Tips for Freezing Meals Before Starting Chemotherapy

Advice about what foods to cook, how to freeze them, and what to avoid

frozen food in plastic containers
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When you are going through chemotherapy, cooking is the last thing you want to do in the days after your infusion. Lack of energy, chemotherapy side effects, and the nausea induced by the smell of certain foods can make cooking nearly impossible.

Even if you have zero appetite, eating is critical during cancer treatment. Small snacks and meals throughout the day instead of the typical "3 squares" can make eating more tolerable and help maintain your nutrition.

Freeze Food for Quick, Nutritious Meals

Freezing several small meals before starting chemotherapy may be one of the best ways you can prepare for treatment, especially if you have a family.

If you are the cook in your house, you will thank yourself for freezing meals before chemotherapy. When your stomach feels queasy and your family is begging for your famous chili, even the thought of chili with all it's aromatic spices can send your nausea over the edge.

By freezing meals, you can tell your family to pop a freezer bag of chili into the fridge to thaw and then into the microwave to cook. It's that simple and the perfect solution if you have older children and teens!

You can freeze breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even desserts! If you are especially ambitious, you can even prepare and freeze your holiday meals.

How to Freeze Meals: A Primer for Beginners

If you have never frozen a meal, the process can seem a little intimidating.

You are probably concerned about what foods you can freeze, how to do it safely, and what containers are best for freezing. These are all very common questions with simple answers!

Here are some essential freezing rules to live by:

Freezer Temperature

  • Always keep your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Higher temperatures allow the growth of bacteria and spoilage, so make sure your freezer temp is 0 degrees or below.

    Freezer Storage Containers

    • Always freeze food in containers and bags that are freezer safe! You can find freezer-safe plastic containers and bags at any grocery store or store likes Target, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart.
    • Always use the appropriate sized container or bag for the portion size you are freezing. For example, if you are freezing an individual portion of rice, don't use a gallon-sized freezer bag. You want to eliminate as much air as possible to prevent bacterial growth.
    • On the other hand, if you are freezing large portions, make sure that you don't overfill bags or containers. Leave a little room so they can zip or close without risk of breaking.

    Label the Container

    • Be sure to write the date the food was frozen on the container or bag. Most freezer bags have an area designated to write the date and the contents on the bag.
    • Food can look different when frozen and kids, teens, and even some adults can have problems identifying even the most familiar foods. Be sure to include what kind of food is in the bag when labeling.
    • Know that nothing lasts forever, even frozen food. 

    Foods That Don't Freeze Well

    Know that some foods just don't freeze very well.

    • Dairy-heavy dishes usually don't freeze well. The fat in the milk, mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream or butter (in large amounts) can separate in the freezing process.
    • Avoid freezing cooked pasta, although based pasta dishes like lasagna, baked ziti, and baked macaroni and cheese seem to fare well in the freezer.
    • While it is perfectly safe to freeze spaghetti noodles, they will be mushy when you thaw them out.
    • Fried foods will also become soggy when thawed.

    Foods That Do Freeze Well

    • The majority of cooked meals, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruits can be frozen without compromising the texture, taste, or your safety.
    • From avocados to zucchini, most foods can be frozen!

    What Foods Should I Freeze

    If you are going through chemotherapy, you should initially freeze bland foods in small portions.

    Strong spices and flavors are often overwhelming and trigger nausea for most people with cancer.

    Simple comfort foods likes baked chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, and unseasoned vegetables are perfect for the first few days after your infusion. Your appetite may be low to non-existent and these foods are usually easy to tolerate.

    If you cannot keep foods down or unable to eat, try drinking nutritional shakes like Ensure or Boost.

    More good foods to freeze during chemotherapy:

    • Frozen berries (great for shakes and smoothies!)
    • Breads (homemade or store bought)
    • Chicken soup (or other soups and broths)
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables (also great for smoothies and shakes!)
    • Chicken (chicken is usually well tolerated - freeze it shredded, cubed, diced, and whole for variety)
    • Lean red meat meals like meatloaf, shepherd's pie, beef tips and gravy, etc. (not all people tolerate red meats well during chemotherapy)

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