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Freezing leftovers and planning out meals
When you’re cooking for one or two people, it is very common to have leftovers or not to use all of a food item before it goes bad, but is throwing it in the freezer for later the best way to save food from being wasted?
Preventing food from being thrown away is both economical and environmentally conscientious. It also makes life easier when you can’t think of what to make for dinner and you remember there are leftovers in the freezer from a few nights before. Freezing is a very practical way to store food because it does not destroy nutrients, so whether you enjoy a food fresh or frozen, you will still be receiving all of the nutritional benefits. Items that are frozen can also be preserved for extended periods of time due to the low temperature they’re stored at, which prevents the growth of foodborne illnesses.
Let’s say you cook a pot of chicken soup and you know you can’t possibly eat it all before it goes bad. You decide to freeze it to prevent it from going to waste and being thrown out once it goes bad. What is your next step after making the decision to freeze some of it?
You will first need to check that your freezer is set on the proper temperature of 0 degrees F. This will ensure your food is being thoroughly frozen. Next, you must decide what type of container you will freeze your soup in. A freezer bag is the best choice for items such as soups and stews. Freezer bags are able to be laid flat on a baking sheet once filled, frozen, and then stacked on top of other items to save space. Another option is to use a freezer-safe plastic container, such as Tupperware. Freezer-safe containers can be useful for storing single servings of your leftovers.
Once your soup has cooled and been poured into a bag or container, it is ready to be frozen and enjoyed again at a later time. When using a plastic container, be sure to place a small sheet of plastic wrap over your food before sealing with a lid, which will help prevent freezer burn. Don’t forget to label and date the bag or container before placing it in the freezer.
This will help you remember what it is and know if it’s been in the freezer too long to eat.
While freezing leftovers is a great way to prevent food waste, there are several foods that should never be frozen. Items such as salad greens and crisp vegetables should not be frozen because they will become limp from moisture when thawed. Sour cream and heavy or whipped cream should also never be frozen. Other items that shouldn’t be frozen include cream or custard fillings, milk sauces, mayonnaise or salad dressings, fried foods, and items containing gelatin. These items will lose their optimal textures and freshness if frozen and saved for a later time.
It is also important to note that a freezer can become too full. An over-packed freezer makes it difficult for the cold air to circulate evenly and freeze items properly. A good way to prevent this from happening is to take an inventory of your freezer every few weeks and see what you have on hand to use for meals in the upcoming week. If you need to, it may help to keep a running list of your freezer’s inventory. It may even save you a trip to the grocery store when you use what is already in your freezer.
Planning out your meals early in the week can also ensure you wont need to freeze too many items and potentially freeze something you shouldn’t. Other ways to cut down on food waste or the amount of food that needs to be frozen include cutting recipes in half or buying perishable items in smaller quantities. Taking a little more time to plan out your meals for the week will help better prepare you to know exactly how much food to buy for the week. In doing this, you can eliminate the need to freeze multiple items as well as items that shouldn’t be frozen.
Abigail McAlister is an assistant extension agent (general nutrition) for the LSU AgCenter. Her main focus is adult nutrition education and promotion in Caddo and Bossier parishes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Rosenston is a dietetic intern at Louisiana Tech University. She is in the process of completing 1,200 supervised practice hours in order to become a registered dietitian.