy’s because they don’t get as mushy.

      • Thanks for the tip! I”ll have to try them because you’re right, Amy’s ones do get mushy.

    • We’re pretty “foody” and don’t eat a lot of frozen foods, but we love perogies in my house . (Ms. T is the brand that we get) If you’ve never had them, they’re like raviolies, but filled with potato and cheese (yes, they’re certainly not Adkins friendly!) They’re more work than just heating in the microwave, though- we usually put them in boiling water to thaw, then sautee in bacon fat with onions. Eat them with sour cream- Yum!

      • I love Blake’s Mac & Cheese w Broccoli from Whole Paycheck

      • Always a NYer :

        I love those perogies! I buy the mini ones and bake them, so good =p

      • Love Mrs. T’s Perogies. I try to keep a box or two in the fridge so that I have an emergency dinner available any time. I simplify the cooking method — deep-ish pan, some no stick spray, throw them all in a layer add just a bit of water and close the lid; they steam as the water evaporates and then brown just the right amount as they finish cooking (lid is key here). If I am feeling fancy I saute an onion first and add that in.

        I don’t eat a lot of frozen meals generally, but besides the perogies, I also really like Trader Joe’s veggie dumplings (cook the same way as above, but no onions); the Trader Joe’s multigrain veggie lasagna; FreshDirect parbaked pizzas. I also love the TJ frozen veggies in various sauces — I add those to whatever I’m cooking often.

      • I love pierogies – I’m actually eastern European so they’re a fave. I usually make traditional dishes like that from scratch, but I do like frozen cheese or potato knishes (like a Jewish pierogi). I bake them in the oven.

        • MissJackson :

          I’m also eastern European and make my own pierogies! Love.

          • I love Mrs. T’s but I think I would love homemade even more… E-mailing Eastern European in-laws for recipe now.

    • I ate Amy’s 4+ times per week in law school for lunch. The thought of it now actually makes me cringe. Trader Joes has some decent frozen stuff.

    • Baby DC Attorney :

      I LOVE Amy’s Light and Lean meals – however, currently, there are only 4 kinds. I emailed the Amy’s corporation (yes, I’m a TOTAL dork) and expressed that there should be more options. They wrote back and said they were putting out more options this fall…so, they should be coming soon to a grocer’s freezer near you!

  17. SF Bay Associate :

    Thanks for this great, practical post Kat. We periodically make chicken stock and put it in ziploc freezer bags, but that cutting board idea is genius. We are slowly learning to do a big Sunday cooking session to eat for a few days, but with the weather getting cooler, it’s time to start making soup/chili/etc for the freezer. I dream of one day having a chest freezer, but for now our small apartment fridge/freezer combo will have to do.

    Also, if you freeze in containers, get a sheet of plastic wrap and press it flush into the entire surface of the food before you put the lid on. The extra layer of plastic prevents freezer burn on the food surface. I’ll also note that the glasslock containers (Costco often has coupons) are much better and more durable than the ziploc throwaway containers, plus they’re microwave-safe. We regularly store tomato sauce or chili or other red-tinged foods in the glass containers and never get that gross orange tint that ziploc ones get. Our set is still going strong after two years of heavy use.

  18. I wish I had room in my freezer to nicely lay a flat cutting board or shoe box in there. I have the same issue when baking instructions want you to freeze something briefly on a cookie sheet. Sad!

  19. I do NOT cook b/c I do NOT have any time. Between my job, my career and my ambiton to become sucesful, cooking is not a prority.

    Instead, I get food prepared at Trader’s Joe and Fairway. They make it better and I don’t freze it b/c I eat it or throw it away.

    • Anonymous :

      Oh Ellen, how are you ever going to find a MAN who wants to MARRY you if you refuse to COOK?

    • Ellen, I heart Fairway too, but I wish you would tell us more about how you like Trader Joe’s. Any of the men there ever hit on you?

  20. I don’t generally freeze already cooked foods because (1) I have a fairly small freezer which is stocked with dumplings, meats and ice cream, and (2) I find that much of the food I make gets eaten within the week. However, my new favorite thing is to make a roast chicken using the butterfly method (cut out the backbone and flatten chicken, see which shortens the cooking time significantly, and leaves me with the backbone, which I freeze to make stock when the weather is cool.

  21. This timing of this post couldn’t be better – just yesterday, I went gluten-free. Not a diet choice I enjoy making, but I need to be off gluten for a while as part of checking for a mild gluten intolerance. I know it will be a challenge, but I’m focusing in the things I can eat, instead of the things I can’t. I had eggs for breakfast and wasn’t even tempted by a coworker’s pumpkin muffins this morning.

    Who else out there is gluten-free, and do you have any favorite recipes that I can make in large batches to freeze?

    • GF for a year, for now :

      I am – it is hard at first, but gets easier as you change your thinking. I really recommend the Gluten Free Girl blog, and if you think you are going to stay GF, I would buy a digital scale for baking. (Honestly, even if you go back, I would still buy a scale for baking – it changed my life.) For large batch meals, last winter I made a lot of hearty soups, but almost any soup, stew or braise is either GF already, or if it calls for some flour to thicken it (or to brown the meat), it’s easy to sub a little cornstarch or one of the commercial GF all-purpose mixes (which I don’t use to bake, but they are helpful for some things). I also like to make a batch of whole grain muffins and freeze them for quick breakfasts.

      Not that you asked – but my favorite pastas are Jovial and Bionaturae (I buy them in bulk online, and they work really well in baked pasta dishes).

    • I’m celiac and was diagnosed 11 years ago. Very used to it by now! My favorites to freeze are:

      * This clam chowder recipe (I use a little cornstarch instead of rice flour): — totally lived off this stuff right after I had my kiddo and it freezes beautifully.
      * The Bolognese recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything or homemade pesto, with gluten-free pasta (my preferred brand is Bionaturae, but Trader Joe’s is cheap and reasonably decent). I usually freeze the Bolognese without the cream and just add that when I reheat.
      * lentil soup — lots of good recipes available for this
      * Grandmaw Peacock’s Chicken and Rice from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis’s The Gift of Southern Cooking. You can see the recipe in preview on Google Books. This is quite possibly my favorite cookbook ever, just FYI.

      Good luck! I hope it doesn’t turn out you have a gluten intolerance, but if you do the bright side is that it is so much easier to be on this diet than it was 10 years ago. There are a lot of great things available now both in terms of processed foods that are decent approximations for glutenous things and also in terms of naturally gluten-free ingredients that weren’t so commonplace in the US 10 years ago (teff flour, superfine sweet rice flour, etc.)

    • Quinoa flour held better in biscuits – more moisture and less crumbly than rice flour biscuits. Authentic Foods has an awesome baking mix made from a combination of rice flour and garfava flour. Depending on how much you like gluten, the positive is that you can make cookies, bread, etc. the way you like if you have certain preferences.

      It’s also easier to focus more on meals from non-wheat-based cuisines- so rice dishes, etc. Bread makes a great container – pita, sandwiches, egg rolls, burritos, wraps, empanadas, etc. It’s not easy finding a substitute, so changing your cooking style to lettuce wraps or food in plastic containers helps.

    • Once a month mom (a great freezer cooking source) has a whole gluten free menu each month, that should be helpful:

      • Gluten free bread/hot dog and hamburger buns/granola from Udi’s. You can find them online,whole foods, natural food stores. Good textire, flavor, and makes amazingly good french toast.
        Pizza/donuts/muffins: a brand called kennickinick (or close to that spelling). Usually in the natural foods frozen sectin. One box comes ith 4 personal pizza crusts, you add sauces nd toppings. 5 star. So tast. Udi’s also makes a pizza crust, but I give it 3 stars.
        Gluten free is much better than it was before. The bonus is when your body feels better and systemaric complaints go away. Makes the effort worth it.
        Be aware that gluten isin soy sauce, and that spelt is not gluten free.

    • Research, Not Law :

      Many of the recipes I list in my post below are GF. Indian curries and meat/potato meals freeze nicely. I can’t think of gluten in hot and sour soup – except likely the soy sauce. We do a lot of rice-based dishes, too, although note that you should completely cool in the fridge before freezing to prevent the rice from getting too gummy.

  22. Diana Barry :

    Urgh, even reading about raw chicken makes my morning sickness act up! I am lucky now if I can cook one thing once a week. Hoping it stops soon!!!

    • I know the feeling. I couldn’t be around anyone eating or talking about meat for months when I was pregnant. Weird.

      • Chicken, and meat in general are pretty well known food aversions to have when you’re pregnant. Odd, but it made me feel better than I wasn’t the only crazy pregnant lady who couldn’t deal with animal protein.
        Here’s hoping your morning sickness dissipates shortly!

        • I heard a sociologist speak about this (name long since forgotten). He posited that aversions to meat during pregnancy were an attempt to protect the fetus. Most serious food illnesses are related to poorly cooked meat.

          He also had evidence that showed that unlike food aversions one has as a child, pregnancy food aversions disappear much more quickly. It can take 10 years for you to get over that time you ate too many bananas, but typically, a woman who was pregnant is fine within 6 months.

  23. If I ever have leftover cilantro (which seems like never), I mince it and stick in the freezer inside a little sandwich bag. It’s great for adding a boost to whatever you’re making.

    Also, if I ever have to take out the food processor (cleaning that thing is yuck), I’ll make sure to buy carrots and celery ahead of time and shred them and store the shredded carrots and celery in the freezer. If I’m making something needs more fiber or requires sauteeing of onions, I’ll just chip off a chunk of shredded carrot/celery and add it to the pot/pan.

    Tip: Do not try shredding onions in a food processor. It makes onion juice. Which becomes very apparent to your eyes when you open the container. Which is useful if you have something in your eyes that you need to cry out.

    • If you have one, the slicer attachment is the best for slicing up onions in the food processor. One every few months I’ll open up all of the window, slice up an entire costco bag’s worth of onions with the slicer attachment, carmelize them in a huge pot and freeze them in silicone muffin liners so that I have them ready to go.

      • This. Is. Genius. Will TOTALLY try this.

        • Me too!
          I love this discussion today. Collective kitchen wisdom about how to make my life easier and still have good food… Best Wednesday ever.

      • Duh. Of course, the slicer….thanks for the tip!

  24. anon for this :

    We’ve discussed working with a legal recruiter before, but I’m having trouble finding the discussions. I’m hoping for advice. I’m a 2010 grad working in-house and looking to go to a firm. Would it be helpful for me to work with a recruiter? Or would I be shooting myself in the foot because hiring me would be extra costly because of the recruiter’s fee? I wouldn’t be considering it, but a) friends put me in touch with a recruiter and b) I’ve seen a lot of openings for mid-levels to do the kind of work that I want to do, but not for juniors, and I’m hoping a recruiter would have some unannounced leads.

    • I personally did not have much luck when I was out for a year and tried working with a recruiter, but YMMV. Certainly worth talking to the recruiter.

      • 2/3 attorney :

        Hah, I love that we talk about being “out [of law school] for a year” as if it were a prison term. No credit for good behavior.

    • Yes yes yes, go with the recruiter. It is very common in the legal industry and firms are used to it. The recruiter knows much more than you (or I) do about who is hiring and who is not, and it will take a lot of the pressure off you.

      • Oh, and one other thing. Depending on the norm in the city you are in, it might actually be to your benefit to work with more than one recruiter at a time. They tend to have relationships with particular firms, or, for instance specialize in firms vs. in-house, or BigLaw vs. MidLaw. But know your city, because you will not want to do this if it will give you a bad rep – talk to others you know who have used recruiters to find out what is the practice where you are.

    • There are two kinds of recruiters – the kind you pay to help you find a job, and the kind that the company pays for filling a position. I have never worked with the former kind (they seem pretty sleazy in my area), but I have worked with the latter, and they were helpful.

      In my experience, law firms didn’t want the second kind of recruiter submitting resumes for junior or mid-level associates because they didn’t want to pay the fees (I’m in a regional Midwest market). I had more luck once I started submitting applications myself. Several recruiters I spoke with told me this would be true, and gave me information on firms without any strings attached. I think it was almost a gesture of goodwill, on the assumption that I’ll be a more valuable candidate later in my career.

      • Could anyone recommend recruiters in Atlanta or DC? I’m also a 2010 grad working in-house in the midwest and would like to move for personal reasons. I’m open to a firm or another in-house position. Any other suggestions for finding similar opportunities would be appreciated. Thanks!

  25. NoBrokerFeeNYC :

    Threadjack: Just moved to NYC area & living in Hoboken. I’m looking for an apt. in Manhattan on a modest budget ($1600/1650). I’m hoping to avoid a broker fee, as this is unheard of in Chicago, where I’m from. Also, looking for a reputable, responsive management company. Any suggestions from anyone who loves their building? Although I may be priced out of that particular building, maybe they own others in the city. Criteria: responsive, mice & bug free.

    • I used to live on the Upper East Side in a building managed by City & Suburban. I think that’s the name. Their rental office is on East 78th Street, off of York Ave (6 train to E 77th Street). They were fantastic! Everything was in tip top shape, no bugs or other vermin, no brown water, great staff, very responsive. They are open something like 10-6 or 7 on weekdays and till 3 or so Saturdays. You just go to the office and they give you a list of their current listings that fit your criteria. Many apartments are rent stabilized.

      Also, while Craig’s List is often frustrating, I have found 2 no fee apartments there, so don’t rule it out.

      • NoBrokerFeeNYC :

        AIMS: Thank you! I scheduled an appointment with them earlier this week, and I’m going to see a place tonight. I feel a lot better now going into it.

        • Glad to help. Good luck! They’re a wonderful landlord. I hope you find an apartment you like.

    • MeliaraofTlanth :

      are you set on Manhattan? If you’re currently in Hoboken, I assume you are, but I’m of the opinion that depending on where you work, you can have a shorter commute living in the outer boroughs than you could from certain places in Manhattan (and on a modest budget, the places you can afford are likely to be far from a subway or fairly far north). If you work in the financial district, parts of Brooklyn are super close. If you’re in midtown, try Queens (Long Island City/Astoria. I live in LIC and love it, except they occasionally shut down the 7 train on the weekends b/c they’re doing serious long-term maintenance/repairs).

      No specific building advice, but good luck! I’m about to start looking again and dreading it. You would think in a city with so many apartments, it would be an easy process, but it just never is.

      • I second that. I used to live in Williamsburg and had a shorter commute to mid-town then any of my co workers living in Manhattan.

        I also was successful on Craig’s list.

        • Anonamouse :

          Just my 2 cents – I moved from Hoboken into NYC (lived on 64th and West End) and actually wound up moving back to Hoboken for a shorter commute (and other factors – including cost and “neighborhood” feel). Depending where in Hoboken you are living, YMMV, but we live downtown and it’s been great. My commute to midtown east is 35-45 mins door-to-door.

          • NoBrokerFeeNYC :

            I’ve been sticking to Craigslist thus far.
            Hoboken is a nice neighborhood, and the commute is the best. I’m more uptown, so my walk to the PATH is about 15 minutes (which I don’t mind). I work downtown near City Hall & I’m reluctant to give up that commute!

    • Definitely check craigslist and Streeteasy for no fee listings. I know paying the fee sucks, but if you are planning to stay in a place at least 2-3 years, it might be worthwhile. Unless a management company has its own brokers / leasing office, the no fee listings are just where the mgmt co is paying the broker fee (and raising the rent to compensate). If there is a broker fee, trying to negotiate the monthly rent and the fee down. My BF used to live on the Upper East Side in an Eberhart Brothers building and was very happy with them as a management company. They charge a fee, but prices are very reasonable… may want to stay away from 2nd Ave though because the subway construction is unlikely to end in our lifetimes…

      • Upper East Side is your best bet for that price range and good amenities. You could get something in LES or midtown east for that range but the property won’t be modern. I have used Anchor Associates brokers twice now – without paying brokers fees. They do have no-fee apts listed so worth a try. And yeah, don’t rule out Craigslist or emailing friends – I once got a ridiculously low price rent-controlled studio in Lower East Side that way!

  26. One of your best posts in the year and a half I’ve been reading. Thank you!

  27. I’ve read this entire thread with amazement, and can only add that I’ve made ice cubes. A couple of times.

  28. MissJackson :

    Maybe everyone already knows this tip but I’ll share it just in case.

    This is related to Kat’s tip on using a cutting board to freeze liquids — do the same for anything you’d like to freeze “separately”. For example, if I buy too much fruit and it looks like I won’t use it all before it goes bad, I freeze if for use in smoothies or cooking. If I throw a pint of blueberries into a ziplock and just toss the bag in the freezer, all the berries kind of freeze in one enormous glob and it’s really hard to pull out whatever portion I need. Instead, I place the ziplock on a cutting board (or cookie sheet — or really, anything flat), and kind of shake the bag so that the berries are all in a sigle layer. Let them freeze overnight (or for at least a few hours) — and then remove the cutting board/cookie sheet. You can now store the ziplock in any which way (in my case, often shoved into the freezer door shelf).

    • Gailamonster :

      You can do this for foods that are not “individual” as well, and it’s great if you don’t have a silicon muffin tin. When I make taco meat, I always make extra and freeze the rest in gallon zip-top bags. I lay the bag flat on a cookie sheet (like your blueberry example); then, I take a blunt object (like a butter knife or spatula) and “score” the meat by denting it in a grid pattern before i freeze it- think dents on a chocolate bar dividing it into squares. I try to make each square roughly one portion; this process makes it much easier to take out the amount I want without trying to partially thaw the whole block or taking out a knife and hurting myself. This method works for fruit/veggie purees, ground meat, rice dishes like pilafs, thicker stews, etc.

  29. Anyone have great recipes or suggestions for meals to cook ahead and freeze? Here’s the complication: I can’t stand soups and stews! Any input appreciated. :)

    • These are admittedly carb-heavy suggestions, but I find that risottos/paellas/jambalayas freeze well, as do lasagnas/baked ziti. I always double my recipes when I make these items, freeze a quarter in family meal-sized Pyrex, and freeze the other quarter in individual lunch Pyrex.

      • random question, but does whole-wheat pasta freeze as well as regular? anyone know?

    • Research, Not Law :

      I have a lot of non-soup/stew ideas in my post below. Being willing to do some day-of work to make accompaniments really opens up the options.

  30. I haven’t had time to read all of this (but I will – thanks Kat!) so some of my tricks might be duplicates. I do a lot of what Kat does with the frozen ziplock for lunch etc.

    *I use a food-saver to get the air out of packages of meat before freezing.
    *I freeze a lot of bread, waffles, desserts (I have to eat gluten-free) for later use so I flash freeze them unwrapped for 15 minutes then put them into the foodsaver: This preserves the texture.
    *I freeze bread-crumbs when I have stale bread.
    *After I open things, I don’t want the rest to go bad so I freeze half a can of chicken stock or pasta sauce: Sometimes I freeze in ziplock bags, sometimes in jelly jars and sometimes I freeze first in ice-cube trays and then when fully frozen I pop them out and put into a ziplock bag or plastic container.
    *Freezing in ice-cube size is good for stock, tomato paste, pizza sauce and other things where you may only need a tablespoon or so in a recipe.
    *I freeze meatloaf (uncooked) either in the meatloaf pan or in muffin tins and then when frozen I remove from pan and wrap with foil or plastic. When I want to cook, I just unwrap and place back in pan to cook.
    *When I freeze chilis, stews or curries, I don’t add potatoes, beans or peas to the portion that is going to be frozen becaue they don’t seem to hold up well when frozen.
    *I also freeze gallon ziplock bags of things to throw in the crockpot. I thaw them ahead of time in the fridge…don’t put a whole frozen bag into the crock-pot as it may crack.

  31. This is a great thread – please keep sharing any other “crazy” ideas.

    Does anyone have suggestions for healthy crock pot recipes? My experience has been mixed, mostly bc the majority call for using chicken breast and I end up with a soggy, not very appetizing mess. Lentils has been the best recipe so far for me.

    • This is the only crockpot recipe I make on a regular basis, but it’s very good -412 calories and 10 ingredients total:

      Just make sure to double the sauce ingredients, per the reviews below.

    • While I’m not a vegetarian, I’ve really enjoyed the cookbook ‘Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker’. My favorite recipe is the Sweet & Spicy Lentil Chili. I borrowed it from the library for a while before finally giving in and getting a copy for myself.

      • New York Esq. :

        Amazing! I literally just cooked this chili overnight last night and am about to eat it for dinner.

  32. I make pasta sauce to freeze sometimes. Cans of tomato or bottles of pureed tomato tend to be very large, way too large for me alone. I fry onion, garlic, beef, carrot, herbs and mushrooms together in a big pan and cook it with the tomato puree. I freeze some of this. Then another day I only have to cook pasta and if it is thawed just add it to the pan with the pasta after draining it. I also freeze meat and fish.

  33. Kat’s system is very similar to ours. I love the cutting board idea. I’ll have to try it.

    One thing we’ve found useful. In addition to marking the bags, we also keep a list of what’s in the freezer and the dates. So if we’ve wondering if we have chicken breasts, or pea soup, or whatever, we can look at the list instead of rummaging through the freezer. Of course, this only works when we remember to add/cross things off the list.

  34. Research, Not Law :

    Here’s a list of our most commonly frozen meals. Doing items that only require minimal “day-of” additions (ie, rice, pasta, refried beans) really expands the options. Note that rice dishes will often get a bit gummy, although completely cooling them in the fridge before freezing will help dramatically. Tofu gets a bit tough or spongy, but not too bad. Creamed soups and other high-dairy items will be a bit weird so we avoid, but usually taste fine.

    Spaghetti sauce and meatballs (frozen separately)
    Osso bucco
    Spanish rice
    Enchiladas (no cheese on top until day-of)
    Tamales (freeze in bundles)
    Indian curries
    Pasties, empanadas, etc (Freeze individually on baking sheet first)
    Beef stew (usually in small containers and served over polenta)
    Meatloaf (pre-slice)
    Dirty rice, coconut Caribbean rice, etc
    Various soups: lentil, potato/cauliflower/leek, etc
    Chicken stock or chicken soup (hold out noodles)
    Hot and Sour Soup
    Pot stickers (freeze as pasties, above)

    If we’re in a cooking mood on the weekends, we just make double and freeze half. We experiment to see how new recipes handle the freezer. For our regular tried-and-trues, we will usually have a major cooking day where we do big batches of several recipes that last us a few months. A lot of these recipes require similar ingredients that can be prepped all at once, saving time in the long run.

  35. amazing. love it. you’ve inspired me – i spend too much time on seamlessweb versus cooking for myself. my kitchen is too small now to properly cook but i’m moving shortly and my first investments will be a slow cooker and freezer bags!