By April ReeseUniversity of GeorgiaWhen you think of holiday food and your freezer, don’t think justof leftovers. Think of “planned-overs,” too.Planning ahead can make good use of your freezer and your time,says Elizabeth Andress, director of the National Center for HomeFood Preservation hosted by the University of Georgia College ofFamily and Consumer Sciences.”There are many advantages of freezing prepared foods,” Andresssaid.Cooking ahead and freezing theprepared foods enables you to: Be safeIf you cook ahead and freeze the prepared foods, though, rememberthat even fully cooked foods can grow bacteria if you don’t carefor them properly after you cook them.”Cool cooked foods quickly for safety and freshness,” Andresssaid. “Keeping foods at room temperature for several hours beforefreezing increases chances of spoilage and foodborne illness.”To cool hot food faster, put it in a pan or sink of ice water.This is especially important, she said, when preparing largeamounts of food. Change the ice water often or run cold wateraround the pan. When the food is cool, package and freeze itimmediately.What’s your bag?A recent NCHFP survey found that nearly everyone (94.4 percent)prefers to freeze foods in plastic freezer bags. You don’t haveto use plastic bags, though. There are many choices.”Packaging materials must be moisture-vapor-resistant, durableand leakproof,” Andress said. “Bags shouldn’t become brittle andcrack at low temperatures. They should be resistant to oils,grease or water. Packaging should protect foods from absorptionof off-flavors or odors. They should be easy to seal, too, andeasy to write on.”Good freezing materials include rigid containers made ofaluminum, glass, plastic or stainless steel. Bags and sheets ofmoisture-vapor-resistant wraps and laminated papers madespecifically for freezing are good choices, too.”Package foods in the amounts you want to use at one time,”Andress said. “Once food is thawed, it spoils more quickly thanfresh foods. Be sure to label each package with contents anddate.”Troublesome foodsSome foods don’t freeze well.”Milk sauces sometimes curdle and separate when frozen,” Andresssaid. “Stirring while reheating helps keep the product smooth.Using waxy rice flour or waxy corn flour as the thickener alsohelps to fix the problem.”Gravy also tends to separate and curdle when thawed, she said.”It’s better to freeze broth and make gravy just before serving,”she said. “Or use waxy rice flour or waxy corn flour as thethickener.”Cooked, creamed vegetables tend to lose flavor fast when frozen.Don’t put them in the freezer unless you’ll use them within threeweeks. Vegetables packed in sauce tend to retain their flavorlonger.Cook your vegetables, cool them quickly and then add sauce.Package them in freezer containers, leaving space to allow forexpansion.Lettuce, other greens, cucumbers, radishes and celery losecrispness and become soggy when you thaw them. Raw potatoes don’tfreeze well, either.Slice the turkeyFreezing whole, cooked turkeys isn’t considered safe.”As with any food, the time needed for freezing to take place inthe center of the item is the critical factor,” Andress said.”Trying to freeze a large mass like a whole cooked and stuffedturkey can keep the center warm enough for the hours it takessome bacteria to multiply to harmful levels.”Slice the turkey off the bone and package it in usable amounts,she said. Freeze stuffing separately, so it freezes quickly, too.One last disappointment: don’t save your holiday chocolatecovered cherries in the freezer. Expansion during freezing causesthem to break open.(April Reese is a writer for the National Center for Home FoodPreservation with the University of Georgia College of Family andConsumer Sciences.) Prepare food at your convenience.Use the oven more efficiently by baking more than one dish ata time.Save time by doubling or tripling recipes and freezing theextra planned-overs.Save small portions, if you cook for one or two.