Whether your holiday dinner or party is casual or formal, one of the best ways to minimize last-minute effort and entertaining stress is, of course, to prepare and freeze fresh foods, party appetizers, entrees, or desserts in advance.

Of course, you can't just wrap food and pop it into the freezer if you want it to be party-perfect. But you can follow these simple guidelines, adapted from two University of Missouri excellent resources: "Freezer Problem Solver," and "Freezing Home-Prepared Foods."

Freezer Basics

Optimal temperature for freezing–Your freezer should be at a constant temperature of 0 degrees F. or less. At warmer temperatures, color, flavor, and texture will suffer.

Freeze fresh food at its best–Freezing won't improve quality; select only top-quality fruits and vegetables at the peak of ripeness and freshness.

Leave enough room–Leave room at the top of freezer containers to allow for expansion of food as it freezes. If you're freezing vegetables that pack loosely, such as broccoli, this is not necessary.

Changed your mind?–Took out too much, or decided not to serve a particular frozen item, after all? You can re-freeze food if it still has ice crystals on it, or if it has been refrigerated for no more than two days at 40 degrees F. or below. However, the quality of the re-frozen food may not be as good as it originally was. A major exception to the re-freeze rule: Seafood. Don't refreeze it, even if it has ice crystals on it; cook frozen seafood when it's first removed from the freezer.

Key Party Tip!

Tape instructions on top--Here's particularly good advice if you're cooking ahead for a party. Always include the following in a note to yourself:

  • What you prepared
  • When you made it
  • How much is in the package--e.g., 4 servings
  • Should you defrost it before reheating?
  • Oven temperature
  • Should food be covered or uncovered while reheating?
  • Last-minute touches--e.g., sprinkle with shredded cheddar for the last 15 minutes of baking.

                   See top tips for freezing fruits, vegetables, meat, and casseroles: