Zero Waste FreezerA Layover For Leftovers No More
Of all the potential Zero Waste topics people are interested in, I find it bizarre that the freezer seems to be one of the areas people ask me about the most.
That being said, ask, and ye shall receive!
Canadian households send over 15 million pounds of food to landfill each year. Now, while I cannot find specific statistics on food waste generated from our freezers, I suspect a significant percentage of the foods we throw out are leftovers and other items forgotten about in the back corners of our freezers.
Before adopting Zero Waste, our freezer was fairly typical. We purchased a few frozen items such as frozen fruit or berries for smoothies, ice cream bars, and my husband was a big fan of buying wholesale quantities of meat which we would portion out and freeze. Aside from those items, our freezer was basically a layover for leftovers on their journey to the trash can. A place we put foods we didn’t love but felt guilty throwing away. We kidded ourselves hoping one of two things would happen,
1) in a last minute dinner panic we would surrender to the leftovers; or
2) that we might experience a MasterChef-style, stroke of genius that would yield a dish more desirable than the original.
Alas, ninety percent of the time, the leftovers were dumped down the toilet (I cringe as I write this), into compost or trash can when cleaning out the fridge and freezer.
Now, there are many articles on the web that blame our unfounded “freezer fears” for both our lack of using them, as well as our unwillingness to consume the food we have stored in them. You can research endless tips and products that will aid you in labeling and freezing food properly; and how to identify foods that are safe to consume and those no longer suitable for consumption.
But the solution to our food waste problem doesn’t lie in better freezer organization and a better understanding of best before dates; nor is it forcing ourselves to eat leftovers we dislike. If the answers were that simple, Zero Waste would not be a movement today nor would I be writing this blog.
The real problem is our society’s over-consumption habits, and expectation that we have access to an abundant variety of foods. The result is evident. We end up purchasing more than we can consume on a weekly basis, leaving the sad sad leftovers overlooked in the fridge only to end up in the freezer.
In reality, food plays such an important role in our lives and culture. It isn’t simply about nutrition – we equate food with love, comfort, family time, and socialization. If we were to “get real” about food waste, we ought to be more honest about how we feel about food.
In recognizing this, it becomes clear that our efforts are better spent challenging our shopping habits versus learning better freezer storage techniques and challenging our views of best before dates. As well, it is easier to reevaluate our cooking habits over trying to convince ourselves to consume foods we do not love.
We need to rethink how much selection is necessary for our weekly diet, as well the number of meals we prepare at home versus eat out/order-in.
Since adopting Zero Waste, we have changed our food purchasing habits and no longer view the freezer as a long term storage solution for food or undesirable leftovers.
Also, we no longer make large batches of food, unless the dish is a tried and true family favourite. When trying out a new recipe, I make only enough for one dinner. If it’s not a hit, then I am only making my family suffer through the meal once! If it is a hit, I will make a larger portion next time, and if the leftovers must be frozen, I am satisfied to know that they will not be wasted but enjoyed later on.
So, what are my shopping habits?
- I make my weekly grocery list based on four outlined dinners. I acknowledge that in our family, we eat out once a week (As the “chef” in our home, I find these meals out to be a means of sanity for me), as well we often have one dinner composed of leftovers and another that is an “easy” dinner. Easy dinners for us are meals when my husband works late, and the kids and I will eat a simple meal such as soup with toast, or breakfast for dinner.
- I stick to my grocery list and am okay with the fact that I might have to pop to the store for a small shop later in the week.
- I freeze fruits, which are becoming too ripe for breakfast smoothies.
- I use up wilting vegetables in soups. September through April, we have at least one type of soup in the fridge/freezer at all times.
- I keep the fridge and cupboards sparse; it is easier to see everything you have and identify what needs eating.
- I store grains, nuts, seeds, pasta, and flour in glass jars. It helps me to see what I have and glass keeps food fresh.
And, let’s face it Zero Waste pantries are so much more aesthetically pleasing!
So, what is in my freezer and how do I store it?
- One of our core philosophies of living Zero Waste is to use up everything that you have first. So while I am not the biggest fan of plastic, I continue to use what plastic we owned before our lifestyle change; an example is my old plastic containers that I use to freeze berries.
- I freeze ripe fruits such as bananas, stone & tropical fruits on a flat cookie sheet; this ensures they do not stick together. Once they are frozen, you can transfer them into a container, yet I find storing them on the cookie sheet for up to six weeks is just fine.
- I use glass jars to store soups, stews, and sauces. Just make sure the item is completely cooled and that there is one to two inches between the top of the food and the lid, otherwise the jar will crack.
- And, wait for it…I use plastic bags! WHAT!? I used to wash and reuse all of my plastic bags for produce and bulk items. I did this for over 18 months before the bags started to sprout leaks. As life goes, I only noticed the holes when filling the bags at the bulk store. Very embarrassing.Since then, I have invested in reusable produce bags for bulk and my plastic bags have retired to part-time work in my freezer. I use my plastic bags to store two things – spinach and bread.I buy at least two heads of spinach a week, I wash it and put it into the freezer for our morning smoothies.
- To keep our baked goods fresh, we use a breadbox on the counter. However, we find bread begins to harden and stale within four to five days in the bread box, so I often pop half a loaf of bread into the freezer and pull it out as needed.
So what about leftovers or batch storage?
If there is a need for leftovers to be placed in the freezer, I always use a glass bottom dish such as a mason jar or an oven safe dish with snap on lid. This eliminates the need to transfer food to a heat safe dish, which saves on cleaning.
I have been known to go a little batch crazy when it comes to crumbles at the end of the summer. Everyone loves crumble and it freezes well. Unfortunately, with our move this summer, I wasn’t able to get around to do it. However, when I do make crumbles, I use aluminum containers, given to us by friends who buy family size lasagnas, or similar dishes from big box stores. Since these items require heating, they have an aluminum base and a plastic lid that pops on and off for easy transfer from the freezer to the oven. These are fantastic for storing homemade pasta dishes, casseroles or desserts. I use these over and over again with zero guilt, as I am upcycling an item that is already in the waste stream.
So, the argument is clear; less is more in every way when it comes to food. Well, unless you are talking about chocolate, then more is ALWAYS more!