Using the Freezer to Minimize Food Waste

I’ve never been much of a daytime television watcher —

(yes, this is a rather odd sentence to use to begin a discussion about food waste!)

— but this post is taking me down memory lane, making me recall some of my earliest parenting days and what was, in all likelihood, a rather obscure cooking show on CBC television.

We had moved provinces with our 8 day-old daughter in the fall of 1996. Nearly 800 km (around 500 miles) from friends and family, and with only one vehicle which my husband took to work most days, there were times when it seemed as though the walls were going to close in around me. And on some of those long afternoons, desperately needing to see and hear another adult, I would end up flicking on the television. I wasn’t much of a cook back then, but one of my favourite shows was the now-defunct The Urban Peasant. Its host, James Barber, is not only responsible for the salmon recipe that became — and remains to this day — our Christmas Eve tradition:

… but I also have him to thank for this very sage advice about parsley:

Wash it and chop it and freeze it, he said, and then you’ll always have a supply of fresh parsley on hand.

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To my I-barely-know-my-way-around-a-kitchen mind, that was a bit of culinary brilliance. It’s also a fantastic way to reduce food waste, because it seems to me that unless you’re using parsley every. single. day, there’s little chance of getting through a bunch before it turns to slime in your fridge.

Freezing that first batch of parsley all those years ago opened up a world of possibilities: what else could I freeze? I wondered, my pre-internet mind churning. Here’s what I came up with:

In addition to parsley, I also freeze that other item that frequently goes to waste: green onions. I wash them and chop them and then toss them into a plastic container, stirring them to ensure a good distribution of whites and greens, and then simply chop out a frozen section with a fork or a knife.

These ARE looking a bit frosty, but they’re still fine!

Also in my freezer? Jalapeño peppers. A while ago my grocery store decided they were no longer going to sell jalapeño peppers singly, but were going to make their customers buy five or six at a time, packaged on a foam tray and wrapped in plastic:

I complained to the produce manager, who sympathised, but said he didn’t make the decisions, and if I felt that strongly about it I should write a letter. Hmph! For a while, I refused to buy them, and made a second stop at another grocery store in order to purchase my single jalapeño, but then, one day, pressed for time, I succumbed and bought the damn package. Not wanting to waste the remaining five, and knowing that sweet peppers can simply be chopped and frozen, I figured there’d be no reason freezing wouldn’t work with jalapeños as well.

I de-seeded and minced them, and wanting to freeze them in one pepper-worth quantities, decided to use the silicone baking cups I use for making butter tarts at Christmastime. I squished the bits together, hoping it would freeze solid in a unit, and … it worked! Once they were frozen solid, I popped them out and transferred them to a plastic container.

My only concern is that now the baking cups seem to smell like jalapeño; I hope our butter tarts don’t take on a peppery flavour this Christmas! (There will be hell to pay if I wreck the butter tarts! 😉 ).

An ice cube tray might have worked just as well with the jalapeños. It’s my go-to tool for freezing tablespoon quantities of tomato paste:

So many recipes call for only one or two tablespoons of tomato paste. Why waste a nearly-full can?

I’ve also used the ice cube tray to freeze tablespoon amounts of the avocado-cilantro cream sauce from the Oh She Glows enchilada recipe. The sauce recipe makes far too much for one meal (IMO), and although we would occasionally use the leftovers to round out a snack of chips and salsa, more often than not a fair amount would still get tossed. Because this was really bothering me (avocados = California + drought = don’t waste them, Marian!) I figured freezing was worth a try. It worked like a charm and one tablespoonful was the perfect amount for one enchilada. Not only did this stretch one avocado to 15 enchiladas (three meals), it also made the two subsequent enchilada-cooking-sessions much less time-consuming.

One can also forgo the ice cube tray and simply drop tablespoon or teaspoon amounts directly onto a cookie sheet, and freeze things that way. This was what I did when I made this vegetable broth concentrate*:

Tomatoes are another great item to keep in the freezer, either fresh from the garden (washed and cored, but left whole, or diced to save time while cooking), or the leftovers from a can of whole or crushed tomatoes when you’ve only used a part can in a recipe. Also from the garden: kale, which I wrote about here.

Because we’re mostly-vegetarian, we eat a lot of legumes, and although I do use some canned legumes, I also like to cook my own from dried. Whenever I do this, I make a big batch and ladle them into lidded glass bowls and then store them in the freezer.

Another group of items I store in our freezer is grains, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains go rancid much more quickly than their processed counterparts because they contain the oily germ layer. Although not everything in the following list actually has a germ layer, I tend to follow the very unscientific, When in doubt, might as well stick it in the freezer! So in my freezer, you’ll find: brown rice, whole wheat flour, quinoa, oat bran, wheat germ, flax seed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and almonds. I also keep dried blueberries and both dried and fresh cranberries in the freezer.

And last, but not least, I keep almost all of our baked goods in the freezer. The sandwich bread I buy at the grocery store gets stored in the freezer and taken out slice by slice. I also freeze nearly all of my baking; the muffins and cookies I bake for the kids to take to school go directly into the freezer as soon as they’re cooled. This means I never have to figure out what to do with stale bread, and we never have to regretfully toss days-old baking.

How about you? What do you store in your freezer?


*There are many broth concentrate recipes online, and although I did use the recipe I linked to, I omitted the salt. The salt would have made the frozen concentrate “scoop-able” (because: science 😉 ) but because I like to have control of the salt in my cooking I needed to freeze it in quantifiable units.

14 thoughts on “Using the Freezer to Minimize Food Waste

  1. I LOVE the idea of freezing small portions in an ice cube tray and then putting them in a storage container! I’ll definitely be using that idea (especially with green onions because I ALWAYS end up wasting a half a bunch every time I buy them!)

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    1. Yay, I’m so happy I’ve given you a useful idea, Kate! I’m always so glad to have items like this on hand in the freezer, because not only does it mean less food waste, it also makes the supper rush just a bit easier when you’re not having to prep each and every ingredient.

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  2. This post is so practical and helpful. Seriously. I’m sure it all seems fairly obvious to you (because it does even to me while reading it), but it’s helping me see some things in different ways. THANK YOU!

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  3. Do you have a large chest freezer? We only have the freezer above the refrigerator, so we have to pick and choose what to freeze because of our limited freezer space. (We keep our bread in the refrigerator; it’s quicker to use than frozen bread but doesn’t get moldy as it would at room temperature.) We preserve both vegetables and cheese by shredding them and then freezing recipe-sized portions.

    Another way to preserve parsley or other herbs is to dry them. Simply bunch together the stems with a rubber band and hang upside down–I put them on the potholder rack. When they are thoroughly dry, crumble the leaves into a bowl and then put them into the storage bottle using a funnel. This method sometimes goes wrong with parsley if it gets moldy before it dries, but I’ve never had that happen with rosemary, dill, or thyme. My friend hangs her herbs in her car, parked in the sun, and says they are dry in one day, but my partner has forbidden this because he doesn’t want the car to smell like parsley! Herbs also can be dried by spreading on a flat surface and leaving in an undisturbed location, but I never have an undisturbed location except on top of the bookcase, and if I put them up there then I forget them until they’ve gotten dusty. :-p

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    1. I do have a chest freezer – a medium-sized one – and I think I would spiral down into existential crisis mode if we didn’t have it! (This probably sounds like a joke, but it’s actually not – so much of what I do during my “working hours” involves filling that freezer!)

      I’m glad you chimed in with other options for preserving parsley, etc. Drying herbs in a hot car? That’s ingenious! And I laughed at the fact that your partner doesn’t want the car to smell of parsley! I actually think that might just be a nice smell to have in a car 🙂 . I’ve never tried to dry my own herbs, and I keep thinking that would be a really nice thing to try (of course it would help if I weren’t so hopeless at growing the things in the first place; I don’t know what it is about herbs, but I seem to have no luck with growing them!). The possibility of the method going wrong does scare me just a bit though…I can’t even make myself get into canning, for fear of all the things that can go wrong. I think that’s why I really like freezing stuff – it’s a much less worrisome endeavour (for someone who worries a lot 😉 ).

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      1. Hmm, maybe I should ask him again, because parsley is better than whatever repair-related chemicals the car smells like now…but speaking of safety worries, would those fumes soak into our parsley and poison it?

        We don’t grow our own herbs, except for chives which came with the house (and spearmint, if that’s an herb). We subscribe to a local organic farm and get a crate of produce every week from June through November, and that gives us parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and dill in larger quantities than we could possibly use fresh.

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      2. We used to have a produce subscription through a small (teeny tiny actually) organic/natural foods grocery store here in our small city. The owner would gather produce items from a number of local farms which were either organic or were at least adhering to organic practices, and we would get a box every week or two. I loved it; we ended up trying out a lot of new produce items we never would have otherwise, and it felt really good to be supporting local farmers. But unfortunately, the grocery store went under and that was the end of that 😦

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  4. I love this post, Marian! I am on a big kick this month to reduce food spending and food waste (partly for the sake of each other, if that makes any sense) so your post is really well timed.

    I have to admit that for me, the freezer has often been a place where good intentions go to die. Freezing has not so much reduced food waste but merely delayed it. So, it was really inspiring to read about how it has worked for you — kind of renewed my faith in the strategy, if that makes sense. One of the important points that I take from your post is that I need to think more about using the freezer to keep on hand ingredients that I KNOW we ACTUALLY USE, rather than what we could use or what might come in handy. I am also pondering how to make sure that things put in the freezer get taken OUT before they are hopelessly freezer burned. So, thank you again for a very helpful post!

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    1. I’m so glad it’s a useful post for you, Sarah! I know EXACTLY what you mean about a freezer being a place where good intentions go to die! There have been plenty of times I’ve seen something at the grocery store, bought it on a whim, stuck it into the freezer, and simply never gotten around to using it. When we found out we were moving, five years ago, I did an inventory of the freezer a couple months prior to the move (so we would be sure to eat most of what was in there) and I discovered an organic free-range chicken that I estimated had been in the freezer for at least 5 years! (I had bought it on a whim from an organic farmer, even though I had never before cooked a whole chicken (which I suppose is a rather sad statement!). Not wanting to waste it, and not wanting to “gift” a 5 year old chicken to a friend, I ended up cooking the chicken for US Thanksgiving because I wanted something “special” for just myself and the boys (my husband was already in Canada and our daughter was off on a ski trip), and despite the fact it was 5 years old it was still delicious! Since moving here (and with that cautionary tale in mind), I’ve been trying really hard to keep myself “real” at the grocery store, and to only buy what we actually use. That being said, I have to do a clean-out of the freezer shortly, and I do expect to find a few things I’ve forgotten about 😦 .

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    2. One of my most important home-management tools is the Freezer List. It’s on the door of the freezer and tells us how many of what things are in there. We have to remember to update it when we buy stuff and use stuff, but we’ve gotten into the habit now well enough that I only have to do an inventory and make a new list about twice a year.

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      1. We too, have a freezer inventory list. I got the idea from a friend who swore by it, but in our house it’s a bit hit-and-miss, unfortunately. In a reversal of what you’d expect, my husband is the one who is great at remembering to mark items off (both plus and minus), and it’s ME who all-too-often can’t be bothered…

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