How to Freeze Food to Cut Down on Waste

various frozen vegetables and leftovers in glass containers and bags in freezer

Liudmila Chernetska / Getty Images

If you prepare food properly, then the freezer can be a tremendously effective tool for cutting down on the amount that ends up in the trash.

The season of excess is upon us, from the sugar highs of Halloween to the decadence of American Thanksgiving to the ongoing feasts of Christmastime. It’s also a season of tremendous waste, when vast amounts of perfectly good food end up in the trash. We overbuy, overcook, and overeat even more than usual.

The freezer is an excellent tool for reducing unnecessary food waste – not just for storing martini glasses, as TreeHugger Lloyd likes to say! If you know how to prepare food properly for the freezer, then you can easily store uneaten food for future consumption. Here are some great ways to take advantage of your freezer.

Ice Cube Trays

You can freeze many different things in ice cube trays, which make for easy storage and thawing. Pour in leftover gravy, stuffing, stock, tomato, cranberry or chocolate sauces, puréed vegetables, minced herbs or garlic in olive oil, fruit juice, etc. Once frozen, transfer cubes to a freezer bag until ready to use.

Blanching & Freezing

Almost any excess produce can be ‘processed’ by blanching in boiling water for several minutes, then halting the cooking process by plunging into ice water. The vegetables can then be frozen without turning mushy when cooked. Use this method for carrots, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and Brussels sprouts, among many others. You can do the same for some fruits. See detailed directions here and here.

Freezing Citrus

If you have extra lemons, limes, or oranges, you can slice them thinly and spread on a tray in the freezer until frozen solid. Transfer to a bag and use in drinks (ice & slice in one!), soups, salads, and dressings.

Freezing Stone Fruit

This works for peaches, nectarines, cherries, and plums. The easiest method is to leave them whole, unpeeled, and take out as needed. If you take a peach out of the freezer at night, you'll have a lovely summery addition to cereal or oatmeal in the morning. Alternatively, you can peel, slice, spread on a tray, and then transfer to plastic bag for easier baking or smoothie-making.

Freezing in Metal Cans

If you’ve opened a can, you don’t have to transfer it to another container if you expect to use the remainder in a single recipe. For example, I frequently use half a can of coconut milk, tomato paste, or chickpeas, and the rest of the can simply goes into the freezer, covered with tinfoil or plastic wrap, until needed again.

Freezing Bread

You can freeze bread in many forms – fresh, stale, or as dough. Let dough thaw and rise before baking. Freeze fresh bread as is, or make into sandwiches before freezing to make easy lunches. Freeze stale crusts and pieces in order to make fresh breadcrumbs when needed. You can also pre-grind the stale bread in a food processor or blender and freeze. Another great idea is to rub stale rolls with garlic butter and freeze until you need emergency garlic bread; just pop it in the oven and it’ll be ready to go.

Freezing Stock Ingredients

Keep an ongoing bag or container in the freezer for stock ingredients. Toss in any bones, vegetable stalks, wilted leaves, herbs, etc. When you’re ready to make stock, put it all in a pot to simmer. You can then freeze the finished stock; I like to use old yogurt containers, which make for quick, easy thawing.

Freezing Bananas

Bananas can go into the freezer whole, but then they can be a pain to thaw and use for baking. A better method is to peel, cut into 1-inch chunks, and freeze on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Transfer to a bag or container until ready to thaw for use. The same goes for berries.

Freezing Eggs

Melissa wrote a few weeks ago about how to freeze eggs for future eating. I was so surprised to learn this was possible.

Freezing Dairy

Dairy is often wasted because of its limited shelf life. In Canada, where we get milk in plastic bags, it’s easy to toss almost-expired milk in the freezer and thaw as needed. Yogurt can also be frozen; just stir well once thawed. You can freeze cheese, Parmesan rinds (great for adding to soup or sauces), pounds of wrapped butter, and cartons of whipping cream.