You made a big pot of chili — too much to eat at one sitting. The Super Bowl's long gone. So, what do you do with the leftovers? You could eat chili for the next four days....
...or you could stash the excess in the freezer. Chill it overnight in the refrigerator and make sure it's packaged and labeled well. Easy, right? Well, what should you package it in? You can't just stick a bowl in the freezer.
How you package your food for freezing depends on what kind of room you have in the freezer, how you plan to use the food, and how you want to reheat it later.
If you'll be packing it for work, a plastic or glass serving container with a lid will do. If you want to serve it for dinner for four, choose a larger, lidded container. If space in your freezer is at a premium, consider zip-top freezer bags for the most economical use of freezer real estate.
Clearly, you've got lots of options — and we're just talking chili!
There are all kinds of food you can freeze, therefore, there are lots of different packaging options as well. Here's a rundown of the many different ways you can package food for freezing:
The Best Types of Packaging for the Freezer
Whether foil, paper, or plastic, there are a number of wraps to help you insulate food from the colder air (and frost) of the freezer. You can even use foil to wrap up casseroles without using a dish.
- Wrap is best for: Solids like large cuts of meat or fish, meatloaves, and breads.
2. Zip-Top Freezer Bags
Ziptop freezer bags, available in sizes from one pint to two gallons, are great for anything and everything. And I do mean everything. Even liquidy things like soup or chicken in marinade can be frozen in freezer bags.
Lay the filled bags on a tray in the freezer to be sure that they freeze flat and don't wrap around wire shelving. Once frozen, you can line them up like books on a shelf to save space in your freezer and easily find what you want. Be sure to thaw the food in a bowl to catch drips from any leaks that might occur.
- Zip-top freezer bags are best for: Short-term usage and saving space.
3. Plastic Boxes with Lids
There are a number of different sizes and shapes of plastic food containers on the market from reusable Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers to the inexpensive, "disposable" products made by Glad and Ziplock. They tend to break down over time, getting pitted, stained or cracked. However, they are typically pretty inexpensive, making them great vehicles for delivering a meal to a friend or using for a short season.
- Plastic boxes with lids are best for: Short term usage, portability, and giving as a gift.
4. Aluminum Pans with Lids
The commercial-style aluminum baking pans that I pick up at the kitchen supply store are super convenient. The aluminum lids make it easy to assemble and wrap a dish quickly. They are also great for delivering freezer meal gifts to friends; they don't need to worry about returning a dish. Bonus: if you don't really want to wash off the stuck on bits of lasagna, you can just chuck the pan.
- Aluminum pans are best for: Gift-giving, quick assembly, and disposability.
5. Glass Jars, Bowls, or Pans with Plastic Lids
Glass mason jars and dishes are my favorite for storing food in the freezer. They don't stain or pit, staying in good condition for a long time. I've got some Pyrex that is hitting 21 years this year! Reheating is a breeze as they can go from freezer to fridge to oven so that you don't have to dry another dish.
If you freeze in jars, be sure to follow Aimee's tip of leaving enough headspace, cooling overnight in the freezer, leaving the lids off to freeze, and gently securing the lids. These steps will help you avoid breakage of mason jars.
- Glass jars and containers are best for: Long-term use.
6. Vacuum Sealer
If you have the budget for a vacuum sealer, it's an excellent method for extending the shelf life of your frozen food. Since the vacuum sealer takes out all the excess air from the package, it eliminates the risk of condensation and, therefore, frost and freezer burn in your food. Though the machine, wrap, and accessories can be pricey, vacuum sealing is a great method for freezing food.
- Vacuum sealers are best for: Wrapping smaller portions of a bulk meat package and extending the shelf life of food quality.
Clearly, you've got lots of choices when it comes to how you wrap your food for freezing. Experiment and see what works best for your meals and your freezer.