It’s happened to all of us: you get a little excited at the grocery store or farmers market and you come home with a little more than you planned for for that week. Or, you had grand plans to cook almost every dinner at home and plans drastically changed and you’re not actually home to cook everything you bought. Or, you meal prepped like a pro but didn’t get a chance to eat any of it. Any of those scenarios aside, your fridge is overflowing with food, just waiting to be cooked or enjoyed and day by day, wilting or maybe starting to go bad.
This can lead to throwing out food (and money) that never got used or enjoyed. Food waste is a bigger problem than you would think. Each year, Americans waste an average of 25% of the food they buy. Food gets wasted in several ways: by spoilage (more for perishables), overbuying, not planning, or overcooking and not eating all of the leftovers.
You can easily help cut down your food waste and save your money by meal planning, making a shopping list and sticking to it, cooking the right amount of food for the week, and by using your freezer.
Using your freezer as a storage space for ingredients and cooked food is a great way to get the most out of what you buy. If you’ve got just a little bit of herbs, stock, or milk left over, freeze it. A big sale on meat at the market? Portion out your haul based on what you cook in one meal and freeze it.
Made a huge pot of broth but can’t drink or cook with all in one week? Freeze it to enjoy whenever you need it. You can freeze so many foods to either give future you a leg up on cooking any meals when you’re in a rush or low of fresh ingredients, save some money with sales or by not having to buy more food to replace what went bad.
Foods You Can Freeze
Not all foods are great for freezing, and some things are best cooked before freezing. See the lists below for what you should freeze and what you should just enjoy fresh.
Great for Freezing
Meat and seafood, cooked or raw
Butter and cheese
Bread, whole or sliced
Cooked grains or beans
Cooked leftovers or meals
Raw, washed berries
Raw, washed fruit (if it has a peel, peel it first to easily use later, especially if in a smoothie)
Vegetables, if blanched
Uncooked pastry or cookie dough
Just Enjoy Fresh
Raw vegetables with high water content like lettuces, delicate greens, radishes, and cucumbers.
Hard boiled eggs or eggs in the shell (cracked eggs outside the shell, yolks, and whites freeze well)
Yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese
What to Freeze Food In
What stores your food is also important, and not all plastic bags or storage containers are created equally. Here’s what you need to know about what to use to keep your food preserved well and freezer burn-free.
Freezer bags: Freezer bags of any size are your best bet when freezing things in plastic bags. They have an extra layer of plastic that preserves your food longer and protects it from freezer burn. Before sealing, make sure to get all the air out of your bag.
Plastic or Glass Food Storage Containers: Make sure your food storage containers, whether glass or plastic, clearly state they are freezer safe. If they’re not, there’s a strong possibility that as the food freezes, your food container could crack or expose your food to freezer burn. When filling your freezer-safe containers, remember to leave room in the container for the food expand.
Mason Jars: Similar to glass food storage, mason jars are great ways to store pureed soups, cooked beans, or stock. Not all mason jars are created equal, so make sure they’re freezer safe. Follow the suggested fill line on the side of the jar if it has one. If it doesn’t have a fill line, leave at least half an inch to an inch of space to the top free for when the food expands.
Ice Cube Trays: Not just for making ice, ice cube trays are perfect to freeze things to use in smaller quantities, like lemon juice, a small amount of stock you have from a carton or from making a fresh batch, fresh herbs frozen in olive oil, pesto, pureed smoothie ingredients, coffee, any citrus zest, grated ginger, baby food… the possibilities are endless.
Thawing it Out
When it’s time to cook your food, there are a few methods you can use to thaw it and get it ready to eat or cook. What method you choose depends on how much planning and time you put in before starting to cook your meal. If you have a lot of time, you can thaw your food in the fridge overnight or for most of the day until it’s ready to use, depending on it’s weight.
If you have some time and you’re home, you can use the cold water method. Fill a large mixing bowl with cold water and place your frozen food (still in a bag or container) in the bowl. Change out the water every half an hour until thawed. This could take anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on weight.
If you’re strapped for time, you can turn to your microwave’s defrost settings. To prevent bacterial growth, cook the food immediately once thawed. If you’re crazy strapped for time, you can cook some foods straight from the freezer, it will just take 50% longer for foods like fresh meat and poultry.
If you’re cooking fruits and vegetables, they will cook up pretty quickly and usually don’t need to be thawed.
Whatever you decide to freeze, don’t forget to use it! To have the best quality of food when you thaw it, keep raw meat in the freezer no longer than six months to a year. Fruits and vegetables, if prepared correctly, can last up to a year. Cooked beans will last 3 months. Label the food you’ve stored with the name and the date you froze it so you’ll know how long it’s been in the freezer. That way you can use up food that’s been in your freezer longer.
When you’re making your weekly meal plan or trying to figure out what to make for dinner, make a list of the food you already have and make meals around that first. You can also keep that list on your fridge so you’re reminded each time you go to cook what’s waiting to be thawed and enjoyed.
Whether you want to save money, plan ahead, or cut down on food waste, using your freezer to store your food is a smart move. When you’re looking around at the food in your fridge, ask yourself if anything needs to be or could be frozen. If you’re meal prepping for the week, see if anything needs to be frozen instead of just stored in the freezer. The more you start to think about your freezer as a place to store your food, the more you’ll start to see how you can really use it for more than just storing ice and ice cream.
Healthy Eating 101 will return soon.
Aimée is a healthy food blogger at Small Eats. After gaining weight in college, she decided to start eating, cooking and living healthier. Since then, she's lost weight and gained a wealth of recipes and food knowledge that she couldn't keep to herself. Aimée's interested in learning about food, where it comes from, and ways to make healthy food accessible and approachable to everyone.
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