Fighting Food Waste with Your Freezer

February 18, 2020

The question of what can be frozen and what can’t is one of the most commonly asked around food and cooking. The truth is, you can freeze just about anything. Your freezer is one of the most useful appliances in the kitchen, and can help dramatically reduce food waste if you toss in items like fresh produce that’s beginning to wilt, and dairy products nearing their best before date. Any produce that has been frozen will be somewhat structurally compromised when it thaws, so is best used in cooked dishes, like soups, stews and curries, rather than in a fresh salad.  

Your freezer can also be a time-saver if you want to make dinner in larger batches to tuck away for busy nights or work lunches, and if your family doesn’t love leftovers, they can be divvied up into shallow ceramic or glass baking dishes to make future frozen dinners, individually portioned or in quantities enough for two or three.  

If you still have questions around what freezes best, here are a few guidelines. 

frozen pastWhat Freezes Best
Anything saucy, like soups, stews, chilis, curries and sauces; the liquid protects food from freezer burn, and acts as a heat conduit when it's time to thaw and reheat. Baked goods, like muffins, loaves, cakes and pies, freeze well too, and cookie dough can be portioned and frozen, then baked; place the balls or slices of dough on a parchment-lined sheet and let it sit at room temperature as you preheat your oven.

What Not to Freeze
Cream and sour cream tends to separate once thawed, and potatoes, cooked or not, tend to get grainy and watery after being frozen. However, even watery dairy products work fine in baked goods, and potatoes can be pureed in soup, re-mashed with a splash of cream, or baked under a layer of cheese. Any fresh veggies will lose their structure, so can be frozen raw to use in cooked dishes afterward.

Cooked Foods Freeze Better Than Raw
Having already broken down, freezing won't alter their structure as it would fresh veggies. In the case of casseroles, lasagna and other baked dishes, cook and assemble them, then save the final baking for after they come out of the freezer. In most cases, there's no need to thaw them first; they can go straight from freezer to oven.

Make Sure Food Has Cooled Completely
Before putting it into the freezer — the faster it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals that will form. Freezing small containers — or flattened freezer bags — will help food freeze through more quickly. Remove as much air as possible before freezing, and try to move existing containers up in the deep freeze as you add new containers to keep everything in rotation, and prevent some from being forgotten in the depths of the freezer.

To Thaw Your Meals
Put them in the fridge when you go to bed at night for the next day, or in the morning before going to work. If you miss this step, soups, stews, sauces and chilis can be thawed quickly in a sink or bowl of warm water, or gently reheated from frozen in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium-low heat. Most casseroles and lasagnas can be baked from frozen.

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