Smith: Freeze now, eat later: it works!

Smith: Freeze now, eat later: it works!

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Other than breast milk, I can honestly say I have never stored milk in the freezer — until now. This is the time to put that freezer to good use. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to store food for longer periods of time. Before you go to the store, check your freezer(s) to make sure you have the space. If you don’t already have a freezer thermometer, add it to the grocery list, and maintain the freezer temperature at 0 degrees or below.

After bringing home a large amount of groceries from the store, freeze the perishable food that won’t be used within a few days. Store food in plastic freezer bags or small airtight containers, no more than 4 inches deep, to maintain quality and prevent ice crystals from forming. Ensure proper airflow by allowing space around the container when placing it in the freezer. This means do not overload your freezers! Label the container with the product name and the current date, and freeze at 0 or below. Freezing keeps foods safe almost indefinitely, but the quicker they are consumed, the better the quality of the product.

So how did I freeze that milk? Place milk into smaller airtight containers and leave about an inch at the top to allow it to expand. Plan to use within three months for best quality. Safely thaw it in the refrigerator, which may take a couple of days. For a quicker thaw, submerge in cold water, and change the water every 30 minutes. Never thaw foods outside or in a garage, basement or on the kitchen counter. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat.

Bean & Chicken Burritos

2 cans fat-free refried beans

1 cup salsa

3-4 cups cooked chicken, chopped

2 cups reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese

16 whole wheat tortillas

Preheat oven to 350. Wash hands with soap and water. Stir beans, salsa, and chicken in a large bowl. Evenly spread mixture onto each tortilla. Sprinkle each with cheese. Roll up and turn ends under. Bake 20-30 minutes until heated through. Place leftovers in a freezer bag; freeze. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat in the oven or microwave until internal temperature reads at least 165 with a thermometer.

Yield: 16 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 230 calories, 6 grams fat, 710 milligrams sodium, 28 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 17 grams protein

Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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