Does your family struggle to eat leftovers? I know we do. I am not fond of leftovers, but I do enjoy not cooking every night. So instead of wasting all of the leftovers, I freeze them. Sometimes I’ll make extra for the whole purpose of freezing them. I call them planovers. It’s leftovers that I planned. Check out this ultimate guide to freezing leftovers!
Ugh Leftovers Again
When I lived at home, my least favorite night of the week was when Mom announced that it was leftover night. It meant that she didn’t want to cook and I’d already eaten all the good leftovers. I would get grumpy and eat candy from my hidden stash. Just the mention of having leftovers left me crabby.
As a teenager, I would make myself a bean burrito or quesadilla when leftovers were on the menu. It left me less grumpy than eating leftovers. There were very few exceptions to my loathing of leftovers. Homemade mac and cheese and scalloped potatoes were on the list of happy leftovers. Meat of any sort was absolutely out.
Now, as an adult, I understand the need for leftover night, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. At my house, it means leftover pizza or left over taco stuff. There’s very little in the way of delicious leftovers beyond those two items. Thank goodness my husband eats most of the leftovers for lunch during the week. He can eat all he wants, so that I don’t have to eat them.
When I cook, I make planovers. I plan to make extras to freeze. Cook once, eat twice. It is my favorite way to save time in the kitchen. Then when I need a quick dinner, I can pull out the planovers and voila dinner is served!
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Ultimate Guide to Freezing Leftovers: Potatoes
Potatoes are one of the trickiest foods to freeze in my opinion. Depending on how you cook them, they will turn out fine or absolutely disgusting. That being said, if I am making planover potatoes they are usually mashed. I find that mashed potatoes freeze well. It doesn’t change their texture or flavor.
After making mashed potatoes, I use an ice cream scoop to dish them out onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Then I put them in the freezer to flash freeze. Flash freeze means that the food freezes quickly because it is spread out or in single serve portions. Once frozen I transfer the mashed potato scoops into a plastic bag labeled and dated. Whenever I want mashed potatoes, I pull out a scoop and let it thaw or heat it in the microwave. This little trick works to preserve potatoes when you see that they are going bad.
Another way to freeze potatoes is to twice bake them before freezing. Because you essentially have mashed potatoes in the skins the flavor and texture remain ok. After making twice baked potatoes, I individually wrap the halves in plastic wrap. Often I will go ahead and put some bacon bits and cheese on top, so that it is quick to pull out and reheat them later. Then I put the individually wrapped potatoes in a plastic bag. To reheat them, I put them in the oven for a few minutes. They can be thawed first or go to the oven straight from the freezer.
Any other form of cooked potato does not seem to hold up well in the freezer. So unless you want to cut, blanch, and freeze fresh potatoes for later I suggest using mashed for twice baked for the freezer. There’s your ultimate guide to freezing leftovers: potato edition.
Ultimate Guide to Freezing Leftovers: Soups
I love to freeze leftover soups, chilis, sauces, and broths. It makes for a very quick meal on nights when I don’t feel like cooking. The portions are perfect. And best of all, I can freeze all of the leftovers.
For broths, sauces, chili, and thinner soups I like to use a muffin tin to freeze the leftovers. This creates little pucks which thaw out quickly and are the perfect portion. Reheating two pucks makes a bowl of chili. I ladle the leftovers into the muffin tin before placing it in the freezer overnight. The next morning I use a butter knife to loosen the pucks. The pucks are then put in a labeled plastic bag and returned to the freezer. I do this with my pizza sauce, tomato sauce, and bone broth too. It makes dinner so much easier and I only have to thaw out what I’m going to use.
If the soup is chunkier, like my Crock Pot chicken tortellini soup then the muffin tin trick doesn’t work as well. I prefer to freeze chunky soups in quart sized plastic bags. After filling and sealing the bag, I lay it down flat in the freezer. Once frozen, this makes it easy to store because it can be stacked up or stood up. Thawing the soup takes no time in a sink of warm water or a covered pot. There’s your ultimate guide to freezing leftovers: soup edition.
Ultimate Guide to Freezing Leftovers: Meat
With only two of us in the house, eating an entire chicken or roast can be difficult. As already stated, I struggle to eat leftover meat. It just never tastes as good the second time. So instead of forcing it down the same way on day two, I use it differently the second time around.
I like to cook an entire chicken in the Instant Pot. Then I can use the bones for broth and the meat for our meals. When it comes time to freeze the leftover chicken I will typically turn it into a freezer meal. One of our favorites is a chicken enchilada mix. The sauce keeps the leftover chicken from becoming too dry when reheated. Another way I like to freeze chicken is in a soup. Again it keeps it moist when reheated. If I’m not in the mood to turn the leftover chicken into a meal, I simply shred it and put it in a plastic bag. When freezing the meat by itself, I like to measure out one pound bags and seal them with my FoodSaver.
Ground beef is another meat that can be stored in a freezer meal or by itself. I know that around here we normally use ground beef for tacos or Hamburger Helper. This means that I cook it ahead of time and freeze it already cooked. Then when needed, the prep time is less because I don’t have to brown the beef first. It also saves me a lot of time in the kitchen to batch cook the meat. Put that leftover taco meat in a plastic bag, so that you can pull it out later for a hassle free taco Tuesday.
Cooked ham is the bane of my existence when it comes to freezing leftover meats. My husband brings home a 25 pound ham from work every year around Christmas. While I appreciate their generosity, I don’t have room for such a large piece of meat in the freezer. Plus, with only two of us eating it, most of it has to go in the freezer. One way I like to freeze ham is by cubing it and putting it in plastic bags. Just like the other meats, I will weigh it out into one pound bags. That is typically what a recipe calls for, so then I only have to thaw out what I need. This cubed ham is good on breakfast pizza, in casseroles, in breakfast burritos, and in omelets. We can often make a couple of meals with the one pound bag of cubed ham.
Some of it will get sliced and frozen. This makes it nice for sandwiches or reheated in the oven with some liquid. There’s your ultimate guide to freezing leftovers: meat edition.
Ultimate Guide to Freezing Leftover Baked Goods
We store bread, tortillas, muffins, and many other baked goods in the freezer. It keeps them fresh until we can eat them. I find that muffins, cornbread, and rolls do best when individually wrapped, then placed in a plastic bag. I like to make ham and beans with cornbread. Then I put the extras in the freezer because I can pull out a couple of ham and bean pucks and a piece of cornbread for dinner faster than I can run through McDonald’s. Muffins are best kept that way and they too can be pulled out one at a time for breakfast. Super easy way to get a good breakfast before rushing out the door.
Waffles, pancakes, and cookies do well when flash frozen on a cooling rack then transferred to a plastic bag. This keeps them from sticking together, so that you can get them out one at a time.
Bread, pumpkin rolls, and banana bread do best when wrapped in plastic and then put in a plastic bag. If I don’t do both, they tend to get freezer burnt much faster than I would like. Sometimes, I divide the loaves into more manageable pieces so that I don’t have to thaw out the entire thing at once.
If there isn’t much bread left or there’s only the heel, I will turn it into breadcrumbs before tossing it in the freezer. To do this, I let them bake at 170 degrees until they are crispy. I run the pieces through the food processor and put the bread crumbs in a plastic bag. What I love about this is that it allows me to accumulate the bread crumbs over time. Then when I’m ready to use them in a meatloaf there’s enough.
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