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Get Started: How to Thaw Frozen Meals

Given that it is about time to be pulling turkeys from the freezer so that the are ready in time for Thursday’s festivities, I thought it was the perfect time to be talking about thawing. Consider this your reminder to either pull that turkey from the freezer NOW or to set an alarm so you remember to do so.

Thawing meals can be one of the hardest things to time when you are preparing Once A Month Mom meals. Failing to take the meal out of the freezer in enough time to thaw properly before cooking can lead to dinner FAIL. No good. So you definitely want to remember to remove the dishes from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator in enough time but how long is enough time?

Single serve items most likely will defrost overnight. Casseroles, gallon bags of food and roasts will not. They will likely 24-48 hours to thaw in the refrigerator. One of the biggest mistakes individuals make is thinking that a casserole will defrost in the refrigerator over night. Not so.

To effectively plan for the week’s meals I usually decide on Sunday what I am going to be making for the week on a calendar. I also indicate in my notes which night I need to pull that dish from the freezer to place it in the refrigerator for proper defrosting. This helps me to not get caught in a bind later in the week.

If you do happen to forget to thaw your meal, don’t fret. There are three ways that you can properly defrost meals, in the refrigerator is just one. Here are the three recommended food safe methods:

  1. Refrigerator Thawing – this method takes the longest but is the best for food quality and preservation. If you decide you don’t want to eat the meal or are instead going to a friends for dinner you can still refreeze the dish without worry of the safety of the meal.
  2. Cold Water Thawing – You can wrap a casserole or gallon freezer bag in an additional plastic bag and place it in the sink submerged in cold water (the extra bag is to protect the food from getting wet). This method is faster than the refrigerator, usually only taking a couple hours, but you should change the water every 30 minutes. You also risk water leaking into the product. I recommend only using this method with meats, marinated meats, soups or items packaged in plastic containers. (It is NOT recommended to refreeze items that you have thawed using this method).
  3. Microwave Thawing – this is by far the fastest method of thawing foods but you must cook the item immediately. It also won’t work for you if you used foil baking pans (they are not microwave safe). And you can NOT refreeze items that have been thawed this way unless you first cook them.

So if you are in a bind and you forgot to pull the meal out of the freezer, no worries, there are three methods that you can use to thaw the meal. Also, you CAN cook it from it’s frozen state as well. You will just need to add about 50% more time to the cooking time listed. That means if it says cook for 1 hour, you should plan on cooking it for at least 1.5 hours, maybe longer. (We write ALL instructions for meals to be cooked from their unfrozen state, unless otherwise indicated).

We do not recommend just dumping frozen contents into your slow cooker though. The above directions for adding 50% are for stove top and oven cooking. The slow cooker is a bit of another story. Because it is a “slow” cooker there is a chance that your frozen food will be in the danger zone (40-140 degrees) for longer than 2 hours. This can lead to bacterial growth. Your safest bet would be to use one of the above listed directions to thaw your meal before putting it in for the indicated cooking time.

Also, If you run across a meat sale before your cooking day you may also freeze your meat, thaw it for your cooking day, prepare it and then refreeze it IF you have used the refrigerator method for thawing. We aren’t making this up, it is a recommendation by the USDA. Therefore, on our menu instructions you will commonly see which items you can freeze before your cooking day and thaw, but we do indicate that you should use properly handling of those items.

What everyone really wants is a timeline of when to pull items from their freezer, right? Well here are some general guidelines, just don’t hold me to these. :)

  • Single Serving Items – Overnight or in microwave
  • Casseroles, gallon freezer bags, and medium-large plastic containers – 24-48 hours
  • Meats (including marinated meats and roasts) – 5 hours for every pound
  • Prepared Breads (already cooked) – 24 hours (on the counter)
  • Breads, Uncooked – overnight (in refrigerator)

 

16 Responses to “Get Started: How to Thaw Frozen Meals”

  1. sarah says:

    Great post! I’m new to freezer cooking, so a great reference!

  2. Stephanie says:

    This is so good to know…I always thought you couldn’t refreeze after thawing.

  3. Adriane says:

    I have a question on storing the frozen meals after they are cooked (leftovers). If I take a frozen meal, cook it, and then have leftovers after my family is done eating, can we keep this in the refrigerator and eat it for several days like I would a regular prepared meal?

    Also, I want to make sure I’m entering the correct number in the yellow box. So, if I put a “4″ in for the four people in my family, the amount of ingredients that comes up in the recipe cards is enough to make 4 servings each of that meal, twice, correct? Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Adirane, yes you can eat the leftovers as you would a freshly prepared meal. And yes you are correct. 4 is the number you should put in the yellow box and the recipes will yield two 4 serving meals for each recipe.

  4. LaToni says:

    I tried refrigerator thawing with my pasta dishes and after 3 days, it was still mostly frozen. Any ideas or tips? I have more pasta dishes but I don’t want to wait a week to eat them….unless I have to.

    • Tricia says:

      You can always cook them from frozen but cook them at least 1.5x the directed cooking time.

      • LaToni says:

        Okay thanks, I’ll try that next time.

        • Macady says:

          I had that issue just tonight. I put my pasta dish in the fridge on Thursday, and now it’s Saturday. I cooked it like the instructions said, but ended up having to DOUBLE the cooking time and still the middle wasn’t that hot. Dinner was delicious though, and I learned my lesson.

        • Katie says:

          Yes, those casserole type dishes always take the longest to defrost. Glad you still enjoyed it though! :)

    • Lisa S says:

      At least with my fridge, things thaw faster toward the front. Also, make sure it’s not packed tightly in and has some airflow around it.

      • LaToni says:

        There was some room in the pan but it just wouldn’t thaw. I’ll try cooking it frozen, I’ll just make sure to cook it longer.
        Thanks!

  5. Amy says:

    I am having an issue with thawing/cooking some items. For example, my morning egg, ham and cheese wraps end up having rubbery tasting eggs. Next question is, do you slightly under-cook items for freezing knowing they will cook again after thawing. I had this issue with steak that ended up very well done after thawing and cooking. Any tips?

    • Tricia says:

      Different items have different thawing times and different things that you can do to prevent these types of things. I don’t know why steak would be well done – was it cooked beforehand? And yes, sometimes slightly undercooking can help if you know that are going to fully cook when reheating. This is usually the case with dinners, lunches we plan so that they are mostly ready to eat.

  6. Charlene says:

    I am new to this site and apologize if this has been covered elsewhere.
    As far as I know safety was ever an issue when freezing,thawing and then refreezing meat. The issue is the texture in the meat. Whenever meat undergoes intense temperature change hot or cold it loses something. And the more times it goes through these processes, the more it loses. Most noticeable is the texture change to the meat.

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