We got this question from Dawn: "I'm trying to figure out how to best store homemade deep freeze items. We recently purchased a deep freeze, and my goal is to fill it with yummy, homemade sauces, casseroles, etc. We're expecting a baby in mid-January, and I figure if I can put the work in now, I can be super lazy about cooking when the baby comes... Any help you can provide would be much appreciated!"
I LOVE my deep-freeze, and I'm often teased for having a stuffed freezer even though I now live in the suburbs (growing up 40 miles from a store can give you some funny habits...) and I LOVE this idea of prepping ahead of time.
That said, I think solutions really need to be tailored to your tastes and portion sizes, but here are the general rules I've discovered:
For traditional casseroles or large baked dishes like lasagna or enchiladas, you really can't beat the disposable aluminum pans. Don't buy them at your grocery store, though, because you'll hardly save money--I suggest Costco or Sam's Club (if you don't have a membership there, Wal-Mart is your next cheapest bet). The ones at Costco are much tougher than the traditionally flimsy pans you buy at the regular grocery store, and they are much less expensive. Those kinds of meals are typically really messy, too, so these throwaway pans can save you a lot of scrubbing on stuck cheese later.
For freezing smaller meals (say, two chicken breasts with teriyaki sauce and some veggies--instant stir-fry!) I've found that heavy-duty plastic or glass to-go containers work really well. I use these ones from Rubbermaid (bought at Costco for a great price!) and they are super tough. Rubbermaid also has a glass variety--I haven't tried them myself, but I have these glass containers from Pyrex that have frozen and defrosted beautifully for years.
The only trouble with using re-usable containers is that they are hard to label. I've tried to use masking tape or sticker name tags to delineate different dishes, but they can come off in the freezer and have occasionally left nasty residue on my containers. One solution is to place a small piece of paper with the information on it directly inside the container facing out, but I rarely remember to do that.
Another option for small meals is Ziploc bags. I know it's kind of trashy (ba-dum-ching!) but freezer-safe Ziplocs are a life-saver in my house, especially for random things like extra muffin batter I didn't have time to bake, leftover marinara sauce, smoothie ingredients, cooked rice or ... well, you get the picture. Generally, if it's not a complete meal but still needs to be frozen, I stick it in a Ziploc, label it with a Sharpie and put it in the freezer for a night when I need that extra ingredient.
For proteins, like premade kabobs or chicken breasts, I wrap them in aluminum foil and then put them in a Ziploc. I think it keeps the flavors tasting fresher, especially for seafood. Another option is to use butcher paper, which also works well to keep flavors in and freezer-burn out.
Hope that helps, Dawn, and happy cooking and freezing!
(Photo credit: Rubbermaid.com)