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Freezing sandwiches make packing lunches easier

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By Cheryle Syracuse

Sandwiches continue to be a popular food today because of their versatility and convenience. Freezing sandwiches offers several additional benefits. Save money by making your own “fast food” sandwiches for a sack lunch or meal at home. Save time by making several sandwiches at once. Use leftovers or cook extra at a meal for use in tasty and different ways at future meals. Control the type of bread (such as choosing a whole grain bread), type of filling and spread (amount, salt, fat and so forth) by being in charge of the ingredients.
Enjoy a wholesome, homemade sandwich as part of an inexpensive, quick meal!
Some common sandwich fillings that DO freeze well include peanut butter and other nut butters, canned tuna and salmon, cooked roast beef, chicken and turkey, natural or processed hard and semi-hard cheeses, such as Swiss or cheddar. Note: As frozen cheese may crumble more after thawing, you may be more satisfied with the result if you grate it before freezing it in sandwiches.
Some common sandwich fillings that DO NOT freeze well include hard-cooked egg whites (freezing toughens them) and jelly or jam (soaks into bread and makes it soggy). Tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, onions, etc. become limp when thawed. They can be added to thawed sandwiches just before eating them.
You may wonder about popular sandwich items, such as baloney, ham or salami. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, cured meats can only be frozen for a short period of time (1 to 3 months) because the salt in them hastens rancidity. From personal experience, I have also found that they tend to get watery or “weepy” when frozen. They are not the best choice.
Salad dressings, such as Miracle Whip, work better as binders in sandwiches than mayonnaise. Mayonnaise tends to separate on thawing.
Assembling and freezing sandwiches
The same basic steps may be followed for assembling most frozen sandwiches:
1) For sandwiches where the filling might soak into the bread, spread a thin layer of soft butter or margarine to the edges of the sides of bread that will be the “insides” of the sandwich. DO NOT use melted margarine or butter. Note: Bread that is at least a day old is slightly firmer and easier to spread.
2) Make your sandwiches “assembly line” fashion, completing one step for all sandwiches before moving on to the next step.
3) A quick way to freeze sandwiches is to a) Place them in self-sealing plastic sandwich bags, labeling the bag with the date and type of sandwich. Squish out as much air as possible before sealing them; b) Lay them in a single layer in the freezer on a cookie sheet or other flat surface and freeze them for about an hour until they hold their shape. Then place the sandwich bags in a larger freezer-quality bag, such as a gallon freezer bag. Squish out extra air before sealing. The thin sandwich bags aren’t satisfactory for maintaining food quality during long-term freezer storage.
4) Use frozen sandwiches within 1 to 3 months for best flavor and quality.
5) Thaw individual sandwiches in their sandwich bag or other wrapping in the refrigerator.
6) To keep perishable sandwich foods like meats and cheeses cold, pack them in an insulated lunch bag or lunch box; include a small frozen gel pack. Or, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival. If lunchtime is less than two hours away, the frozen sandwich will help to keep itself cold as it thaws if refrigeration is not available. If lunch is more than two hours away, even frozen sandwiches should have an ice pack and/or insulated container. Don’t count on it staying frozen and keeping the food safe.
7) Add tomato or onion slices, lettuce, a squirt or dab or horseradish, pickles, etc. just before eating sandwiches. A small container or snack-size plastic bag of these add-ons can be packed with a sack lunch.
The first time you try freezing a recipe, make just a small portion. Then check in about a month to see how you like it before making a freezer full.
Frozen Peanut Butter and Jelly (or Honey) Sandwiches
Jelly and honey appears on the list of foods that don’t freeze well in sandwiches. The reason: They soak into the bread and make it soggy. The trick to making this sandwich successful is spreading peanut butter on BOTH insides of the bread slices; then, spread jelly or honey in the middle so the peanut butter keeps it from soaking into the bread. One thing nice about PB&J is that it keeps well without refrigeration.
This may seem like a simple idea, but having a few “ready-to-go” sandwiches in the freezer can really save time and stress in the morning.
Source: Alice Henneman, MS, RD, and extension educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln developed the materials and recipes used to write this column. Check out “Alice’s Cook it Quick and Safe” newsletter at cookitquick.org. National Center for Home Food Preservation http://nchfp.uga.edu.
Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.