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I am addicted to the convenience of “cooking” from the fridge or freezer after a long day at the office. Prepping my meals beforehand saves me hours during the week and, most importantly, keeps me out of mc Donald’s drive-through. Over the years, I’ve picked some helpful tips to keep prepped meals in top-notch condition.
Continue reading to find out if you should keep meal prep in the fridge or freezer.
- Do You Put Meal Prep in the Fridge or Freezer?
- The Fridge is Best for A Few Days of Meal Prep
- Use the Freezer for Weekly or Monthly Meal Preps
- Which Foods Not to Freeze
- How to Defrost and Reheat Meal Prep
- Related Questions
Do You Put Meal Prep in the Fridge or Freezer?
The USDA recommends storing meal prep of leftover foods in the fridge for 3 to 4 days or freezer for 3 to 4 months. While the freezer keeps food fresh for longer, it gradually diminishes in quality and flavor. Keep 3 to 4 days of meals in the fridge for safe, great-tasting food.
Here’s a handy guide on safe storage pertaining to meal prep or batch cooking. It provides clear-cut answers on when to refrigerate or freeze meals, foods that shouldn’t be frozen, and how to thaw and reheat your meal prep safely.
The Fridge is Best for A Few Days of Meal Prep
The refrigerator is your best bet for bi-weekly meal prepping.
Refrigerated meals typically taste better than frozen foods. Freezing meals causes the water molecules to expand and break as they turn into ice. The damaged cell walls compromise the texture and flavor of the food.
Following the USDA’s guidelines, you should only store meal prep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
I prefer the taste to convenience, so I’d rather meal prep more frequently to have better-tasting foods than pop a month’s supply in the freezer and risk compromising the taste and texture (not that my freezer is big enough anyway). So, my Sunday and Wednesday evenings are diligently slotted out to ensure freshly cooked meals for the rest of the week.
Tips for Storing Meal Prep in the Fridge
- Cook safely: Ensure you cook foods, especially meat products, at appropriate internal temperatures to prevent harmful bacterial growth.
- Follow the two-hour rule: Get your prepped meals cooled and refrigerated within two hours.
- Use airtight containers: Store meal prep in airtight containers to keep air, moisture, and foul odors outside while locking in the food’s necessary moisture to keep it fresh and tasty.
- Double-check your fridge temperature: Bacteria multiplies rapidly at temperatures of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit – known as the “Danger Zone.” Ensure your fridge is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
- Avoid overfilling your fridge: A too-full fridge will prevent proper circulation, which can affect the temperature and cause the food to spoil more quickly.
- Eat the food within 4 days: Some ingredients can last slightly longer than 4 days in the fridge. However, I recommend eating refrigerated meals within the 3 to 4-day window period or discarding it to prevent food-related illnesses.
Unfortunately, not all fridges display temperatures, while others don’t show accurate readings on the temperature gauge. While setting the refrigerator to 37 degrees Fahrenheit, the actual temperature may be a few degrees higher or lower. I like to use the AcuRite Fridge and Freezer Thermometer. It’s on the pricier side, but it has two sensors for the fridge and freezer and an alarm that notifies you when your appliances go out of range.
Use the Freezer for Weekly or Monthly Meal Preps
The freezer is any avid meal prepper’s best friend. It allows you to cook and store a week, even a month’s, supply of meals. Take full advantage of your freezer and bulk up on meals when life doesn’t go as planned.
According to the USDA, food correctly stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer won’t go rancid. Freezing preserves the food by preventing the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage and foodborne illnesses.
However, the food will diminish in quality, texture, and flavor the longer it is stored. Therefore, it is best to use your meals within 3 to 4 months to ensure they stay fresh and tasty.
I like to use the USDAs cold food storage chart to estimate how long frozen food items retain their quality. Though, I have definitely stretched it a little longer than the guidelines.
Storing Meal Prep in the Freezer: Tips
- Cook and store food appropriately: As we mentioned earlier, it’s vital to cook foods to the appropriate temperature and to cool and store the meals in airtight containers within two hours.
- Pre-portion before you freeze: Freeze your meal preps in single or double portions. If you freeze the meals in large batches, you will need to thaw the entire batch, which can cause wastage.
- Label and date items: Label and date your meals before popping them in the freezer. This will help you identify what you’re pulling out of the freezer and ensures you eat the meals before they diminish in quality.
- Check your freezer’s temperature: Ensure the freezer’s temperature is set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Leave room for liquids: When freezing liquids like soup, broth, or gravy, ensure you leave around an inch at the top of the container as the molecules expand once frozen.
Which Foods Not to Freeze
While you can freeze almost any food item, a few exceptions are worth noting.
Here’s a short list of the items that simply don’t freeze well.
- Leafy greens and fresh herbs (with kale, spinach, and chard as the exception)
- Watery veggies like cucumbers, celery, cress, radish, green peppers, and endive
- Most fruit (watermelon, melon, and citrus)
- Cooked pasta
- Canned goods
- Soft cheese, yogurt, cream, sour cream, custard, and buttermilk
- Mayonnaise or mayonnaise-based dressings
- Cream-based sauces, soups, and stock
- Gravies made with cornstarch
How to Defrost and Reheat Meal Prep
When defrosting frozen foods, ensure you thaw them overnight in your fridge. Defrosting food on the countertop can harbor bacterial growth and cause foodborne illnesses. If you are in a pinch, you can defrost food in the microwave or cold water. Immerse the meal in a leak-proof container or plastic bag in cold water and allow it to defrost.
When reheating food, ensure to heat cooked protein riched meats to an appropriate internal temperature to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria. This can be done on a reliable microwave, oven, or stovetop.
Aim only to reheat as much as you plan to eat. The quality of the food will diminish each time you reheat it.
Does Freezing Meal Prep Diminish the Nutrients?
Freezing meal prep does not affect the food’s nutritional value, calories, or fiber content. However, it can decrease the amount of folate and vitamin C.
How Long Is Frozen Meal Prep Good For?
If you properly store frozen meal prep at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it can last indefinitely. However, the quality and flavor will gradually diminish after several months.
What Is the Ideal Temperature for Your Fridge?
The ideal temperature for a fridge is between 37 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Meal prepping is your ticket to stretching your resources. It saves time, money, and stress. Whether you store your prep meals in the fridge or the freezer, good storage practices are imperative to keeping your meals fresh and preventing them (and a large chunk of your budget) from going to waste.
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.