Give your freezer a makeover to reduce your food waste

How much food do you think you throw away every year? Ten pounds? Twenty pounds?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that each American tosses out 225-290 pounds of food annually. That’s the weight of two teenagers! You can do the math – a family of four creates roughly one thousand pounds of food waste in a year, year after year.

At Food for Others, we care about wasted food because we are continually confronted by hunger in Northern Virginia. In addition to looking for ways to move more food to more people in our community, we encourage habits that ensure less food ends up in our local landfills.

In my two previous blogs, I discussed reducing your household food waste by using your kitchen cupboards more efficiently and by managing your refrigerator with a strategy in mind. Now I’ll talk about your freezer.

I think of the freezer as the last line of defense in the war on residential food waste since it can instantly stop good food from becoming inedible.

Open your freezer. Is it crammed full? Perhaps you’re one of the unfortunates who experience frozen food falling out as the door swings open. Are there freezer burned mystery meats hanging out in the back? Can you find bags of vegetables that contain more ice than wrinkled peas and carrots? How about well-intentioned leftovers? Do you see plastic containers full of shriveled unknowns, packed with loving care in 2015?

If yes to any of the above, it’s time for a freezer makeover.

First, evaluate the contents of your freezer. Throw away everything that simply has no more life left in it. If you make a habit of promptly throwing away food that is truly no longer edible, you will increase your chances of throwing away LESS food in the long run.

Now you can organize what remains. Organizing helps you scan the contents quickly and note what you already own, avoiding duplication at the grocery store. It also helps you use things up before they crash and (freezer) burn. Too, you become quicker at answering the question, “what’s for dinner?”

Even with a tiny freezer that is completely full, you can be organized by creating zones. Zones allow you to keep like items together, speeding up the hunt for a specific food. Put all of the vegetables in one spot and all of your fruits in another. Place frozen meats together, with older ones where you’ll see them first. Stack boxed meals in one spot if you can, again with earliest expiration-dated meals closer to the front. Juices together, breads in a cluster, desserts grouped…you get the idea. Now you’re organized and you can start adding items to your freezer to make your life easier and cut down on worn out unusable food.

There’s a spot in my freezer that I think of as the odds and ends section. It is right up front where I can see everything, pulling out the older and bringing in the newer. When I make too much rice, I freeze the rest so I can add it to my pan of canned chicken noodle soup that is sorely lacking noodles. Cooked pasta, scrambled ground meats, left over fruits and veggies, fresh herbs, stale bread – they all make it to my odds and ends section. I can then give those foods new life as stews, tacos, smoothies, desserts and other favorites.

Finally there are the leftovers, my favorite freezer use other than storing ice cream of course! After dinner while I’m cleaning the kitchen, I box up all of the leftovers into individual meals and freeze them. Once we’d had enough of the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers last week, I created box meals that contain individual servings of turkey, stuffing and green beans all covered in gravy and froze them so they are ready to eat weeks from now when we want to revisit our great holiday meal. It beats letting the food mold and throwing it away with a side of guilt. I find it comforting to have homemade meals waiting for us any time we want to hit “start” on the microwave.

Your freezer can play a big role in helping you eat your food rather than trash it. Start small by trying a couple of new ideas. Make your freezer work for you, staying aware of its contents and using foods on time so you can enjoy good meals with less waste. It’s up to you to decide if you will throw away 225-290 pounds of food next year. Reducing food waste is good for your wallet, your dinner table and the community as a whole.

Dawn Matson –  Food for Others volunteer