This Is the Answer to Your Food Waste Problem
For much of my adult life, my freezer was filled with four things: Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza, Grey Goose Vodka, two martini glasses, and the obligatory plastic ice cube trays. I would flip past the Real Simple articles about how to intelligently use your freezer and never read the fine print at the bottom of Martha Stewart recipes on how to freeze that leftover lasagna. Freezers, I thought, were for busy working moms trying to feed lots of hungry children—not a single girl living alone!
Then one day, I had an excess amount of soup and decided to put some in the freezer to eat at a later date. Almost overnight I went from a freezer non-believer to a freezer preacher. All of a sudden the icebox was one of the most important tools in my kitchen, and I quickly learned how to make the most of it. Today, it’s filled with all sorts of delicious goodies, from homemade chicken stock to stuffed pork chops to whole wheat walnut bread. Wondering how it’s done? Here are eight simple techniques for using your freezer.
When I am meal planning, the first thing I do is to take stock of what I have on hand: I open the fridge and check out what’s in the produce drawer. I look in the pantry to see what sort of staples would pair with what’s in the fridge. I also take a quick look in the freezer. It’s filled with ingredients that can go into making a delicious dinner. Don’t think of the freezer as an off-limits area. Think of it as another food-storing zone of your kitchen, like a second but super-cold pantry. Produce drawer filled with tomatoes from your aunt’s garden? Pull out the homemade chicken stock from the freezer and make tomato soup. Have a bunch of random vegetable pieces that need to get used up? Grab a frozen fish fillet and make parchment paper fish with veggies.
One easy way to be less wasteful is to freeze leftovers instead of throwing them away. Simply place leftover soups and hearty pastas (like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs) into tupperware and place in the freezer. Or pickup a few disposable foil pans from the grocery store. When you have leftovers, place them in the foil pans and you can move them directly from the freezer to the oven without having to thaw everything out to remove it from the tupperware. If you have an excess of a cooked protein, like roast chicken or grilled tri tip, use the meat to make enchiladas or a savory pie and then freeze that. Pull all the meat from the chicken carcass, then place the bones in a plastic baggie and freeze it. Use this to make homemade chicken stock at a later date.
Avoid freezer burn by wrapping everything you place in the freezer well. Use the aforementioned Tupperware and disposable foil pans. Cover the pans with two sheets of foil. The next time you are at the local Whole Foods or specialty store, stop by the prepared food section and grab several empty cardboard soup containers and empty plastic olive containers. The grocery store will usually give you these food storage items for free, so bring them home, and you’ve got an easy and convenient way to freeze leftovers. When using plastic wrap, be sure to wrap items in two layers. If freezing bread, wrap the bread in plastic, then place it in the paper bag that it came in inside the fridge.
Keep a Sharpie marker in one of the drawers in your kitchen, and when you go to place something in your freezer, clearly label it with the title of the dish (Kale and Turkey Soup, Shepherd’s Pie With Leftover Lamb, etc.) and the date you are sticking it in the freezer.
Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, but what to do if you live alone or with one other person? Use your freezer. The next time you purchase a 12-pack of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, cook up two for you to eat and freeze the other 10 raw. Wrap two thighs together in plastic wrap, and the next time you want chicken, pull out your prepackaged portion of thighs. If you’ve got half of a lasagna left over, slice it into single servings and place each one in its own disposable foil pan.
You can’t make the most of your freezer if you don’t plan ahead. If you know you’ve got a busy day at work and won’t feel like cooking when you get home, pull a portion of that leftover cassoulet from the fridge in the morning before you leave for the office. Place it in the sink, and when you come home, it will be thawed and ready to go in the microwave. Having a friend over for a weeknight catch-up? Pull the frozen chicken breasts from the freezer in the morning, so they will be thawed and ready to roast later in the day. Get in the habit of checking your freezer before you go to work, and you’ll realize that a scrumptious dinner is just moments away.
Don’t forget about the food that is in your freezer! Make an inventory or keep a running list on your fridge of what is in there. When you put something new in the fridge, add it to the list. When you pull something out, cross it off of the list. Don’t stick a pan of leftover mushroom risotto in the freezer and forget about it for two years. Make note of it, and eat it within six months of freezing.
Certain food items freeze better than others. Casserole dishes, soups, stews, pies, and chili hold up well in the freezer. Cooked proteins are best when in a dish, but raw proteins are easy to freeze as is. Bread, raw bacon, hard cheese (like parmesan or pecorino), ripe bananas, raw dough, and butter can be frozen. Any ingredient with a high level of moisture in it should not be frozen. It will go lump and mushy. This includes herbs; vegetables like celery, lettuce, and cucumbers; and fruits like watermelon and apples. Avoid freezing creamy cheese, yogurt, and other dairy items, like eggs.
Shop freezer-friendly items below.