Ah freezers – what a magical invention. They allow us to preserve produce at their peak, batch cook soup to make dinner a breeze on busy days, and take advantage of bulk discounts. But are you using your freezer to its fullest potential? In this post, I share some tips on how I strategically use the freezer to reduce waste, maximize freshness, and use the least amount of plastic possible.
Use what you have!
I sound like a broken clock, but it’s true – if you are trying to avoid buying plastic bags and wraps for the freezer, or at least using the least amount possible, look no further than your own kitchen!
In our house, most items in the freezer are stored in packaging that can be used over and over: plastic quart and pint containers from takeout, old salsa or pickle jars, and ziploc bags. (If you aren’t washing your ziploc bags, whatcha even doing??? They are totally reusable – just wash and let dry between uses – although I wouldn’t recommend reusing the bag if you’ve stored raw meat in it.)
Pro tip: if you are using glass jars to store sauces or stocks, make sure you don’t fill it all the way to the top. Liquid expands when frozen (by 9% -10% to be exact, for you nerds out there), so leaving some space helps to avoid the glass breaking. Allowing the content to cool until it reaches room temperature before putting in the freezer also helps.
A little prep goes a long way
Post-college, when I finally had a kitchen to cook in, I would put an entire gallon of soup in the freezer only to realize that once defrosted, I would need to eat said soup for lunch, for. a. week. straight. A sure fire way to ruin your favorite soup. Post-college me was not smart. Do not be like post-college me. Instead, do a little prep before tossing things in the freezer – most of these tasks only take a minimum amount of time but will make your life much easier in the long run.
- Pre-portion: freeze items in the portion you would consume. Store soup in large quantities if you are feeding a big family, dividing them into pint or quart containers might be more appropriate if you are living solo. Ice cube trays are awesome for freezing pesto, herb butters, and sauces.
- Freeze on a sheet tray: for items that you’ll only use a little bit at a time (think raspberries that you only need a handful of for a smoothie), spreading them out and freezing them in a single layer on a sheet tray will prevent them from sticking together. Once they are solid, store away. I also do this when we batch make dumplings and gnocchi.
- wash, pit, cut, shred, etc etc etc, you get the idea: if you don’t have the time to make jam, can tomato sauce, or learn to pickle, freezing is truly a great preservation method! This summer, I’ve had my hands full (who knew raising a baby would be so much work?! wink*), so lots of produce from the garden went in to the freezer, which I’ll surely enjoy when I find more time to cook!
Pro tip: my very favorite thing to batch cook and freeze in smaller portions are LEGUMES! Every couple of weeks, I cook a big pot of chickpeas and freeze in old pickle jars. It’s about the same size as a can that you’d buy at the store, and I simply take it out the freezer a few hours before dinner time. (Or you can thaw in the fridge overnight, if you are one of those people who really have your life together, ya know.)
Do a freezer audit every once in a while
If you’ve been here for a while, you know I am a fan of audits! Trash audit, energy audit, pantry audit, and freezer audit, of course! Going through your freezer every 3 months is a great goal; it really helps you to catch the stuff on the verge of getting freezer burned. I almost always find a few half used bags of fruit, some baked goods I had forgotten about (score!), and at least one tupperware of leftovers I had tucked in the back. If you encounter stuff that you will not eat,
toss compost it!!! Remember the freezer is not for storing your guilt! Keeping food that will not end up in your belly is simply a waste of energy, pun intended.
Pro tip: always label what’s in your freezer and don’t let that frozen split pea soup turn into mystery glob! Because – “let’s have this frozen brown glob for dinner! Yum!” – said no one ever. I usually write directly on the container with a black marker. It scrubs off easily with a sponge in my experience!
Let go of plastic guilt
Plastic wraps and bags are super handy for freezing things, but I know so many of us feel guilty about using plastic! Here is what I think: if using it helps you store food properly so you actually eat it, it’s worth it. To show you from a carbon footprint perspective, here is what it takes to produce:
- 1 lb of US beef: ~10kg of CO2 equivalent emissions (source)
- 1 lb of blueberries: ~0.3kg of CO2e (source)
- 1 pint of Ben & Jerry Ice cream: ~1.5kg of CO2e (source)
In comparison, the carbon footprint of polyethylene (the type of plastic bags are made from) is ~6kg CO2e per kg of plastic (source). A large zip loc bag weighs about 9 grams, so its carbon footprint is roughly 0.054kg of CO2e, much smaller than the food it stores in comparison. And remember – the more times you reuse, the footprint of each use shrinks!
All that is to say: by all means, use what you have, freeze in glass, get some reusable storage options (beeswax wrap and Stasher bags are really nice investments!), but if you use plastic when you need to, let the guilt go! Packaging has its place, especially if it helps you to reduce food waste! Excessive packaging sucks, but reducing packaging waste is much more an industrial and regulatory issue than an individual one. The energy we waste blaming ourselves can be so much better utilized towards productive climate actions. If you are looking for ideas, may I suggest this as a place to start?