When used properly, the freezer can be one of your best allies in saving food and preventing waste.
Our food yearns so hard to please, but over and over again its final destination is an ignoble plop in the trashcan. In fact, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten; we can do better! And doing so really isn't rocket science. Most of us have a big box in our kitchen that is willing and ready to help, we just need to employ it.
While freezing food may lack the hipster homesteading appeal of canning – and yes, may have undertones of 60s suburban housewife – it's time to resist the stereotypes and embrace the freezer. As the NRDC site savethefood.com puts it, the freezer is a tool that allows you to push the pause button on food in your kitchen. And it's so true. I love my freezer for accommodating my over-eager greenmarket shopping trips and giving leftovers a safe haven; it's also invaluable for storing big batches of soup, beans, etcetera for quick and healthy meals when time is limited.
That said, while almost any food can be frozen, many people don't know how to get the absolute most from their icebox. So with that in mind, consdier these smart tips from savethefood:
1. Freeze in portions
Think about real-life meal planning when you freeze. For instance, you probably won’t need a whole loaf of bread at once, so slice it up before you pop it in the freezer. Then you can toast it right from the freezer a slice or two at a time. Use a muffin tin to freeze stews and chili in portions that are perfect for lunch. Freeze berries on a cookie sheet separately for about half an hour and then transfer to a bag, so they won’t all stick together in a clump. Scramble two raw eggs (yes, eggs can be frozen!) so that you can cook breakfast for one. You get the idea.
2. Keep it airtight
Less air = less freezer burn (what happens when foods oxidize in the freezer). Remove meat from supermarket trays and wrap well with plastic wrap or freezer paper before storing in zip-top bags. Squeeze excess air from plastic bags and containers, and avoid opening the freezer door unnecessarily. Freezer burn is harmless but affects taste. Oh, and those water crystals that can form on frozen foods? Perfectly normal.
3. Leave room for liquids
You may have learned in science class that matter contracts when subjected to lower temperatures, but that’s not always true in the kitchen. Most liquids expand in the freezer, so leave about half an inch at the top of containers to account for this.
You can put most foods straight into the freezer with minimal preparation, especially if you plan to eat them within a couple of days. Most fruits and vegetables, however, benefit from the simple process of blanching, which preserves their quality, color, and vitamin content—particularly if they might be in the freezer for a long time. It takes a few minutes at the most: you clean your produce, pop it in a pot of boiling water, then cool in ice water.
5. Label and organize
Label containers with contents and date, and use clear containers when possible so you can easily see what’s inside. Lay bags of leftover mashed potatoes and tomato puree flat in the freezer so they’re easy to stack. You can use large containers to partition your freezer by food type, with areas for fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods. As your commitment to freezing grows, you can use a white board on the freezer door to keep a log of what’s inside. It helps with meal planning and minimizes time spent digging around for last week’s corn.
6. Defrost safely
You’ve taken care to freeze your foods to their best advantage, now give some time and attention to proper thawing. The safest ways to defrost frozen foods are by placing them in the fridge (overnight will usually do it), in the microwave (settings vary according to model), or in a bowl of cold water. Food safety experts do not recommend thawing on the kitchen counter or in warm water. And, yes, you can refreeze your food, as long as you’ve followed one of the procedures to defrost it safely in the first place.
For more tips on preventing food waste, visit savethefood.com.