Battling food waste at home

Frozen food may be maligned by many, but the freezer is my number one tool in battling food waste.

Since March 6 is National Frozen Food Day, I figure it’s as good a time as any to sing the praises of my freezer. I mean, I like my refrigerator, but I like-like my freezer. It is a magical box that stops time and keeps naturally decaying food in a state of delicious suspended animation. While some items don’t enjoy the process – say, salad greens and delicate sauces – most foods take pretty kindly to life at 0 degrees. Here are the ones that I freeze the most.

1. Bananas

Sometimes we eat all the bananas, sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, I peel and thickly slice then, and put them in the freezer. When we do eat them all, sometimes I buy more just for freezing. Frozen sliced bananas become the miracle building blocks of one-ingredient ice cream and smoothies. If any bananas accidentally become perilously mushy in the fruit bowl, I mash them and freeze as such – they then go on to be included in any number of baked goods.

2. Berries

Fresh berries have a pretty short life before going rogue. If they start getting mushy and look like mold is near, into the freezer they go. Freezing bursts their little cells and thus they lose their structure, but they are still perfect for smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, et cetera.

3. Bread

I once worked at a French restaurant and to my young foodie horror was shocked to see the chef put beautiful baguettes in the freezer. Quelle horreur! But what did I know? Nothing, because sticking bread in the freezer keeps it as fresh as it was when it went in. I keep all our bread in the freezer; well-wrapped, and making sure to pre-slice any that will be used for sandwiches. For thawing loaves, remove one from the freezer and let it sit in its wrapper until it’s room temperature – a trick for all baked goods, it allows them to reabsorb their moisture. After unwrapping, loaves can be popped in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes to get that delicious crust to center relationship going.

4. Cake

If there happens to ever be any leftover cake – coffee cake, birthday cake, cupcakes, everyday cake, et cetera – it does perfectly well being frozen. I freeze cake in slices (wrapped in foil, which I re-use), which can then be taken out in portions that prohibit Cookie-Monster-style cake devouring.

5. Coconut milk

If you open a can of coconut milk for the cream, you may have much of the milk leftover afterwards – that’s what happens at our house. I put the rest in an ice cube tray and freeze it, then put the coco cubes in a freezer jar. They can go in smoothies, be the ice in iced coffee, be used in baked goods, or can be combined and used the next time I am making a coconut soup or curry.

6. Cookie dough

cookie dough balls and scooper

© SewCreamMany cookie recipes make too big of a batch for smaller households. You could halve the recipe, I suppose, but cookie dough is a great freezer resident – so freeze some instead. (Or if you’re so inclined, make a double batch if you want to save labor next time around.) It can be frozen in a whole log, in slices, in dropped spoonfuls or scoops; rolled dough can be frozen in a pre-rolled ball, or rolled out and frozen in sheets, which makes cookie-cuttering them a dream.

7. General leftovers

The freezer is the perfect way to handle big batch foods that don’t get eaten after a day or two; things like casseroles and lasagna. But I also freeze parts of dinners, like rice or polenta, that can then easily become a headstart on another dinner down the road.

8. Ginger

If you love fresh ginger but find that you don’t get through a root before it begins to whither, then freeze away. I keep the peel on to help protect it a bit, and cut it in hunks that will fit into a small freezer jar. I always use a ceramic ginger grater for prepping ginger for recipes, and find that I can bring out the root, grate it while still frozen, and then return it to the jar.

9. Soup and chili

I have a soup and chili problem. I love making them – there’s is therapy in their building, and they are the perfect receptacle for refrigerator odds and ends that don’t want to go to waste. But every time I make a pot, I keep adding and adding and adding, and end up with enough soup or chili to feed a small village. So we eat it for a few days, and then the rest goes in the freezer. The soup I usually freeze in one large container; but chili gets frozen in muffin tins and then transferred to another container for small potions that can be used for lunches, or incorporated in things like burritos.

10. Tomato sauce

Whether you make your own homemade tomato sauce or have half a jar lingering in the fridge; stick the extras in the freezer. Like chili, this is another good candidate for muffin tins so that you can remove individual portions, if that suits your family’s needs.

11. Tomato paste

If you only use tomato paste by the occasional spoonful, do not let that almost-full can die an ignominious death in the back of your refrigerator.

12. Tortillas

homemade torillas

© Kiian OksanaJust like bread, tortillas stay fresher when having been stored in the freezer and can be used as needed. I find that sometimes my homemade spelt tortillas stick together if I freeze them in a stack (a fate that happens to others, but not all, types of tortillas). I use a small piece of a parchment between them which makes removing one at a time much easier. I keep the used parchment pieces in the bag with the tortillas so that I can use them batch after batch.

13. Wine

If you ever end up with leftover wine, or wine you didn’t love, freeze it in ice cube trays and stick the cubes in a freeze container. Wine cubes can be added to punch or sangria – but I use them in sauces and to deglaze pans.

14. Vegetable scraps

Every single part that comes off a vegetable goes into a bowl in my freezer, as does any odd or end that finds itself languishing in the fridge. When the bowl is full, I make vegetable stock, and it’s one of my favorite things: It is free food! See the whole shebang here: Do this with your vegetable peels and scraps.

15. Vegetable stock

Since i have an endless supply of homemade vegetable stock (see above) I often end up with some of it in the freezer. I used to freeze it all in big jars, but now I freeze it in smaller portions so that I can use it more randomly, like when cooking grains, making risotto, or using it in other recipes.

Take your cooking to the next level with these handy additions.

The humble freezer is an often-overlooked tool that can make your life much easier and your food bill lower. By moving beyond the ordinary bags of frozen peas and corn, you can transform your cooking into something great by stashing key ingredients in the freezer.

This past summer, the Washington Post published a wonderful compilation of suggestions from professional chefs (including Rachael Ray and Christopher Kimball) as to what they like to stockpile in their freezers; and while it’s certainly not your typical freezer list, it contains some excellent suggestions that I will certainly be adopting. What follows are my favorites from that list, as well as a few of the author’s and commenters’ suggestions.1. Nuts: Nuts go rancid if left out for too long. Freezing is the surest way of maintaining freshness. They toast well from frozen and thaw quickly.

2. Rice: Spread cooled cooked rice on a pan and transfer to container once frozen. It’s good for stir-fries and fried rice.

3. Specialty flours: If you have flours that don’t get used frequently, store them in the freezer to stay fresh. Almond flour, flaxseed meal, cornmeal, and rye flour can all be frozen.

4. Compound butter: Instead of freezing fresh herbs in olive oil in ice-cube trays, as many people do, you can mix the herbs with butter and roll into a log. Store in wax paper and slice off what you need for topping grilled foods, adding to eggs, or brushing the tops of flatbreads.

5. Corn: Buy fresh corn cobs in summer and strip off the kernels, either cooked or raw. They freeze beautifully and have wonderful fresh flavor.

6. Cookie dough: One cookbook author, Stella Parks, says she keeps portioned cookie dough in the freezer, ready to bake, but this can take up space. Another approach is to roll dough into logs and slice while oven preheats.

7. Pancakes and waffles: This is my own suggestion, and one that never fails to delight my kids. I make extras on weekends and they heat them in the toaster.

8. Tomato paste: You rarely use a full can, so put tablespoons of extra paste on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Transfer to a container once frozen.

9. Shredded zucchini: A commenter suggests freezing portions of shredded zucchini to use for baking, which is a great idea for getting through those zucchini surpluses at this time of year.

10. Caramelized onions: Make a large batch in a slow cooker and freeze. They add rich flavor to homemade pizza, wraps, grain salads, rice pilafs, egg dishes, and more.

For much more on frozen foods, see related stories below. And happy National Frozen Food Day!

How to freeze food in glass jars

Katherine Martinkofeistyredhair February 15, 2019

zero waste chef frozen jars
© Zero Waste Chef/Anne-Marie Bonneau (used with permission)

It’s plastic-free, zero-waste, and most jars can be scrounged for free. What more could you want?

Whenever I’m in need of some zero waste inspiration, I poke around the Zero Waste Chef website. Run by Anne-Marie Bonneau, it’s packed full of brilliant ideas for eliminating disposables from your life and using cheap, accessible reusables as an alternative – in other words, not spending a fortune on fancy ‘zero waste’ containers!

Case in point: Bonneau’s dedication to freezing food without plastic. Check out the amazing pictures of her freezer, filled with frosty-looking jars of all shapes and sizes. She makes a point of collecting all the jars she can get her hands on and putting them to good use.Freezing food without plastic is a topic that confounds many people who are new to zero waste living. We’ve become so accustomed to wrapping everything in plastic, assuming that we have to use a Ziploc bag to ensure that nothing breaks, leaks, or gets freezer burn. But Bonneau’s freezer is chilly proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. Ordinary jars – no special glass required – do a fabulous job, as long as you treat them right.

She offers a few basic precautions. First, do not overfill and always leave headspace (room for expansion as contents freeze). Wide-mouth jars are a safer choice. Second, don’t stack your jars willy-nilly in the freezer, as this increases the likelihood of one falling out when you open the door. I would add, too, to make sure that whatever you’re freezing is fully cooled before putting it in the freezer.

Bonneau's freezer

© Zero Waste Chef/Anne-Marie Bonneau (used with permission)

Bonneau freezes everything in jars, including cooked beans (with or without liquid), roasted tomatoes, lemon zest, sourdough crackers, seasonal fruit (that she has picked and pre-frozen on a cookie sheet before putting in a jar), vegetable scraps and chicken bones for stock, leftover whey from making ricotta (which she adds to soups and warms for making pizza dough), tomato sauce, and more.

The biggest drawback I find with jars is needing to plan ahead. You can’t just pop a frozen jar in a bowl of hot water to thaw it out for quick use, the way you can with a Ziploc, because the thermal shock could break it. Also, a greater percentage of the contents needs to be fully thawed before it will fit out the mouth of the jar, unlike, say, a yogurt container that you can squeeze to get the contents out. But these are minor inconveniences and, really, most people concerned with reducing waste (food and non) in the kitchen are already thinking about their cooking processes well in advance.

All this is to say, don’t be afraid to give jars a try in the freezer. Start with small solid items if you’re nervous, and slowly work your way up to jars of stock and soup. When in doubt, look to the Zero Waste Chef!

While fresh food is the foodie darling, there are times when frozen food can actually be better.

In the era of fresh clean food, the freezer and its contents often get a bum rap, but I’m here to defend them. Aside from the convenience of having food in various states of preparedness on hand, frozen food has a lot of other things going for it, despite its association with bland tv dinners. It can allow for a variety of produce regardless of season, it keeps things from spoiling and going to waste, and some frozen items actually have better nutritive value than their fresh counterparts, as counterintuitive as that may seem.

With this in mind, I was happy and not all that surprised to see Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) new roundup of tips for people who want healthy frozen food, and who want to save time and money, and reduce household food waste all at the same time. “While fresh food is typically the best option, consumers don’t need to bypass all options in the frozen aisle,” the analysis notes.Last year I wrote about six frozen foods everyone should consider, a subtle love letter (a friendship letter?) to frozen food – there is a lot of overlap with EWG’s list. So rather than just being repetitive, I thought I’d highlight the parts of the EWG tips that really stand out to me: Namely, the instances in which they note that frozen food is actually the better option.

1. Organic vegetables like whole green beans or peas

Unless I am getting green peas as fresh as can be, like still warm from the sun, I generally prefer frozen – peas past their short prime are not nearly as sweet and tender as their frozen brethren since the freezer-aisle ones are frozen right after harvest. EWG adds:

Frozen green beans are half the cost of fresh ones and retain more of their vitamin A and C content than other frozen vegetables. Similarly, frozen green peas are one of the cheapest frozen vegetables and retain more of their vitamin C content than fresh peas that have been stored for five days.

2. Organic fruits like whole strawberries or blackberries

I love frozen berries for their ability to provide a quick and delicious addition of fruit. Their texture is forever transformed by freezing, but they’re great for brightening up any number of dishes – think oatmeal, cereal, ice cream, muffins, cakes, pancakes, cocktails, smoothies, and smashed with sparkling water for a lovely soda alternative. Fresh berries may be the goal, but they have a short shelf life, which is why frozen ones are much appreciated. EWG adds that frozen berries are:

…superior to dehydrated berries, which can lose up to 50 percent of their original vitamin C and 70 percent of their folate content after being exposed to high pressure or temperatures. Compared to frozen versions, vitamin C content was 44 percent lower in freeze-dried strawberries. As an added bonus, frozen blackberries are cheaper on average than fresh ones.

3. Additive free baby and toddler food

I was one of the moms making her own baby food – a very much-appreciated (and sometimes mocked!) luxury. But for those purchasing baby and toddler food from the store, EWG says this:

Consider looking beyond jarred food. In their frozen aisles, some stores are stocking baby food made from fresh fruits and vegetables. Freezing produce helps slow nutritional losses, and helps prevent the growth of most microbes, making preservatives less necessary. And since frozen fruits and vegetables are often harvested at the peak of the season, there’s less need to add flavors, or other additives or fillers to improve taste.

4. Sustainable low-mercury seafood

I didn’t include seafood in my list, but EWG makes some excellent points:

Frozen seafood is typically cheaper and often of higher quality than fresh fish, which can be in transit on ice for more than a week before reaching the grocery store. Frozen fish also helps you add fish to your diet at a reasonable cost, while avoiding the endocrine-disrupting contaminant found in BPA-coated cans that could be used to package fish. This is a rare case when opting for fatty varieties is a good idea – they are higher in omega-3 fats and are more resilient to freezing.

You can check EWG’s Seafood Calculator to choose fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.

5. Better burritos

A lot of people rely on frozen entrees during the hectic work week. But, notes EWG, “most options in this part of the frozen aisle are loaded with additives and are unnecessarily high in sodium.” Not to worry though, “there are some good finds for that last-minute lunch or dinner.” Like burritos. While some burritos are high in sodium and have added sugars, EWG says:

About a quarter of the frozen burritos in EWG’s Food Scores score in the green [the highest ranking]. But some burritos rose to the top because they highlight beans, a health-promoting and environmentally friendly protein, and have fewer ingredient and processing concerns.

So there you go. Wave your freezer flag and wave it proudly. For more on these, including some great tips on what specifically to look for, visit 5 Fabulous Finds in the Frozen Food Aisle.


Fruits & Vegetables