Your Freezer is Your Friend – Eco-Friendly Freezer Tips to Reduce Waste
When it comes to tackling climate change, reducing food waste may not be the first thing you think of. You’re more likely to think of things like turning down your heating and driving less as ways to reduce your emissions. But did you know that if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of global greenhouse gases after the USA and China?
And a staggering 50% of all food waste occurs in the home! According to Love Food Hate Waste households in the UK waste 6.5 million tonnes of food every year, 4.5 million of which is edible.
I was amazed to hear these stats on a podcast recently. I mean, regardless of the environmental impact of wasting food, that’s a lot of money to be wasting too. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to stop wasting food and save money. Using the full potential of your freezer is one way to make a big impact. Here are my top tips for making the most of your freezer to reduce food waste and lessen your impact on the environment.
1. Freeze Food Before It Goes Off
A lot of food waste occurs when we forget about perishable things we’ve got in the fridge, like those mushrooms lurking in the veg drawer or that open jar of pesto. A good habit to get into is to do a weekly stock check (by this I mean just have a look in your fridge and bread bin) to see what’s been there a while and you’re not going to eat any time soon, and then freeze it. Obviously, if it can’t be frozen and is still edible, you should eat it! Loads of stuff can be frozen, such as:
Bread (if it’s still fresh, freeze it in slices for toast, or if it’s stale or crusts, freeze it as breadcrumbs)
Milk (make sure you freeze milk when is still within its “use within” period)
Cheese (hard cheese like Cheddar freezes well if you grate it first)
Pesto and tomato puree (you can freeze this in small portions in ice cube trays or small jars or tubs)
Chillies (you can freeze chillies whole and cook with them straight from frozen)
Raw Veg eg. mushrooms, peppers, onions, celery (chop veg up before freezing and it can be used to cook with later)
Cooked Veg eg. spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, runner beans (leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and beans freeze better if you cook them first, either by blanching or simply steaming)
Meat eg. sausages, bacon, chicken breasts (it’s a good idea to split meat into portions before freezing)
Nuts (nut can go rancid if left in a cupboard too long, and it’s perfectly fine to freeze them)
You can find out loads more about what you can freeze at The Fuller Freezer.
2. Freeze Stuff to Cook with Later
A good tip for saving time when cooking dinner after a busy day is to get ahead by keeping pre-chopped vegetables in your freezer, like onions, peppers, celery or mushrooms. Perhaps chop up things you won’t eat in the next couple of days as soon as you’ve done your shopping. The best way to freeze veg to stop them sticking together in a clump is by “open freezing”. This is really easy, you just spread your chopped veg out on a baking tray or plastic lid and freeze it like that, then once it’s frozen pop it in a plastic bag or container.
3. Make Stock
I keep a bag in my freezer to collect bits of veg that I can use to boil up to make stock (or gravy). I put all sorts in there, like celery leaves, carrot peelings, parsley stalks, spinach stalks and mushroom ends. This is a good way to make use of those bits of food that often get discarded. When I make a big batch of stock, I add whatever’s in my stock bag to my other ingredients. I use the stock to make soup, which can then be frozen in portion sizes. If there’s any stock leftover, it’s perfectly fine to freeze it.
4. Freeze Leftovers
All kinds of leftovers can be frozen and made use of at a later date. For example, that last slice of ham (rip it up first) can be used in an omelette or on a pizza, toasted pine nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds can be used to make pesto, roast potatoes and pasta sauce can be reheated. I also freeze leftover chill, curry and rice. However, be careful to cover rice and cool it quickly before freezing to avoid food poisoning.
5. Batch Cook
If you’re fairly organised, batch cooking is a good way to make sure you always have some homemade ready meals on hand in your freezer. There are various ways to do batch cooking. Some people set aside a morning at a weekend to cook up huge batches of things such as curry or chilli. Another way is to just make a bit extra of whatever you’re cooking, with the intention of saving a couple of extra portions to freeze. One word of caution, to avoid food poisoning it’s advisable to take the food out of the pan to cool down straight away and put it in separate portions so it can cool down quicker. Don’t leave cooked food on the side at room temperature for over 1 and half to 2 hours. It can go straight into the freezer as soon as it’s cooled.
6. Keep an Inventory
This sounds a bit geeky (and maybe there is actually an app to do this!), but keeping a list on your freezer door of what’s in each compartment makes it so much easier to find stuff and avoid buying more food that you don’t need. I started doing this during the first lockdown when we defrosted our chest freezer and discovered all kinds of surprises in there! Now we can see exactly what we’ve got and where it should be, and if we remember to cross off things when we take them out the system works well. I write out a new list every now and then when the old one’s got a bit messy! It also helps to keep similar foods together and label stuff clearly. I’ve heard Sharpies are good as the writing can be washed off plastic so the bag/tub can be reused. Personally, I use sticky labels that come with online delivery invoices (I’ve got quite a lot of these for some reason).
7. Reuse Bags, Tubs and Jars
If you do a lot of freezing, try to avoid buying single use freezer bags. With a bit of creativity there are so many other containers you can use instead, using things you already have. We use plastic takeaway tubs a lot (they seem to last forever), and wash out plastic bread bags to reuse. Jars are also useful so long at you leave a gap at the top – if you don’t, liquids expand as they freeze and can cause the glass to crack.
Using your freezer is a great way to reduce food waste as well as saving you time and money. You may find that when you start getting more organised with your freezer it has a knock-on effect on your shopping habits. You may get better at buying less, using a shopping list and buying only what you need. Of course, you will always produce non-edible food waste, which you should compost if possible (that’s whole different topic!), but if you can get in the habit of using your freezer to reduce the amount of food you throw out, you can make a big different to your household emissions.