In Search of Freezer Container Unicorn
December 29, 2017 6:40 AM   Subscribe

As part of an ongoing effort to better manage food in my life, I'm going to start doing more freezing of leftovers - when I make a soup or a stew (which I do a lot), I'd like to start freezing it in single-serve containers, so I can grab something in the morning for a work lunch. But what should I freeze them in? (Picky commentary inside.)

Plastic freezer bags get recommended a lot for freezing, but won't work for this case becasue a) I wouldn't be able to pack it in a lunch bag for work, and b) I tend to be a little klutzy and would probably spill a lot when filling the bag. (Freezer bags work better for freezing raw ingredients for me, trust me.) I've also seen glass containers recommended, but - isn't that bad juju in a freezer? How airtight would that get?

I have several of the Ziploc twist-lock canisters. They work fine - but they're a bit bulky to take to work and I'm never sure what a "single-serve portion" is. So I feel like there's something better. They also aren't great for longer-term storage because they're round. I also have some of the square ziploc press-and-seal things for the fridge, and I do like the square shape - but would they be okay in the freezer? How air-tight is that seal?

Also, what does constitute a single-size serving of something? The size guides seem to be all over the place.

I don't mind investing a little more for something that would work long-term. I'm probably going to need quite a few containers, though (I tend to like making big pots of things, and am a solo diner).
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
We just ordered containers from this brand. They get great reviews and are perfect if you make meals ahead and freeze in smaller proportions. This link is for the round containers, but they also have square ones, ones that have two separate sections, etc.
posted by HeyAllie at 6:44 AM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's another one that seems geared towards portion control.
posted by HeyAllie at 6:48 AM on December 29, 2017

I use those ziploc containers in the freezer all the time. If you try to open them straight out of the freezer, the lid has a tendency to crack, but if you let them thaw they are fine. I like freezing stuff, popping it out of the container (run warm water on the outside if it's stuck), and storing the frozen blocks in a freezer bag.
posted by rakaidan at 6:48 AM on December 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

I use mason jars, for soups or stews I’d use a 1.5 pint wide mouth, leaving plenty of headspace. Then I can toss it in a bag with confidence to cart around, and I can (carefully) microwave in the jar at work, the pour in to the bowl I keep there.

There’s nothing wrong with glass, and mason jars are inexpensive and multi-functional.

I suppose there are more airtight options, but that’s not a concern for me, as a little air won’t change the flavor or texture of frozen soup, and no one jar stays frozen for over a month or so.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:49 AM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I LOVE freezer cooking in single servings and do it all the time. I use something very similar to these (not sure if this is the exact brand I have). I've never found the round shape to be a hindrance--but there are other shapes available.
I find that this size usually provides me with one very ample serving, plus a sometimes a smaller serving for "second helpings". They're great for freezing soups, plus any casserole-type thing that doesn't need to keep a definite shape. You just need to leave a half-inch or so of space to allow for expanding during freezing. They stack neatly in my cupboard, and I don't have to worry about trying to match lids to containers because everything's the same size. They also wash well. I've never used them in the microwave, although apparently you can--I just pop the contents into a microwave-safe dish to reheat. If I forget to thaw, usually running a butter knife around the edge will loosen it enough to remove.
Freezer cooking is great--good luck!
posted by bookmammal at 6:58 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

These were ubiquitous in every kitchen I ever worked in, to the point where anything fancier seems pointless to me.
posted by STFUDonnie at 7:00 AM on December 29, 2017 [20 favorites]

Ikea has the Jamka.

They're cheap and durable and I used them all the time when I was a poor college student. Now I have a whole collection and I still love them.
posted by appleses at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2017

I freeze the ziploc -type containers - they mostly don't leak (I do wrap in a grocery carrier bag before packing) and work fine for freezing/carrying to work/microwaving. I have some I've had for years, but they do succumb eventually to repeated microwaving.

Glass can work if you take care not to jostle containers around in the freezer but you must leave headspace or you'll find exploded containers & glass shards - not fun.

I established portion size by referring to nutritional/calorie guidelines (google-able) rather than the food label. A set of measuring cups is helpful, and you can buy the containers in 8 or 9 oz sizes which is also helpful.
posted by Gnella at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2017

I've been freezing food using glass tupperware (various brands like Glasslock) forever leaving a little space for expansion. The lids are BPA-free plastic but I don't microwave them. They are heavy and breakable though.
posted by whitelotus at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2017

I use these Pyrex 4-cup containers for pretty much all my leftovers. Portion out what you think is a reasonable serving (I fill these anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 full, depending on the leftover), chill in fridge, put in freezer once cold enough, take out a day or so ahead of time to thaw in fridge, and microwave in the container at work. They last forever, you can buy replacement lids for when the lids start to crack (mine have finally started to crack and I've been using them constantly for about 8 years), the glass appears to be indestructible, they're made in the USA, and there's no plastic waste. Plus they come in all sorts of fun patterns! These are basically the perfect product. I rarely have any sort of leaks with these, but you could always stick it inside a plastic ziploc to be extra safe if you're concerned. (I use an insulated lunch bag and just wipe it out once in a while if it starts getting sticky.)
posted by jabes at 7:09 AM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mason jars are not airtight (on purpose!) and you risk dribbles of soup in your bag.

> These were ubiquitous in every kitchen I ever worked in, to the point where anything fancier seems pointless to me.

That's what we use, too. I beat the crap outta them in the freezer using them over and over and over and they still last for years.
posted by desuetude at 7:37 AM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing the round plastic restaurant/deli type containers noted above by STFUDonnie. I’ve never purchased them, I’ve just kept & recycled them from takeout orders over the years. I have a drawer with 30 of them in different sizes and use them for everything--they last a long time, the lids are interchangeable, and they’re sturdy & airtight unless the delivery place has poked a hole in the lid for hot steaming soup. (Watch out for those.)

To your space-saving question: If you have leftover stew, soup or anything remotely liquidlike, freeze it in a silicone ice cube tray, either standard size or (even better) the big clunky kind. The next morning, pop the frozen cubes out and store them in a 1-gallon ziploc bag, pushing all the air out. They pack like bricks! Then you can take out little cubes for lunch as needed. I do this for tomato sauce, pesto, applesauce, cooked vegetables, all sorts of things.
posted by miles per flower at 7:48 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

A single serving of Matzo Ball Soup, which is mostly liquid, is going to be a lot larger than a single serving of a really dense chili. I considered using salad as an example (very large space needed), but you probably wouldn't freeze that.
posted by amtho at 7:48 AM on December 29, 2017

I use the black meal prep boxes - I bought 32 (half 28oz half 32oz, all the same lids) - in the fall of 2015 and have lost about 12 of them to cracking (usually falling out of the freezer and landing on a corner) or the black hole where socks and lunch containers go. I bought the Fitpacker brand, which are popular, but I'll get whatever has the best deal when I finally retire these to the greenhouse and drawers and replace them all. They've been everywhere, including top and bottom rack in the dishwasher, and you can write on the lids with dry-erase marker and it takes a little work to rub it off. (For longer freezer storage, I usually used blue painter's tape instead.)

I do hate that the newer versions of all of them are slightly more rounded. Mine have rounded corners but straight sides and wasted the absolute least amount of space in my irritatingly small fridge, which is why I also resist those round commercial deli containers. And I can keep all 32 boxes and all 32 lids on a single shelf in half a cupboard, which I certainly cannot say for all the rest of my containers.

I've never had one leak, but I do use a taller container (ziploc screw top, or taller gladware) if I'm transporting actual soupy soup in a lunchbag out of the house. I'm perfectly comfortable freezing flat in the black bentos, but they tend to ride sideways in all my insulated lunchbags and I hate to tempt fate like that.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:53 AM on December 29, 2017

These were ubiquitous in every kitchen I ever worked in, to the point where anything fancier seems pointless to me.

In the freezers? If they were in the freezers then I think I'm sold.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use the deli containers linked by STFUDonnie, but I think mine are 10 or 12 oz They come from trader Joe's or Chinese restaurants, the lids are snug and standard sizes. If there's a restaurant supply house in your town, they should have them. I fill them with soup, stew, spaghetti & sauce, freeze, take to work.
posted by theora55 at 8:13 AM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

what does constitute a single-size serving of something

This is much like asking "how much volume does five ounces of food take up?" In other words, it's a meaningless question. You're cooking, you know what's going into what you're cooking so you should have a pretty decent idea of the total caloric value of the dish, you portion it out evenly into individual containers based on the caloric (/nutrient/whatever you're tracking) value you want per meal, taking into account anything you might be eating with it. For a rich pate, it's probably going to be a pretty small portion. For a thin soup, pretty large.
posted by praemunire at 8:22 AM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Frozen soup does not spill out of a closed mason jar, barring extreme user error (?!) or alternate-universe physics.

If drips are a concern, then those black plastic deals are out too, they are not even water tight, let alone airtight.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I use mason jars for everything. And it’s been amazing. I freeze with just the center part of the lid, then I add the screw cap when I’m packing them to go. Plastic will degrade over time and become kind of nasty.
posted by Vaike at 9:29 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I use those restaurant style containers in the freezer all the time. They're perfect. They will eventually wear out, but it takes awhile and they're super cheap.
posted by joycehealy at 9:35 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I vacuum seal my mason jars before freezing them. They are, obviously, air tight. As long as you screw a ring back on them for your travels, they’ll be fine. They come in 1/2 pint, pint, quart, half gallon and a ton of shapes and specialty sizes. I even have tahini sauce frozen in 1/2 cup masons. Just pop the top off before you microwave the jar.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:25 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I’m going to jump in and recommend a FoodSaver vacuum sealer.. I’ve found this to be the most reliable way to cook a lot of something, portion, and freeze. The bags are thick and sturdy, easy to scoop food into. Much thicker than freezer bags. The thick bags and the vacuum sealing really prevent freezer burn, even when storing things for months on end (and I mean I’ve opened stuff a year later and had it be good). Freezer burn killed many previous attempts at bulk/freezer cooking for me. No, the bags are not reusable, but I consider that a reasonable trade-off for a system that means I’ll actually eat what I froze.

To pack for work, I toss an empty plastic container into my lunch bag with the little bag/packet of frozen food. I let the bag thaw until lunch (it’s sealed, so it doesn’t leak), then cut open, dump into the plastic container, and microwave.

To reheat for dinner, I place a sealed frozen packet into a large pot of water, bring the whole thing to a boil, then boil 10-15 minutes (more if food is very dense and in large pieces, like lasagna).

As for portion size: Try serving yourself what you’d normally eat, in the bowl or plate you’d normally use. Then scoop it into a measuring vessel. That is your personal serving size.
posted by snowmentality at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I bulk cook and freeze or eat leftovers every day just about. Buy the glass containers with the snapware style lids. They are a buy-for-life, unlike plastic, you can heat them in the oven straight from the freezer, unlike plastic, and you don't run the risk of microwaving plastic into your food as they age. The thing that mostly leaches into food is the plasticizer, which is a fairly bio-active part of the plastic itself and can even be an allergen. Once a plastic container is scratched or scuffed it's no longer considered "microwave safe". Also they just get banged up and you end up tossing them, the glass is a much better investment, imho.

I have IKEA brand, pyrex and some I got from Costco. They are all the same basically just different sizes. I eat a lot of high bulk vegetarian type stuff and I like the slightly bigger ones- 3 or 4 cup for meals and I have a couple of really big ones for salads. The lids are not re-heatable but are replaceable over time. These days the seals are silicone so they are really good and last forever. If they get funky you can take the seal out of the lid and boil it.You can also replace just the seals.

I often use these to portion out tiny lasagnas or stews that can go straight into the oven from the freezer or fridge when I get home. Much more delicious than reheating in the microwave!
posted by fshgrl at 11:35 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I do have a Food Saver too. I mostly use it for long term storage of meat or fish, after a fishing trip for example. It's inconvenient and a bit of a hassle plus its throwaway plastic again so I try to limit my use. If you do go that route they make various stands to help fill the bags but it is still fiddly.
posted by fshgrl at 12:42 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd go with these Arc International glasses.

They're less than two bucks apiece, fully microwaveable and generally quite heat and impact resistant, and have very tight plastic lids (which Amazon wants too much for, but are widely available elsewhere).

And they're attractive enough to eat out of directly without embarrassment.
posted by jamjam at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

In the freezers?
posted by STFUDonnie at 3:12 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing the restaurant-industry Redditainers. I do pretty much what you want to--make up a big batch of something and then freeze individual portions, and they work great for it. Super nice that they're reusable (it's even easy to rub off the sharpie marks I label them with), but also cheap enough that when you break one, lose one, or just can't be bothered to clean one day, it's not a huge loss.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:30 PM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1 for Redditainers! I've been saving them from take-out for years, and now have several dozen half-liter containers. I just put three liters of soup into my freezer last night, and I have stuff in there from months ago.

I can take one straight out of the freezer, uncap it, and either dump out the contents by flexing the container or microwave it in the container with the lid resting loosely on top.

One thing to note if you reuse them rather than buying them new is that some restaurants deliberately poke a hole in the lid. I just circle the hole with red marker and make sure I don't use those to carry liquids in my backpack. They still work fine for solids and stuff I decant at home.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:07 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think that since the ubiquitous plastic deli tubs are a) used in professional kitchens, b) have interchangeable lids, c) come in more than one size and d) are hella cheap to order in bulk, I'm going to go with those to start. Maybe with an upgrade to fancier things later to celebrate a year from now when I realize just how much money I've saved by doing this.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on December 31, 2017

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