Have you ever gotten stuck on a busy week without freshly cooked gluten free food? Perhaps life got in the way or an emergency popped up. Or maybe you want to shorten prep and cooking time, but aren’t sure how… Well, I can tell you this – learning how to stock a freezer when you’re gluten free makes a huge difference.
After being asked many times by clients to share how I eat home cooked food without cooking daily, I decided to dish on how I stock my kitchen so I can successfully eat gluten-free. One pattern emerged in the process of doing so – my freezer had become my best friend as well as my number one weapon to avoiding long food prep, caving in to eating out (too often), and eating the same food again and again and again.
While many complain that eating gluten free can be a challenge, the reality is that that sentiment is only true if you don’t…
1) Plan your meals out at all.
2) Cook extra servings.
3) Know how to stock your kitchen so that you can ALWAYS throw something together.
4) Have a variety of spice and herbs on hand to jazz up food to avoid blame, dull meals.
If working with clients taught me anything over the years (I take clients from total gluten-free confusion to being able to confidently say “I got this” in regards to being gluten free in a very short period of time), planning out your meals even just a little goes a long way. And using your freezer to your advantage will give you that added edge and make meal time that much easier.
While I wish I could share everything I know with you here, this article would become insanely long, so if you’d like a more comprehensive, easy-to-read “how to” on stocking your pantry and freezer, simple meal planning that guarantees you won’t throw in the towel come Thursday’s inevitable fatigue, and my ninja tips on how to save big at the supermarket eating real, whole food, then make sure to grab a copy of my book “The Savvy Gluten-Free Shopper.”
How to Stock a Freezer When You’re Gluten Free
To get you started on your freezer, here’s what you need to know to stock it wisely…
Supplies You’ll Need
- Tupperware (plastic or freezer-safe glass)
- Freezer-safe Ziploc bags (varying sizes)
- Masking Tape
- Baking sheets
- Wax or Parchment Paper
- Butcher’s Paper
- Freezer-safe Plastic Wrap (it’s thicker and more durable than the regular stuff)
Labeling Your Food
You need to do this before you put anything in the freezer because after about a week, you’ll never remember how long it’s been in there. Keep your masking tape and Sharpee readily on hand to tag your containers with the full date (yes – with the month, day, and year…) so you will know instantly if your frozen delight is ok to eat.
Packages (like nuts, seeds, bags of veggies, etc.) can all be directly written upon since you’ll end up discarding the bags anyway.
And remember to follow the chart below to know when something’s safe or when it’s better to send it to the trash.
Keeping Track of What’s In There
Keep a lined notepad on the freezer that you can jot down what frozen items you have in stored. That way, you’ll always have a current inventory of what’s in there. For kids or spouses who tend to forget or “not see” things that you’ve already got in there (like my husband), this totally solves the problem.
Avoiding Freezer Burn
Make sure that your freezer seals properly so that water in the air isn’t entering through a gap somewhere around the door. Generally if you use freezer bags or wrap something (like meat) to stay in the freezer, excess air will produce freezer burn. Thus, keep your food well-sealed and press out as much of the remaining extra air as possible.
When it comes to things like meat, hard cheese, and fresh fish, start by wrapping them in butcher’s paper with the waxy side facing the food and then finish off plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
If food looks to have really changed color and has lots of ice crystals all over it, then I’d suggest throwing it away. Things don’t stay fresh for infinity within your freezer, so use the list above to keep track of what’s in there and get into a habit of eating and freezing that allows for items to be eaten in a timely fashion.
Obviously the best way to store food is to have it vacuum-sealed, but not everyone has a vacuum sealer nor do you absolutely need one. I personally do not use one.
How Long Can You Store Different Food?
|1 year||Meats, Berries, Tomato Sauce, Hard Cheese, Vegetables|
|6 months||Lean Fish (ie. Founder, Cod), Nuts, Seeds|
|4 months||Ground Meat|
|3 months||Stews, Soups, Chili, Stock, Fatty Fish (ie. Salmon), Cow’s Milk|
|2 months||Bananas, Cooked Grains & Beans|
|1 month||Nut & Seed Milk|
Flash-frozen veggies readily available in supermarkets all across America make it easy to add more vegetables to your meals. There’s so many out there to choose from. You can then add them to soups, stews, rice dishes, chilis or simply heat them up by steaming or roasting.
Though the consistency is different from what they would be like if they were freshly cooked, it’s better to get your veggies this way rather than avoid them completely.
If you want more info about what frozen veggies are perfect to stock up on, check out my Gluten-Free Frozen Veggie Guide here.
Believe it or not, your freezer is a great place to store extra fruit that’s getting too ripe. Most fruit can be easily frozen (or you can buy it frozen already) by following my Simple Fruit Freezing Guide. Though to get extra time out of fresh fruit, you can use my friend’s method for extending the life of fresh fruit from mold.
Fruit will stay good in the freezer for months (3 to 6 months). Make sure that the fruit isn’t getting freezer burn. Good bags made for these cold temperatures are ideal to use AND can be washed and reused once you go through your stash.
Extra Gluten Free Servings
Do you tend to cook one meal at a time? Or do you hate to cook for one?
Here’s where your freezer will come in!
Get some freezer-ready tupperware containers (do not use glass jars or containers that aren’t freezer safe or they WILL burst) and have them on-hand to tackle all those extra servings that you can’t eat (when you cook for one or two people). I use freezer-safe glass containers with lids to avoid saving food in plastic (and thus avoid those harmful BPAs and hormone disrupters often found in plastic). Also freezer-safe Ziploc bags are a must and can be used to store sauces, berries, veggies, rice… you name it!
For those who are cooking at each meal, please please PLEASE start cooking extra portions. You’ve just got to cook smarter!
I cook for myself and my husband. Most recipes render many extra servings that we can’t eat in one sitting. Before serving the food, I put at least 1 or 2 servings into a container and pop it into the freezer for later. That way whether I’m incredibly busy the following week or too lazy to cook, I’ve got something I can easily reheat that’s up to my standards for something tasty, healthy and gluten free.
Leftovers that won’t hold up well to freezing include grilled meats, sautéed greens, and salads.
Dishes I’ve frozen include soups, stews, stewed meats, chilis, and stove-top cooked oatmeal.
Broth & Stock
If you make your own broth or bone stock, keep containers of this tasty stuff frozen to use when you make soup. Also, freeze individual cubes in your ice tray and then move to a freezer bag to easily and instantly flavor dishes you’re cooking (like a sauté or even when cooking grains).
Yes, you can freeze beans. Should you ever feel inclined to cook beans yourself, make more than you’ll use in one sitting and freeze the rest before they go bad. Do not add liquid to the bag or container before freezing.
You can also purchase certain beans (edamame, black eye peas, etc.) from certain companies that are already frozen. This is a great alternative to canned beans which can be very high in sodium and have other unhealthy additives along with BPA (a hormone-disrupter leached from all pre-coated cans). Just beware of edamame that were grown in China.
I always make extra rice (brown, basmati, jasmine, whatever you want) and freeze it in a bag. It’s never going to be exactly as it was the moment it’s done cooking, but when you need something to eat, it defrosts quickly. That way you can take what you need and put the rest back in the freezer. Some stores even carry bags of frozen rice, so either way you’re set!
Nuts & Seeds*
I cannot stress this any more firmly – keep all raw nuts and seeds in the freezer if they are hulled (meaning they’ve been removed from their shell already). If they’ve been roasted, then you don’t really need to worry about it as much as the nuts can get funny. The shells are intended to preserve the freshness of what’s inside.
Fat, the primary macronutrient that makes up nuts and seeds can and will go rancid with exposure to air and light. Even if you keep them in a dark cabinet, it’s not enough. I put the bags that I buy directly into the freezer as soon as I get home. If you’ve got any nuts which have been sitting out and are turning a darker shade… yeah, throw them away.
Since most of us rarely buy nuts in their shells these days, remember to look for how your nut and seed choices are processed and that they are the ONLY ingredient on the list. You probably also want to look at the allergy warning and make sure that the package is marked “gluten free.”
If you happen to make your own nut milks like I do (or you fail to use up whatever is left in the carton before the “Use By” date), you can freeze extra and use it at a later date. To defrost, you’ll have to let it sit out until it’s liquid (or let it defrost in the fridge) since heating it wouldn’t be a good idea. The milk may separate, but a good shake will re-incorporate everything.
Meat & Fish*
Stock up on flash-frozen filets of your favorite fish and seafood. Most fish and seafood is frozen the moment it’s caught, especially if you don’t live near the ocean. Let go of the illusion that you’re somehow getting a superior product by buying seafood fresh because frozen is great when you don’t have a ton of time.
Having these on-hand is a big help! I always suggest to clients to avoid the pre-seasoned options and those with sauces added (they may not be gluten-free!) since it’s pretty easy to season fish yourself and make something quick like my Pecan-Encrusted While Fish.
As for meat, if you catch a great sale at the market or have a favorite local farm which sells cuts of meat and poultry (sometimes it’s already frozen!), place the meat in a freezer bag (or use a vacuum sealer should you have one) and follow the chart above regarding how long you can safely keep something like this in the freezer.
* Be aware: Any food product (yes even frozen fruit, frozen veggies, meat, rice, etc.) which is naturally gluten free deserves a skeptical eye. Manufacturing practices could cause contamination (check out my Ultimate Labeling Guide HERE). Always read your labels before you purchase and when in doubt, call the manufacturer’s number and ask.
For more practical tips on how to simplify healthy, gluten free cooking, check out the “The Savvy Gluten-Free Shopper: How to Eat Healthy Without Breaking the Bank“.