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 opportunity 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 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 and note it 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 to 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)


Join the discussion
  1. I get eatl8er meals delivered weekly, and they can stay in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. They can also be put in the freezer for later use. How long must they stay on the bench before microwaving for eating? Would three hours be OK?

    1. There is no magic number, for food safety purposes, we recommend meals are fully thawed in the fridge before being microwaved.

  2. I set out a frozen gallon baggie of vegetable soup yesterday to thaw in the sink, checkednit off and on but forgot to put it in the refrigerator before bed. This morning it was thawed and still cool/cold. Should I throw it out?

  3. I made white bean chicken chili in the slow cooker. I had a bunch left over but froze too big a portion for us to eat in one sitting. After warming the food up can I put the leftovers in the refrigerator?

  4. I’ve put some cooked chicken and boiled brocolli/kale in an air tight container. Planning on eating it at midday for lunches. When should I remove from freezer and store in fridge? the night before eating or the morning of eating? thanks 🙂

    1. If it’s chicken and you’d like to eat for lunch, I personally would pull the night before just to make sure it has enough time to thaw 😉

  5. I leave for work at 5:30AM and don’t get home most days until 5-5:30PM. If i use the Instapot can I put the meal right from the freezer in the morning to the pot, close it up and set the timer to begin cooking the amount of time specified on the recipe without issues with the food?

    1. I would do 1 of 2 things: 1 set your IP to cook before you leave (it will keep warm – double check your instruction manual to see how long) or just wait until you get home to start cooking. That is why we love the IP because you CAN cook from frozen and have dinner on the table in a jiff! Hope that helps

  6. What can we do about defrosting goulash with gluten free pasta in it we defrosted one container and the pasta all went mushy. What else can we do we have three more containers in the freezer

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