Now that your shelves are stocked, and food is safely in the kitchen, what can you do with the extra before it goes bad? Many schools have been providing free meals and extra produce to families, but what if you cannot eat the food fast enough? Your family may also be tired of eating the same meals over and over again. Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce food waste while adding variety to your offerings.
Most food can be easily frozen to make it last longer. Always thaw food in the refrigerator and not on the counter to keep it safe to eat. When thawing, food must remain below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in order to reduce how quickly bacteria grow. Some vegetables need to be blanched before freezing to destroy the enzyme that can continue to break down food while in the freezer.
Some foods that freeze well are:
Lunch meat is easy to forget about in your refrigerator. If you cannot use it quick enough, you can put it in the freezer to make it last longer. When you have a recipe that calls for a little meat, you can pull it out and add it to the recipe. It is also great to have in the freezer for sandwiches when you have a last-minute picnic.
Dairy foods like cheese, yogurt and milk can freeze well but, once thawed, might be better used for cooking since freezing may change the texture of the food.
Sauces can be frozen in small, easy-to-thaw containers or zipper bags. If you have leftover pizza or spaghetti sauce, freezing is a good way to reduce waste. Freezing them in individual containers might also make it easier to use them as dipping sauces with breadsticks.
Leftovers are easy to put into a freezer-safe container to reheat for future meals. You can even freeze complete meals in single sizes for easy reheating. This is a fun way to make TV dinners where every family member can choose their own meal to reheat if there are a variety of meals saved up. Make sure the container you use to freeze is either microwave safe or oven safe depending on your reheating preference. Containers can be lined with freezer wrap or bags for easy removal and storage.
Fruit can be frozen easily, but some fruit should be cut up first to make it easier to use later. Berries, grapes and bananas are perfect for freezing whole, and are a delicious treat on hot days. Bananas are multipurpose and can be frozen after they are overripe to be used for baking. Kids can even mash them up in freezer bags. Bananas are also great if you peel them when perfectly ripe, cut them in half and place them on a popsicle stick before freezing.
It is easy to dry extra produce for future use with a dehydrator. Fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated for snacks or soups. Old bread is perfect for dehydrating and turning into croutons or bread crumbs. If you do not have a dehydrator, you can use your oven instead.
Canning is another fun way to use up a lot of fruits or vegetables. When canning, you want to be sure to follow recipes exactly and use proper equipment and sanitation practices. UNH Cooperative Extension’s Food Safety Field Specialist Ann Hamilton has put together a list of fact sheets from Penn State Extension that tell you how to preserve a variety of foods by canning, freezing and drying them. You can find that information here.
Overripe fruit can be used in baking. Bananas, avocado, apples and pears are great to replace eggs or butter in many recipes. Leftover fruit is also a great addition to pancake batter or as a topping. Muffins can also be filled with your favorite fruit to make a variety of flavors. Here is a list of healthy substitutions from the University of Maine.
For more information on how long food lasts in your refrigerator or freezer you can use the Food Keeper App.
For more from the 5 Tips to Feeding your Family Through Quarantine series:
Preserving, Canning, Drying Fact Sheets https://extension.unh.edu/blog/freezing-canning-and-drying-fact-sheets
Thawing food https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/thawing.html
Altering recipes for better health https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4167e/
Freezing Fruit https://extension.unh.edu/resource/freezing-fruit