Leftovers are inevitable. Whether you’re cooking for yourself or for a group, there is no doubt that you’ll eventually have them. The best way to keep leftovers for a long time is to wrap them up and stick them in the freezer.
The best way to freeze the 10 most common leftovers is usually to wait until they’re cooled down first. Then, wrap them in a moisture-proof paper and label them clearly with the date. To prevent freezer burn, it is best to squeeze out any air from your wrapped leftovers.
How to Freeze the 10 Most Common Leftovers
Wasting food is environmentally unfriendly, hard on your budget, and it means you cannot keep enjoying a delicious dinner. While the USDA suggests that you can keep leftovers in the freezer indefinitely, however they will begin to degrade over time.
1. How To Freeze Pancakes and Waffles
Once the breakfast dishes are cleared, you can easily preserve your pancakes or waffles for later use. Having a frozen stack of waffles in the freezer makes for a quick, delicious weekday breakfast.
The key to freezing leftover pancakes and waffles is to give them a pre-freeze first. Doing so stiffens the pancakes. That makes it so much easier to stack between layers of parchment paper and thaw out later.
- Line a baking sheet or sheet pan with parchment paper. Foil can also be used here. You will want them close together, but not touching.
- After the pancakes have cooled, lay them in a single, even layer on the sheet.
- Freeze the pancakes for one hour.
- After they’ve been in the freezer for an hour, take the pan back out. Stack the pancakes, sandwiched between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap.
- Store the stacks in a freezer bag, preferably one with a zip-top.
Frozen pancakes are best reheated after 2 months. Any longer and they will start to lose their moisture, becoming unappealing and dry. This is another reason why labeling your freezer bags is so important.
These leftovers are easily reheated in the microwave at roughly 60 seconds for 5 pancakes. They should be fluffy, soft, and moist, just as they were on the first day.
2. How to Freeze Lasagna
When you spend hours laboriously preparing lasagna, it would be a shame to leave the leftovers to languish in the fridge. Instead, lasagna freezes perfectly, ready for reheating whenever you are in the mood for saucy, cheesy comfort food.
- Lasagna is easiest to freeze when it is still in the baking dish it was cooked in. Wrap the baking dish in plastic wrap. Take care to press the plastic wrap as closely to the surface of the lasagna as possible.
- As you press down on the plastic wrap, squeeze out as much air as you can.
- Wrap the dish in a second layer now, this time with tinfoil. The foil will prevent freezer burn.
You can also slice your lasagna up and freeze it in individual servings, making for a quick single-serve meal. To do so, wrap servings tightly in plastic wrap and foil. Then place the wrapped slices in freezer bags.
Leftover frozen lasagna is best enjoyed before it has been in the freezer for three months. This will help ensure that it is still flavorful, and that the texture hasn’t been lost. If there is not enough lasagna to warrant freezing the whole dish, transfer it to a smaller container.
These tips aren’t specific to lasagna. Any leftover casserole can be frozen by wrapping it in plastic wrap, squeezing out the air, and wrapping again in tin foil.
3. How To Freeze Fish
Most types of cooked fish fillet will benefit from the same freezing techniques. It is important that upon reheating your fish, you make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Tightly wrap your cooked fish in parchment paper.
- Insert the wrapped fish into a freezer bag, preferably one with a zip-top.
- Squeeze out as much air as you can. This will aid preservation and prevent dreaded freezer burn.
- Arrange fish in a single layer on a sheet tray in the freezer.
Despite that it technically can be frozen indefinitely, it is best to reheat your cooked fish within one month of freezing. The delicate, flaky texture of fish will suffer if left to freeze for too long. Reheated fish will not be as moist as it was the first time around; try serving it with a sauce to compensate.
4. How To Freeze Bread and Dinner Rolls
Flaky, buttery rolls are the perfect side dish to any family meal. The trouble arises when you have more rolls than you and the entire dinner party can finish in a night. If you leave them on the counter, you run the risk of the rolls getting stale, or worse: moldy.
Thankfully, dinner rolls, and loaves of bread, can be tossed into the freezer once the Thanksgiving cleanup is done.
- For dinner rolls, wrap rolls in tin foil and place into freezer-safe bags. Do not wrap individual rolls; instead, wrap them all together in the same foil pack.
- For loaves of bread, wrap the loaf in foil and place it into a freezer-safe bag.
- Press all of the air out of your wrapped bread to prevent freezer burn.
Bread can be kept in the freezer for up to one month. You will need to plan ahead when reheating, taking the bread out of the freezer the day before to thaw. After it has thawed in the fridge, loosen the foil and stick it in a 300°F oven for 15-20 minutes, until warmed.
5. How To Freeze Soups and Chili
Soup and chili freezes rather well. This is great news, especially since these are dishes usually made in high quantities. Frozen soups and chilis can also be reheated later for a convenient lunch.
- Using a ladle or a funnel, pour soup into a freezer-safe bag, or into a plastic sealable container. Set into the freezer with a label.
- If you have any pasta, creams, or herbs to add to the pasta, do not add them in now. Milk, pasta, and delicate herbs do not take well to freezing. If possible, just cook up new pasta once you are ready to reheat your leftovers.
Chili with beans in it will fare just fine when placed in the freezer, but avoid adding cheese until it is already reheated. Soup and chili can reside in the freezer for about a month.
6. How To Freeze Cooked Vegetables
Having leftover vegetables at the end of your meal can be a boon for your future cooking endeavors. Frozen vegetables are a great, money-saving way to ensure that your greens won’t go bad. They’ll be ready to be added in as a side dish or ingredient whenever you need these leftovers again.
- First, set all of your cooled vegetables onto a parchment or freezer paper lined tray. This is best done with the vegetables in a single layer.
- Freeze until the leftover vegetables are solid. This could take at least an hour, if not more.
- Once they’re totally frozen, remove them from the tray and transfer the vegetables into a freezer bag. Press down and let all of the air escape before sealing tightly.
This can be done with veggies that have been cooked any way. However, bear in mind that roasted or fried vegetables might not stay crispy after being reheated. Leftover sauteed, blanched, or boiled vegetables are the best for freezing.
7. How To Freeze Whole or Ground Meats
Leftover ground meat, like taco filling, will last the longest when frozen. This technique will also work for cooked whole meats like pork chops, steaks, or tenderloins.
- Transfer ground beef into a freezer bag or sealable container. Make sure to drain the meat of excess fat before freezing.
- Try to find a container that will fit just as much meat that you will need to freeze. Make sure there is minimal space between the lid and the meat itself. You want to have as little air as possible in your package.
- For cuts of meat, wrap them carefully in freezer paper, again attempting to let the air out of it.
- Seal the wrapped meats into a freezer-safe bag.
Cooked meat has a long freezer shelf life; up to four months, usually. When reheating ground meats, remember that some of the fat has been cooked off or drained. To replace the lost fat, add extra butter, oil, or even cheese.
8. How To Freeze Cake
Despite what kids around the world might say, there can in fact be too much cake. Just as with dinner rolls, cake left out in the open runs the risk of getting stale or moldy, and will not last as long. Additionally, a common wedding tradition is to freeze the top layer of wedding cake to eat it on your anniversary.
There are some tricks to freezing cake, as it can be delicate in both structure and flavor. Note that there are separate methods for freezing cakes depending on if they’re frosted or unfrosted.
Freezing An Unfrosted Cake
- To freeze a completely cooled unfrosted cake, cover it securely in plastic wrap. It doesn’t hurt to use two layers for this, as you want to seal the cake in as carefully as you can.
- If your cake is still in the cake pan, you can freeze it this way too. You will just need to wrap the pan too.
- Store the cake in a zip-top freezer bag, clearly labeled as to what kind of cake it is.
Frozen cake that has been allowed to partially thaw is actually a dream to frost and decorate. Because it is still cold, frosting will not melt or seep into the cake itself. The stiffness means that there are fewer crumbs to deal with.
Unfrosted frozen cake can be kept in the freezer for two months. It can be defrosted by simply allowing it to rest in the fridge. You can thaw your cake on the countertop as well.
Freezing A Frosted Cake
Frosted cakes are where things get tricky. The type of icing used is important, as some will not remain stable when frozen. Frostings made with meringue may not have the same texture when thawed out, for example, so exercise caution here.
Buttercreams, fondants, and cream cheese icings will stand up to the freezer without issue. A common fear for freezing cakes with fondant is that the condensation will lead to smearing or running. Tight layers of plastic wrap and minimal handling while it is thawing will prevent this.
- To keep the frosting from smearing and sticking to the plastic wrap, you will need to pre-freeze it. Stick the cake into the freezer, uncovered, for 1-2 hours. This will set the frosting and decorations.
- Remove the cake from the freezer once the frosting has firmed up and get to wrapping. Cover the cake with two layers of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of foil.
If need be, you can freeze individual slices of cake as well. Wrap the slices by themselves with tightly sealed plastic wrap. You can store them on a small plate as well for efficient serving.
Cake should be stored in the freezer for two months, maximum. Any longer, and you’re risking a dry, flavorless slice. Be sure that when you are wrapping up your cake you are not leaving large gaps or air bubbles.
9. How To Freeze Leftover Pasta
Pasta does not often thrive in the freezer, but that doesn’t mean that freezing leftover pasta is a pipe dream. If you’ve made an abundance of beef stroganoff only to end with a half full pot, you’re in luck. You can easily preserve the leftovers of your pasta dinner in just a few steps.
- For pasta that hasn’t been put into any kind of soup or sauce, lay the noodles out on a sheet pan or baking tray.
- Toss the noodles in a light coating of olive oil. This will help when it comes time to reheat later, as it will prevent clumping.
- Once the noodles are in an even layer, stick them in the freezer until they are completely solid. This shouldn’t take more than an hour.
- Transfer the frozen pasta into a bag or container.
This frozen, undressed pasta will last about two months in the freezer. To reheat, you can pop it into a pot of boiling water. You could also add it directly to a simmering sauce or soup and let it thaw there.
There is no real need to freeze uncooked pasta. Uncooked pasta is shelf stable for up to two years, and will not collect significant bacteria just sitting in the box.
For pasta that is already incorporated with sauce, a freezer bag will once again lend a hand in preservation.
- After the pasta has cooled, pile it into a freezer-safe bag and seal it tightly. You will want to do this once you’re confident all of the air is out.
- You can also use a container or disposable baking dish for this, laying it out in a somewhat thin layer.
How well done your pasta is upon freezing will make a difference when it comes to revive the dish. If your noodles are al dente, the process of recooking the meal will not render the noodles too mushy. In cases where the noodles are very soft already, it is best to just keep them in the fridge.
10. How To Freeze Leftover Rice
It can sometimes be hard to gauge how much rice you will need to cook for a group, or even just for one person. When left with excess rice, you can keep single serving sized portions frozen for later. To freeze leftover rice:
- Line a baking sheet or tray with parchment paper, freezer paper, or foil.
- While it is still warm, lay the rice out and pat it into an even, thin layer. The purpose of this is to ensure that it all gets down to room temperature evenly.
- Separate your rice into single serve portions, placing each serving into freezer bags or sealable containers.
You can do this either with fried rice or plain rice. Be careful when reheating cooked rice. The process of thawing and reheating too many times can breed bacteria within the rice.
General Advice for Freezing Leftovers
When it comes to your leftovers, labels will make it so that you aren’t confusing pizza sauce for tomato soup. This is especially useful if you have a lot of freezer meals.
Not only that, but dating your leftovers will make it easier to track how long they have been frozen. Many leftover foods will taste the best when reheated within a month or two. If you see that the recommended use-by date is approaching, consider reviving your food soon.
Let your food cool before putting it into the freezer, but do not leave it sitting out for more than two hours. This is a careful balance to achieve, but waiting until food is cooled is imperative.
If you put hot foods in the freezer, the ambient heat from them will warm up whatever it is nearby, causing them to thaw slightly. After the thawing, they will refreeze, which could impact the texture of your food.
Parchment paper does not have a wax coating, whereas wax paper has a coating on both sides. Freezer paper falls comfortably in the middle of these two; it has a wax coating on only one side. As implied by the name, it is meant for wrapping and freezing food, especially the 10 most common leftovers.
Freezer paper is especially useful in freezing meats, and is often used by butchers and at deli counters. The meat is wrapped against the waxy side, leaving the easy-to-write-on paper surface exposed. The wax coating keeps juices and sauces from dripping or seeping through.
If you don’t have any freezer paper to wrap your leftovers in, parchment paper is the best substitute. It does not have the waxy coating, but it is moisture-proof, and will keep your food fresh.
Avoid Freezer Burn
Freezer burn is the dreaded ailment that befalls many a frozen leftover. When food is frozen, the water inside the food freezes as well, creating ice crystals. The crystals migrate to the surface of the food; this process is called sublimation.
Sublimation is somewhat like evaporation, but not quite. Evaporation is when a liquid turns into a gas, and sublimation is the transference of a solid to a gas. The loss of water molecules from sublimation dries out food, and allows oxygen to change your food’s color and flavor.
To avoid freezer burn, set your freezer to 0°F, or lower if possible; this will make your food freeze faster. Rapid freezing will lead to the formation of smaller ice crystals, thus reducing freezer burn. You will also need to minimize oxygen exposure on your leftovers by wrapping them tightly with moisture-proof paper.
Can You Still Eat Food With Freezer Burn?
Yes, you can. Just because food has been overtaken by ice crystals or has discolored, doesn’t mean it is now inedible. However, it will not taste as good as it did fresh.
The reason food in the freezer discolors is because enzymes in the food are being exposed to oxygen. This can be seen in blanching foods too; things like broccoli, with high moisture content, will take 50% longer to blanch. As such, vegetables might take longer to discolor in the freezer.
If you cook for a family, or throw get-togethers, you may come to wonder how to freeze the 10 most common leftovers. For most leftovers, you will wrap them either in plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper, or freezer paper. Always make sure to squeeze out as much air as you can before freezing.
Labeling your common household leftovers will make it easier to find them later. It will also make it easier to know how long your leftovers have been in the freezer. On average, food will keep in the freezer for 2-3 months.