Freezing food can save you time and money. Not only does it keep food fresh for longer, it also keeps the taste and nutrients locked in. And it can be a great way to store leftovers, so it can help you to cut down on your food waste.
Not all food can be frozen though, and some dishes do need fully defrosting before being cooked or reheated. Get it wrong and you could be in for a pretty unpleasant meal, or even a nasty dose of food poisoning.
Never fear, our guide will explain what you can freeze and how to do it.
First off, here’s our top freezing tips...
10 top tips for freezing food
Not all food can be frozen, so do check our list below first.
If you’re not going to eat something before its use by date, freeze it until you need it. And do it as soon as possible, to lock in the taste and nutrients.
Always make sure food is at room temperature (or colder) before putting it in the freezer.
Store frozen food in portion-sized chunks to make it easier to defrost and eat.
Some food freezes better when it’s partially cooked (e.g. it’s usually best to blanch vegetables before freezing). Other food is better when frozen raw. We’ll explain more below.
Use a container with a lid or a reusable freezer bag. Make sure it’s airtight or you could get freezer burn, which affects a food’s texture.
Write on the container so you know what it is. If you want to reuse the container, it’s a good idea to use sticky labels and biro (or another permanent marker). Then just stick a new label over the top when you need to. If you’re using a disposable container or plan to reuse it for the same food each time, use a waterproof permanent marker.
Some food can be cooked straight from the freezer. Other food needs defrosting first. We’ll explain more below and you might also want to read our guide to reheating food.
Why not try batch cooking meals? Making multiple portions of a dish doesn’t tend to take that much longer, and can save you hours later on.
It’s often cheaper to buy in bulk. Try to get into the habit of freezing what you don’t need as soon as you get it home.
What foods can you freeze?
Most food can be frozen. However, the process might affect the food’s texture and make it less pleasant to eat. The following lend themselves well to freezing.
When buying dishwasher tablets, which of these is most important to you?
Sausages, chops and most other raw meat
Most fruit and vegetables (although you’ll usually need to cook or blend them after freezing)
Leftovers such as rice
Milk (it will separate but is fine once defrosted)
Batch cooked meals (eg lasagne)
What foods can’t be frozen?
The main foods to avoid freezing are below. Most just lose their taste or end up with an unpleasant texture. Raw potatoes go mushy for example, and salad leaves go limp.
Fried food (it goes soggy and the oil changes the taste)
Vegetables with a high water content, like cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and other salad leaves
Sour cream and whipping cream
How to freeze meat
Most meat can be frozen. Freezing food keeps it from deteriorating, so it’s often safer to freeze it until you want to eat it. You do need to be extra cautious with meat though, as there’s always a higher risk of food poisoning than for veggies. Label meat before freezing, so you know what it is and when it should be eaten by. And...
When freezing raw meat
Freeze raw meat as soon as you can (i.e. don’t wait until the use by date).
Defrost frozen raw meat thoroughly (ideally in the fridge), before you cook it. Processed meat (eg sausages) and thin fillets of fish can be cooked from frozen.
Cook defrosted raw meat as soon as possible.
Sausages, meatballs and other small solid foods tend to stick together as they freeze. To stop this from happening, you can separate them out onto a baking tray and carefully place it in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, tip them into a plastic container and wash the baking tray.
Don’t freeze meat again after defrosting it (unless it was frozen raw and you then cooked it).
When freezing cooked meat
Let cooked meat cool before you freeze it.
Freeze cooked meat for a maximum of three months – throw it out after this.
Prepared meals, eg lasagne, can be cooked from frozen. Chicken and cooked joints of meat should always be defrosted before reheating.
Cooked sausages tend to get burnt skins if reheated from frozen, so defrost them first.
How to freeze fruit and vegetables
Most fruit and vegetables can be frozen, other than those mentioned above. They’re usually best to use cooked or in a smoothie when they’re defrosted though. Most can be cooked straight from the freezer.
Freeze fresh vegetables (eg chillies, carrots, broccoli) as soon as you can to seal in nutrients.
Wash and prepare the veg first – you’ll probably want to cut most up to make them easier to use later.
Blanch (par-boil) vegetables before freezing them. This helps to preserve the flavour and nutrients. For best results, par-boil and then put them straight in ice cold water, before you drain and freeze them. Small chunks (eg carrot batons) only need par-boiling for a minute. Larger chunks or harder veg (eg chopped potato) can take up to five minutes.
Courgettes, aubergines, peppers and onions can become mushy after freezing. You can get around this by freezing these vegetables uncooked in slices or grated.
If you’re freezing leftover vegetables, consider separating them into small portions to make defrosting and reheating easier. Or separate them out onto a baking tray and pop them in the freezer like that. Once frozen, tip them into a container. This helps to stop them from sticking to each other.
Don’t freeze cooked vegetables again after defrosting them.
Many herbs can be frozen. Find out how to freeze herbs to preserve their taste.
How to freeze food (batch cooked)
Most dishes are pretty easy to freeze. If you’re making something like lasagne in order to freeze it, assemble it in a foil tray. These containers usually come with a lid that can be written on, which will make your life a lot easier when it comes time to cook the dish. Write what the dish is and when you’ve frozen it.
Then just take the tray out of the freezer when you need it, and allow it to defrost before you put it in the oven.
If you don’t have time to defrost it, cook it for longer (as you would with a ready meal). Start it off in a cold oven to prevent it from overcooking in some parts while the middle is still frozen. Or if you’re cooking it on the hob, start it off on a low temperature and stir regularly.
Other meals, eg homemade burgers, can be frozen in reusable freezer bags or plastic containers. Just make sure that you separate them by portion size, as they’ll stick together as they freeze. You don’t want to end up cooking five burgers if you only want one.
Here’s some ideas for meals that lend themselves well to batch cooking:
Lasagne (cook the mince or veggies, layer with the cheese sauce and raw lasagne sheets, and pop in the freezer).
Veggie chilli (cook on the hob or slow cooker and freeze what you don’t eat).
Pies (cook the filling, add the raw pastry and pop in the freezer).
Soups (cook before freezing and then reheat gently on the hob or defrost before reheating).
Stews (if they contain large chunks of meat or veg, it’s best to defrost before cooking).
Cauliflower or broccoli cheese (lightly boil or steam the veg, pour over the cheese sauce and then freeze once it’s cooled. Defrost before cooking.)
Freezing food: your questions answered
Can you freeze cheese?
Blocks of hard cheese can be frozen, but they do tend to go a bit crumbly when you defrost them. They also take ages to freeze and ages to defrost, so it’s best to grate the cheese first to speed things up and split it into portions. You can then cook with it straight from the freezer.
Can you freeze cheese sauce?
Yes, but it can sometimes go a bit lumpy. Make the sauce, let it cool and then freeze it. When you need it, defrost it and give it a good stir while you reheat it on the hob. You might need to add a splash more milk to get it to the right thickness.
Can you freeze milk?
Yep. It will expand though, so make sure there’s space in the carton for it to do so. It will separate when it freezes, but will be fine once defrosted (you’ll need to leave it to defrost in the fridge overnight). Freezing can affect the taste slightly, so it’s best used for hot drinks and cooking rather than drinking.
Can you freeze butter?
Butter freezes well, as does margarine usually. If you’re freezing butter because you struggle to use a whole packet before it goes off, then make sure you cut it up and freeze the individual portions.
Can you freeze bread?
Definitely! Freezing half a loaf is a great way to cut down on food waste and means you can always make some hot buttery toast when you’re peckish. You can toast it from frozen if your toaster has a setting that allows for it (or if you do it under the grill).
Can you freeze eggs?
Cooked eggs don’t freeze well. And if you try to freeze an egg in its shell, it’ll probably crack. What you can do is crack each egg into a silicone muffin tray and then pop it into a plastic container once it’s frozen. You can also freeze egg whites and yolk separately.
Can you freeze leftovers?
Most leftovers can be frozen. It’s best to only freeze food that hasn’t been on someone’s plate however, to reduce the risk of bacteria and germs. Defrost before reheating and cover with foil while it’s in the oven.
How long can you freeze food for?
Experts tend to recommend throwing away anything that hasn’t been used after nine months, and some things need using even earlier:
Cooked meat: three months
Bread: three months
Butter and margarine: three months
Cheese: four months
Milk: one month
Raw pastry: six months
Does food need to be cold before freezing?
It doesn’t need to be ice cold, but it does need to have cooled to room temperature. Warm food heats up the air in the freezer, which could affect your other frozen food. It’ll also mean the food freezes in different areas at different times, which could affect the texture.
How can I keep my freezer working properly?
Freezers work best when they’re full but not completely crammed. Empty freezers have to work harder. If you’re just starting out on your freezing journey, fill some plastic bottles two thirds full and freeze them.
You’ll want to keep your freezer at -18° C (0° F). If in doubt, it’s worth buying a freezer thermometer.
What containers can I use to freeze food in?
Solid plastic usually freezes well, as does silicone. You can get reusable freezer bags to cut down on waste, or use old takeaway cartons. If you’re buying new, look for the freezer-friendly mark (a snowflake) on the bottom of the container.
Leave a bit of space in the carton to allow for the fact that the food will expand slightly when it freezes.
Overproof dishes can be frozen.
If you’re freezing food in bags, squeeze as much of the air out as possible, to help avoid freezer burn. You’ll need to defrost it in the bag, as the plastic can stick and tear quite easily otherwise. And only use bags designed for freezing.
If you’re freezing small portions, such as homemade baby food, portion it up into silicone ice cube or muffin trays. Once it’s frozen, pop the individual portions out into a freezer bag or other container. Then you can just reheat them when you need them.
You can also use aluminium foil trays to freeze meals, and they can then be put straight into the oven once defrosted.
Never freeze anything in glass, as the glass is likely to shatter.
Can I cook food straight from the freezer?
Raw chicken, turkey and joints of meat need to be defrosted before cooking. Most other things can be cooked from frozen if needs be. See our individual sections above for more details.
Now you know how to freeze food, you’re one step closer to saving time, food waste and money.