How to make freezer-perfect meals

Have you ever spent so much time and effort planning and preparing your healthy meals for the week, only to discover that they don’t reheat or store very well? After trial and error I’ve discovered a variety of meals that work well after either fridge or freezer storage, and also a few dishes that fail the reheat test.

As a general rule, dairy and potato dishes don’t reheat well from frozen. It’s best to have these dishes fresh — trust me.

Ground or minced meat like beef and chicken mince reheats much better from frozen over whole cuts of meat. When whole cuts of meat are cooked and frozen for reheating later they tend to be dry, tough and not very edible. A better option would be to use a minced meat product instead. My meatloaf recipe is below for those looking for inspiration.

Leafy salads are best prepared no more than the night before, but keep any dressings separate. It’s always best to dress salads just before you eat them. I always keep my dressings in a separate small container or bottle.

From past experience, the moisture from cut-up tomatoes tend to make salads go limp and spoil. Cherry tomatoes kept whole and uncut has always been a better option when it comes to preparing a salad. They’re about to come into season now which is great for summer!

When packaging food that you intend to freeze, it’s best to store them in shallow containers as it will defrost quicker and reheat faster. Pre-cooked frozen meals will store well for up to about six weeks, but I’m sure if you’re anything like me they will be eaten easily within 1 week!

Food that store well in the freezer

Brown and white rice
When you store rice, make sure you don’t compact it tightly into the container. Keep it loose and fluffy. It will last for about 4 months in the freezer.

Beans and lentils
As with rice, when you store them make sure you don’t pack them in too tightly. If they’re cooked in a casserole, add an extra half-spoon of the cooking juice before storing so they stay moist. They will last about 3 days in a sealed container in the fridge but any longer and they’ll begin to dry out. If they’re frozen they will last for up to 4 months.

Baked vegetables (pumpkin, carrot, kumara and sweet potato)
Leftover baked vegetables freeze very well. I often make and freeze extra at home for my lunches throughout the week. Firmer vegetables will reheat better compared to softer baked vegetables — I wouldn’t recommend soft vegetables like squash or zucchini because they will break down far too much when defrosting. If all your veggies are cut into uniform 1-inch cubes they’ll hold their shape and freeze/reheat well. They will stay fresh in the fridge for about 4 to 5 days and up to 3 months in the freezer.

Minced meat
Rissoles, meat loaf and burger patties all store very well if they’re cooked and stored in the correct temperature. If the mince is raw it will only last a maximum of 2 days in the fridge while cooked mince will last for 4 to 5 days, so it’s best to cook your meals sooner rather than later. If you decided to freeze them they will last up to 4 months.

When storing mince meals it’s best to package them individually with whatever else you’re going to serve it with. If your inner chef comes out and you’ve made too many to store individually, you can store them all in one large container with baking paper between the layers so they don’t stick together. Even from frozen it will be easy to pull apart and defrost one or two pieces rather than the whole lot.

Chef Ali’s Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 1kg finely minced beef or lamb (depending on your preference, it can even be a blend of both)
  • 1 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup finely chopped brown onion
  • 1 red capsicum finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3 hard boiled eggs

Method

  1. In a large bowl thoroughly mix the mince, parsley, spices, salt and pepper.
  2. Pulse the onion and capsicum in a food processor to get it very finely chopped, but make sure you don’t over-process it into a puree.
  3. Mix the onion, capsicum and breadcrumbs into the mince mixture.
  4. Wet your hands with cold water and roll the mince into a large oval ball shape.
  5. Gently press it flat onto a clean board, about 1.5cm in thickness.
  6. Sprinkle with some extra chopped parsley and line the middle of the mince with the three peeled boiled eggs.
  7. Carefully roll the mince mixture around the eggs to form a log shape. Smooth the seals over with wet hands again.
  8. Place the meatloaf in a loaf tin that has been pre-greased with a little oil.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes at 180°C or until cooked through.
  10. Once cooked and out of the oven let the meatloaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

This meatloaf will keep in the fridge for about 3 days. Once cooked and cooled down it can be sliced and portioned down for meals later in the week or frozen.


aliBorn and raised in Sydney, Ali grew up surrounded by Middle Eastern cooking. Having worked at the award-winning Aqua Luna Bar & Restaurant, La Sala and the iconic Sydney Cove Oyster Bar — winning several awards for his culinary genius in the process — he now trains future chefs at WelTec, the international award winning School of Hospitality in Wellington, New Zealand.

Ali is passionate about food and cooking, but also loves training hard at the gym, and not only knows what workout fuel tastes great, but the best way to cook it too. We’re excited to have him on our team! For more from Ali, check him out on Instagram and Twitter