Exactly How to Freeze 10 of the Most Popular Kinds of Leftovers
Freezing leftovers is a great way to save money and prevent food waste, but knowing which items can be stashed in the freezer — and how to best store them — can be confusing. Can you freeze cooked rice? What about pasta? To help answer these questions, we’ve rounded up the best ways to freeze and reheat some of the most common types of leftovers.
Keep in mind that the FDA states that leftovers can be safely stored in the freezer indefinitely, but “can lose moisture and flavor” when stored for too long. They suggest freezing leftovers for a maximum of three to four months for freshness, but we’ve noticed that some items start to degrade a bit quicker. For these items, we’ve made suggestions for how long to hold onto them. The FDA also states that all leftovers should be heated to a minimum temperature of 165°F — so keep that in mind when reheating.
One of the best ways to make sure you don’t keep leftovers in the fridge for too long is to label the package with both what it is (“is that chili or tomato sauce?”) and the date it went in. We highly recommend using painter’s tape, since it’s easier to remove. Here’s more on why we love painter’s tape in the kitchen.
Pancakes and Waffles
How to freeze: Place cooked pancakes (or waffles) in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet tray and pop it in the freezer until they’re frozen solid. (This takes about one hour.) Stack the frozen pancakes between layers of parchment or wax paper to prevent them from sticking together, and place in a freezer-safe bag. Pancakes can be stored in the freezer for up to two months.
How to reheat: Heat the oven to 375°F and warm pancakes on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. Alternatively, place pancakes on a microwave-safe plate in a single layer and microwave in 30-second increments on full-power until warm.
Read more: The Best Way to Freeze and Reheat Pancakes
Whole and Ground Meats
How to freeze: Both leftover whole and ground meats can be stored in freezer-safe bags and stashed in the freezer. To avoid freezer burn, squeeze out as much air as possible from the bags. Cooked meats can be stored in the freezer for up to four months.
How to reheat: You can add frozen meat directly to your recipes during cooking, but keep in mind that some of the fat has been rendered off during the initial cooking, so you might need to add oil or butter.
Read more: This One Tip Is a Game-Changer for Frozen Ground Beef
How to freeze: Wrap cooked fish in parchment paper and transfer into freezer-proof bags. (This is to prevent the fish from sticking to the bag.) Squeeze out as much air as possible and store in a single layer on a sheet tray in the freezer. Cooked fish can be stored in the freezer for up to a month.
How to reheat: Transfer the fish onto a rimmed baking sheet and warm in a 275°F oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Keep in mind that reheated fish will not be as moist as just-cooked fish, so it’s best to serve with sauce, or a bit of olive oil.
Read more: Five Mistakes to Avoid When Reheating Salmon
How to freeze: Wrap cooled, leftover casseroles directly in their pans in a layer of plastic wrap and foil. If there is not enough leftover casserole to warrant wrapping the entire baking dish, remove leftovers and wrap individual slices in plastic wrap and foil. Freeze for up to four months.
How to reheat: Most frozen casseroles can be baked as per instructed in the recipe with an additional 10 to 15 minutes added to account for freezing. For individual slices of leftover casserole, heat them in the microwave in one-minute increments on full power until warm.
How to freeze: Transfer cooked veggies onto a parchment-lined sheet tray and freeze until solid. (This takes about one hour.) Transfer frozen vegetables into a freezer-safe bag and store in the fridge for up to three months. Keep in mind that this technique works best for vegetables that are blanched, steamed, or boiled. Avoid freezing roasted or fried vegetables, as they will lose their crispness.
How to reheat: Add directly to your recipes during the cooking process or transfer onto a sheet tray and bake in a 425°F oven until crisp.
Read more: How to Freeze Zucchini
Fresh Bread and Dinner Rolls
How to freeze: Wrap leftover dinner rolls and sliced whole bread (not individual slices) in foil and place into freezer-safe bags. Keep in the freezer for up to one month.
How to reheat: Remove from the freezer and let thaw in the fridge overnight. Remove from freezer bag and loosen the foil. Heat in a 300°F oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until warm.
Read more: How to Freeze and Reheat Dinner Rolls
Sauces and Gravies
How to freeze: Cool leftover sauces and transfer into freezer-safe bags or sturdy plastic containers. (We’re partial to these ones.) Most sauces can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months, but sauces made with fresh herbs, cheese, or other dairy products typically only last a month before they start to diminish in quality.
How to reheat: Transfer frozen sauce into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, or heat in the microwave in one-minute increments on full power until warm.
Read more: 10 Pasta Sauces to Freeze for Easy Weeknight Meals
How to freeze: Line a baking sheet with parchment and toss cooked pasta in olive oil. Spread pasta in a single layer or, for long pasta shapes like spaghetti or angel hair, pile into small nests. Pop the tray in the freezer until the pasta is frozen solid. (This takes about one hour.) Transfer frozen pasta into freezer-safe bags and store in the freezer for up to two months.
How to reheat: Add frozen pasta directly to a pan of simmering sauce and cook until the pasta is completely thawed.
Read more: 3 Tips for Freezing Cooked Pasta
Soup and Chili
How to freeze: Transfer leftover cooled soup into freezer-safe bags or sturdy plastic containers and stash in the freezer. Hold off on adding any cream, milk, pasta, or last-minute additions (like fresh herbs) if possible until ready to serve. Leftover soups without these items can be stored in the freezer for up to three months — and soups will last about a month.
How to reheat: Transfer frozen soup into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Alternatively, transfer soup into microwave-safe bowls and heat in one-minute increments on full power until hot.
Read more: 5 Simple Tips for Freezing Any Soup
How to freeze: Cool leftover rice and transfer into freezer-proof bags, then flatten into an even layer. Squeeze out as much air as possible and transfer into the freezer on a sheet pan. Rice can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.
How to reheat: Transfer frozen rice into a microwave-safe container, cover, and heat in one-minute increments on full power until rice is hot. (No need to thaw before cooking.)
Read more: How to Freeze Cooked Brown Rice