Using Your Freezer to Fight Food Waste

When it comes to fighting food waste, perhaps the most useful tool in your kitchen (apart from your stomach!) is your freezer, if you have one. Whether you have a small freezer compartment above your fridge or a more capacious chest freezer, learning to use your freezer well can really benefit your diet, your waste and your pocket.

Without further ado, here are a couple of photos of our freezers:

Some of the things you’ll find in our freezers include:

  • Meat and fish – We eat meat a couple of times a week and fish about once a fortnight, so I tend to buy it and put it straight in the freezer until we need it. I like to buy our meat from a local butcher where I can read the provenance sheet stuck on the fridge and see which local farms the meat has come from. I try to buy fish with Marine Stewardship Council status or we occasionally have gifts of locally-caught trout from a friend.
  • Vegan and vegetarian options – Our eldest and I are more likely to choose the vegetarian or vegan options, so I keep quite a few options in the freezer for meals where we’re all having something slightly different. For example, some meals I’ll cook mashed potato and vegetables and my husband and our son will have a meat pie whilst our daughters and I will have a vegetarian bake.
  • Reduced to clear – We like to fight food waste, and lower the cost of our shopping, by checking out the reduced to clear section in the supermarket. Of course, this sometimes means dealing with more packaging than we’d like, but we feel it balances out. Recent reduced to clear purchases have included bagels, macaroni cheese ready meals and herbs, which leads me on to…
  • Herbs – To save herbs from going off, we put them in the freezer and then just use them as and when we need them.
  • Batch cooking and leftovers – When I make pizza sauce for homemade pizzas, one tin of chopped tomatoes makes enough for two lots, so I freeze half for the next time we have pizzas. If I have leftovers and I know we might not get round to eating them, they go in the freezer.
  • Stock and gravy – On the odd occasion that we have a roast dinner, we make stock and gravy and keep some in the freezer for using up in other dishes, such as risotto.
  • Convenience foods and treats – In an ideal world I’d have endless time and patience to cook everything from scratch and buy everything without packaging or in recyclable packaging. But this isn’t an ideal world and I’m only human, so in our freezer you’ll find frozen peas, fish fingers, hash browns, ice cream etc. I try to buy ice cream in a cardboard sleeve where I can. This can be washed, dried and popped in the recycling.
  • Bread and other baked goods – When I know I’m going to have a busy week and not much time to bake, I often buy lots of bread at the weekend and freeze some to take out when I need it. Similarly, in the run-up to Christmas, I bake mince pies and sausage rolls in advance and freeze them, so I can take them out as needed.

A few tips for storing food in the freezer:

  • I reuse yoghurt tubs, takeaway food containers and ice cream boxes for freezing our batch cooking, leftovers etc. You can also use glass jars. If you decide to use glass make sure you leave room for the contents to expand as it freezes. Leaving the lid off until the contents have frozen and then putting it on reduces the likelihood of the jar shattering. Wide-neck jars work better than narrow-neck jars.
  • I also save the decent plastic storage bags, like zip-lock bags, that come into our house for storing some food in the freezer. For example, there is some leftover paella that my husband made frozen in bags. It means we can freeze it really flat and it takes less time to defrost and heat up. (Yes, we freeze and re-heat rice in our house. I know for lots of people it’s a big no-no, but we do and we always re-heat safely. However, as there is a risk of food poisoning from re-heating rice, here is the disclaimer that if you do so it wasn’t on my recommendation!)
  • I also keep some waxed paper in for wrapping things like cooked meat or my husband’s home-made pease pudding to freeze it. As long as this hasn’t been used for raw meat, I could give it a wipe over with warm soapy water and reuse it, but I usually just put it in our fire basket. You could invest in fabric wax wraps in the same way, except you wouldn’t want to chuck those on the fire!
  • Label, label, label. No matter how much you think you’ll remember what was in that tub, always label it anyway. I know from experience that’s it’s no fun trying to remember whether the mid-brown substance is a spicy lentil dhal, vegetable soup, gravy or caramel sauce! And it’s also a good idea to put the date on there so you know when you put it in the freezer.
  • Every so often, go shopping in your freezer. Have a good look through the freezer and pick out things that have been in there a while. We sometimes have a use-it-up week, where we pull out all the weird curries and pots of stock and try to reduce our freezer inventory a bit.
  • Defrost your freezer regularly. I’m not exactly practising what I’m preaching here, because I always put off defrosting the freezer. It’s a total pain in the bum household job, but it needs doing every so often to make sure your freezer is running efficiently. We’re lucky now we have the half chest freezer, because I usually just move everything from the little freezer above the fridge to the chest freezer, then defrost, or vice versa. However, before that I used to wrap everything in newspaper, place it in the cool bag that we take camping and then defrost the freezer. Defrosting the freezer is a really good opportunity to take stock of what’s in there too. You can pull some things out to use up and get rid of anything that’s been lurking in there for years.

If you don’t have a freezer, there are other ways to fight food waste:

  • Shopping carefully, only buying what you need of products with a short shelf-life, will reduce the likelihood that you don’t use something in time. This is where buying from independent shops can be handy, because you’re more likely to be able to buy a smaller amount of meat, fish, dairy or fresh fruit and vegetables at independent butcher’s, fishmonger’s, deli’s or greengrocer’s.
  • Measuring out portions when you cook is another way to reduce food waste if you aren’t able to freeze leftovers.
  • If you like to shop in the reduced to clear section like us, keep a level head and don’t be tempted by ‘bargains’ that can quickly become a waste of food and money when you don’t use them in time and can’t freeze them on the day of purchase.
  • If you know a friend or neighbour has a large freezer, you could try asking them if you can store some items in their freezer until you need them. Maybe you could come to a long-term arrangement where you offer something in exchange for using a portion of their freezer, like cooking a meal or baking a cake once a month, repairing items of clothes or watching their pets when they go away on holiday?

Do you have any freezer tips you’d like to share? What’s the strangest or oldest thing you’ve found in the permafrost at the back or bottom of your freezer? Please add them in a comment below.

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