(Freezer making meal prep with my pregnant friends)
After three weeks of spacing out meal prep I have a fully stocked freezer ready to go complete with meal options like Chicken and broccoli cheese casserole, Lasagna rolls, Meatballs a variety of soups, even baked goods like pretzels, rolls, corn bread for the chili and banana bread.
Last weekend I invited a few other pregnant friends over to make freezer meals so we could all have a little party and prepare for when we have no time or energy to cook. So with baby on the way I may not be sleeping much but at least I know we will be eating well. The best part is I don’t even have to think about it. Now it’s just about picking what I want and heat and serve delicious homemade meals.
(My fully stocked freezer full of easy meal options)
Wrapping up all the great secrets, techniques and recipes for Make Ahead Meals and Dinner Made Easy with Freezer Meals I share this week Three safe ways to thaw food quickly so you have great tasting meals when you need them most.
Three safe ways to thaw food quickly
In general it is not safe to thaw items directly on the counter, as it takes too long and thaws unevenly. Here are Three safe ways to thaw food quickly.
How to thaw meat:
Refrigerator Thawing works well and is very safe leaving the thawed product still safe to eat 2-3 days after it is thawed. When thawing meat put the item on a plate to catch any drippings as it thaws. Note that this method just takes time; generally allow 24 hours per every 4 pounds of meat. Even small amounts can take a full day to thaw. Keep in mind that some areas or the refrigerator are colder than others and this will effect the time to thaw as well. Food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35 °F than in one set at 40 °F.
Cold Water Thawing
No time to wait for the refrigerator? Cold Water Thawing is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. Place the food in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, you don’t want the meat to absorb extra water. Submerge the bag in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Estimate about 30 minutes per pound; 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. A 16-pound turkey will take about 8 hours to thaw this way. For larger items it is easiest to plan ahead and let them thaw in the refrigerator. If thawed completely, the food must be cooked immediately.
This method is my least recommended but it is considered safe by USDA standards so I will include it for last-minute needs. With microwave thawing plan to cook the food immediately after thawing because some may become warm and begin to cook during the thawing. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended as it could bring it into the temperature danger zone. Follow the individual unit’s introduction for microwave thawing, as each unit is different.
Cooking Without Thawing
No time at all? No worries, this is why I recommend packaging items in individual servings. It is perfectly safe to cook foods from the frozen state. The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry. This method is great for chicken breasts, pork chops and burgers.
(individual burritos, ready for the freezer)
(Chicken broccoli cheese casserole, ready to be covered for the freezer)
You can thaw a casserole overnight in the refrigerator but most casseroles can also be baked right from frozen. Be sure you are using freezer to oven safe dishes or opt for disposable foil pans that make clean up a breeze.
To bake place frozen casserole in preheated oven uncovered. Or partially thaw at room temp or overnight in the refrigerator.
Baking times for casseroles from frozen:
- 1 qt. 1 hour 15min
- 2 qt. 1.5- 2 hours
- 3 qt. 2-2.5 hours
- When using noodles in a casserole undercook them slightly as they will finish cooking during re-heating.
- Freeze topping separately and add during the last 40 min of baking.
Soups and Sauces:
Store soups in individual or small serving sizes to safely thaw quickly. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or place in cold water for about 15 minutes and then heat in a pan or microwave.
(Soups frozen flat will thaw quickly)
Store sauces, extra broth, or juices in ice cube trays so you can easily portion out what you need
(sauce for short ribs frozen in easy access and portioned ice cube trays)