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The 10 Rules of Freezing Food for Brilliantly Easy Meal Prep

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    Arm Yourself with All the Freezing Supplies

    Before you can even think about getting started with any kind of chopping or cooking, first make sure you have the proper freezing tools. After all, what good is a tasty crockpot freezer meal if you have nothing to freeze it in? Stock up on parchment paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer-safe packaging, and a marker for labeling items. Make sure you have a few baking sheets and large bowls clean and on hand.

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    Choose the Right Freezing Method

    Just as important as having the right supplies is knowing how to properly use them to package, wrap, tie, or close the meals you worked so hard to prepare. Again, what good does a healthy meal do you if it's covered in freezer burn? Yuck! The biggest mistake? Thinking all resealable plastic bags are freezer-friendly. Check the label! Another tip: Wrap casseroles and frozen pizzas in plastic wrap before freezing in disposable foil containers.

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    Never Skip the Labeling Step

    Your food is prepped, cooked, and sealed tight. You're done, right? Not so fast. Never skip the labeling step. Dating the package and marking down how many servings there are inside—and servings of what—will keep you from opening the wrong package or waiting too long to enjoy the fruits (or lasagna) of your labor.

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    Certain Foods Should Never Be Frozen

    Sorry to be a bummer, but no matter how you slice and dice it, custards, mayo, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, or cakes with frosting are simply not freezer friendly. While some merely thaw out to have a strange consistency, others just plain old taste bad. (Foods that were basically destined to be frozen? These: 8 Healthy Frozen Desserts That Are Better Than Ice Cream.)

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    Always Thaw Food In the Refrigerator

    This is the safest way to defrost frozen food—whether it's raw or has already been cooked. Defrosting on the counter at room temperature lets bacteria grow quickly. In a pinch, you can place frozen items that are in a plastic bag in a bowl of cold water. (Make sure that bag really isn't going to leak, though!) Or, as a last resort, use your microwave's defrost setting, being sure to first remove foil as well as plastic that isn't microwave-safe. 

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    Refreezing Thawed Food Could Be Dangerous

    It's one thing to take out a few enchiladas from a frozen dish and forget to return the rest to the freezer for a few minutes (as long as there are still ice crystals, you're good). It's quite another thing to, say, let a roasted chicken completely defrost, change your mind, and then refreeze it. Bacteria can start to grow on the food in as little as an hour.

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    Think Outside the Ice Cube Tray

    Filling ice cube trays with pesto, spicy tomato sauce, or herbed oil to have on hand when you're ready to whip up a fresh pasta dish is pure freezer food genius. But if you aren't keen to give up all your ice cube trays for the cause, there are other options you already have in your kitchen! Mini muffin tins or even cake pop pans will work just the same and make removing the frozen flavor bombs super easy.

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    Baking Sheets Can Prevent Those Dreaded Frozen Chunks

    When you freeze moist food like chunks of fruit or homemade gnocchi, it can freeze together into a clump. The trick here is to lay the individual pieces—not touching!—on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, and then place that sheet on a level shelf in the freezer. Once the pieces are frozen completely, they can be placed in their permanent freezer-friendly container. When you're ready to thaw just a few pieces, you won't have to chip them off a massive, stuck-together blob.

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    Frozen Veggies Don't Need to Be Thawed Before Cooking

    Most vegetables hold up best when cooked immediately after you take them out of the freezer. Thawing them just results in soggy veggies, and no one likes that. Great news: If frozen when ripe and at their peak of freshness, frozen fruits and vegetables may actually be more nutritious for you than fresh. (Get inspired: Surprisingly Creative Ways to Cook with Frozen Fruit.)

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    Frozen Fruit Makes THE Best Smoothies—Hands Down

    Slice bananas and strawberries and put them in a freezer bag with a dozen blueberries and a tablespoon or two of Greek yogurt. Label, freeze–and then dump it into your blender when you need a healthy, fast breakfast. (You'll love these recipe ideas: Freezer Smoothies That Make Mornings Easier.)

 

Alyssa Sparacino

Alyssa is the deputy digital editor for SHAPE & FITNESS and an ACE certified personal trainer. She is a cycling and barre enthusiast, and lover of both planks and pasta. Before joining the #ShapeSquad she was the digital editor for HGTV Magazine and assistant editor of Health.com.  More →

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