Unless you truly eat nothing but takeout, there will come a time when you will need to use your freezer to store extra food. And as simple as it may seem to toss a package of chicken or a tub of soup in there to preserve its longevity, leftovers can unfortunately wind up iced over or forensically unrecognizable if not frozen properly.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right containers, you can transform your freezer into a frosty wonderland, packed with well-preserved ingredients and ready-to-eat meals. The right containers will maximize your freezer space and, crucially, protect your food from freezer burn and weird odors. After lots of trial and error, we’ve learned that these containers work well in pretty much any freezer scenario.
For soups, stock, and other liquidy foods: plastic deli containers
Plastic deli containers are the unsung heroes of the restaurant industry, used for everything from mid-shift drinks to storing prepped ingredients. They’re also a worthwhile addition to your home kitchen, in the freezer and elsewhere. They’re great for freezing soups, stews, and beans because they’re sturdy enough to stand up to the icy temperatures of the freezer and are easy to stack in neat rows. Use a permanent marker to label your containers, and make sure to not overfill them: Liquids expand as they freeze, and an overfilled deli container can crack.
There isn’t a clear brand leader when it comes to deli containers, but there are plenty of different options on Amazon, including multi-packs with multiple different sizes and a hulking pack of 50 pint containers with lids for less than $20.
For cooked rice, meats, and other “dry” eats: Ziploc freezer bags
Sure, you could store your leftover cooked rice in a deli container, but the humble freezer bag is a much more space-efficient option. Scoop portions of cooked rice, shredded chicken, or roasted veggies into quart-size bags, then press them flat so they can be easily stacked on the shelf in your freezer. In my experience, it’s worth splurging on the name-brand Ziploc bags, which are thicker, boast sturdier double zippers, and seem to do a better job of warding off freezer burn than their generic counterparts.
But if you simply can’t stomach the idea of all those Ziplocs ending up in the landfill, Stasher’s reusable silicone stand-up bags are available in multiple sizes and function in the same way as Ziplocs. Over time, though, you may find that they take on the odors of especially pungent foods, like garlicky pasta sauce or Spanish rice.
(An important note: It’s an unfortunate fact that many of the best containers for freezer storage are made out of plastic. Many are also billed as single use, but there’s nothing stopping you from rinsing out a deli container or a Ziploc bag and using it again, so long as it’s in good shape. And, as always, recycle when possible.)
If you really prefer glass containers: mason jars
There are a ton of glass freezer containers on the market, but few are more utilitarian (or inexpensive) than a good ol’ mason jar. Mason jars can be used to store practically anything in the freezer, and they can be reused over and over again without degrading or starting to smell weird. They’re also airtight, which makes them great for storing foods that benefit from being stored in the freezer but shouldn’t be exposed to moisture, like nuts, coffee, and spices.
This is another one of those instances where name brand is best. Mason jars made by companies like Ball and Quattro Stagioni are durable enough to stand up to your freezer’s cold temperatures — just remember to use jars that are straight sided — but repurposed pasta jars and knockoffs probably aren’t (they’re more susceptible to thermal shock). Consider it an investment in your future meal-planning success.
Marylu E. Herrera (she/her) is a Chicago-based Chicana collage, print media, craft, and fiber artist. Her collage work has been featured in the Cut, the Los Angeles Times, Bitch Media, Eater, and Punch.