Turning Leftovers into Freezer Meals

I’m still working on two or three dishes I cooked up during Husband’s last trip – when I am at home alone, half as much food gets eaten and twice as much gets cooked because I start thinking about all the things I have in the kitchen, and all the recipes people have sent me, and I just make things until the fridge is full. I have my pick of things to eat, but they inevitably become leftovers.

One tactic I’ve seen a lot of people do is freeze things almost immediately after making them, anticipating how they will not really want that food for multiple meals in the same week. I, however, begin with optimism that we will eat, for instance, chili for days on end. Husband is pretty good about it, as I’ve said before, I love the luxury of eating something different every day. So it appears that I need to practice freezer meal prep!

Pinterest has a few links about it, but I’m especially intrigued by meals that, when reheated, retain the same awesome flavors and textures they had when first made; any freezer meal recipes out there that don’t taste like freezer meals? I’d also love to get better at packaging up more freezer meals, i.e. “meal prep” ahead of time, but for now, I think I have to stick with just doing a better job of not letting leftovers get old and then get thrown out. I want to be able to cook a lot and experience variety, but I also really want to avoid trashing any real food.

There is nothing like spending all summer to try to grow just a few buckets of tomatoes to make you appreciate every grain of rice and lump of stew that you sadly throw out because it’s gotten too old in the fridge. Time to use my freezer to save food. 🙂

Surprising Place to find Food Waste

I spent this morning volunteering at a food pantry. While I did a few different things – sort out toiletries and organize food for different purposes, carefully layering canned goods on the bottom and dry goods on the top to keep the boxes from being overburdened – the biggest thing I did was… throw away food.

Let me back up for a moment: recently, there was a large, city-wide food drive that brought in thousands and thousands of pounds of food. It’s been an incredibly successful initiative, and everyone is psyched that, at a lean time of the year, a ton of food is coming in. I personally am also psyched, and was more than thrilled to come in and help sort the food at the warehouse where it’s being held and then distributed to the individual pantries where it will get to the people who need it.

However.

Some people, probably including me, didn’t go to the grocery store and buy up whatever was on sale in the canned goods aisle. Instead, they looked at their pantry or some shelves in their basement and grabbed things they’d had for a while that no one seemed to be eating. This seems like the opposite of waste at first: you take things that you already paid good money for and give them a new life.

The problem with this became apparent to me when I was instructed to sort food with far-off expiration dates, food with dates in the next 4 months, and food that had already expired. The far-off dates will be given to the local pantries; the next-4-months food will be specifically allocated to places that can move it immediately; but the rest? I was instructed to chuck it in a bin, along with anything that came open in transit or was dented.

A well-reputed food bank has to deal with a lot of pressures, and while I’m sure that individual people who are hungry may make the decision to eat expired can food (after all, the date does just say “best by” not “will hurt you by”), they cannot afford to have someone furious at them over a bad meal out of an expired can. I realized as I heaved can after can of food into the trash that what I normally do (donate food I have gathering dust in my pantry) is a terrible idea for two reasons: firstly, anything expired will go from “maybe eaten in my household, when I feel like risking it” to “definitely in the trash”, and secondly, I make the job of sorting that volunteers and hardworking non-profit coordinators do that much longer, more tedious, and frankly a bit saddening.

This is not to talk bad about people who donate to food banks – honestly, that group of people are already pretty wonderful just to be taking time out of their day to help. Still, I thought that food waste was an important thing to consider, and it made me want to check my own cupboard as I work on my “cupboard cleanout” to make sure I use up the near-to-expiring goods. I’m aware of that with veggies and meats, but rarely with canned goods.

So here’s my question, food friends: what do you do to prevent waste in your kitchen? I’m a novice and fresh from an experience of throwing lots of food away, and I’m ready to be a part of the solution, even though I bet there’s more food waste in my life than I ever thought. Together, maybe, we can start habits that help us overall waste less, which benefits our community as much as any of our recipe-sharing and storytelling does.