Don’t let food waste give you freezer burn

As we reach the end of this year’s Food Waste Action Week I thought I would add my two pence on the importance of reducing our food waste. Even the basic statistics sound pretty shocking and it can be difficult to get your head around the scale of the problem. According to the sustainability charity WRAP, around one third of food produced worldwide is unnecessarily wasted when it is unsold, unused or thrown out by supermarkets, restaurants and the public. That is simply mind blowing, but it gets worse. The natural resources that go into growing the food together with the production and transportation of it for sale are also contributing to climate change. Food production is now responsible for close to 10% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, globally.

But as someone who cares about the planet and loves to cook I didn’t think I had a problem with food waste in my own home. After all, my family happily hoovered up any leftovers they could get their hands on. However, I also knew that I was far from perfect even if food waste was a particular bugbear of mine. Which is why in trying to cut down further on my own food waste I wanted to help others avoid it in Spoiler alert and shared some more tips for using up neglected and forgotten foods in Waste not, want more. Although I have to come clean…I made a glaring oversight when it came to reducing my food waste which I only discovered once all of my children had left home for university.

Let’s face it. Children are eating machines and mine will easily clear out anything edible in their sight. Which means that when my three were living full-time at home we had very little food wastage. In fact, it was more of a battle to keep the kitchen stocked up with enough food and I had to resort to sticking post-its on anything that I needed to save for dinner. As they left home for uni, one by one, cooking started to become more manageable. My biggest challenge was actually having to adjust to buying and cooking food for less and less people. Of course, whenever the three starving students visited home I had to fill up the shopping trolley to the brim once again until they headed back to uni. Sometimes they even managed to leave home with some leftovers packed in with their clean laundry. Nonetheless, there were always some unwanted ingredients and random foodstuff left behind in their wake.      

But being left with the remnants and extra ingredients of the weekend meals wasn’t a problem in itself. After utilising what I could into some rather ‘creative’ meals I got into the habit of routinely freezing whatever was still left. After all, l was already accustomed to freezing excess food such as turkey at Christmas and enjoying it again in the Spring. I knew that I would use some of the leftover ingredients in the future once I had decided what to cook with them. By avoiding food waste, I could keep my environment-friendly halo intact. As you can imagine, over time I have amassed a large collection of individually frozen wrapped packages tucked into every crevice of the freezer. It would be no exaggeration to say that my husband and I could probably live off the freezer contents for some time. That is, we could if we actually knew what any of it was…

I realised there was a problem when I decided to make a turkey stew. I planned to use some of the leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy safely stored in the freezer from last Christmas. After retrieving them, I put the three packs of frozen food in the fridge to defrost and was looking forward to cooking a hearty family meal that evening. Some time later, I started to prepare the stew and cooked up some veg while I began to unpack the defrosted turkey and stuffing. I added them to the pot and stirred them in while the stew bubbled away. As it cooked it began to smell incredible and I started to get hungry. But first it was time to add the gravy. I carefully held the bag over the pot, ready to pour in. I opened the bag but as I began to tip it in I couldn’t help thinking that something didn’t look right. The Christmas gravy looked a little bit on the dark side. The texture also looked kind of…thick. Just as the brown mixture slid into the pot and melted on contact I realised I had made a grave error. I hadn’t added gravy to the stew…but dark chocolate icing! It was the leftover icing I had used to decorate my child’s birthday cake.

It all came back to me in a flood of memories of best laid plans. Last December, I had bagged up the excess icing and bunged it in the freezer for another day so I wouldn’t have to waste it. But the critical mistake I had made with the icing and I realised that I was still making with the rest of the frozen foodstuff was to not have bothered to make the effort to label and date what everything is. Which means that at the moment, I have no way of knowing what each mysterious frozen package contains other than making an educated guess. It is like playing freezer roulette in my kitchen because it turns out that a round ball of pizza dough is indistinguishable from pastry, mashed potatoes, white sauce or more icing.

It has caused some more surprises and last-minute change of plans while cooking. But at least I am starting to get through the freezer contents meal by meal while I try to change my ways. And as for the unexpected addition of chocolate icing to the turkey stew? Well it turned into a slightly unorthodox meal of turkey mole which was surprisingly moreish. At least for that meal, I could still keep my eco halo in place.

Of course the moral of the story and another lesson to us all is that freezing excess food can help you cut down on food waste BUT remember to label and date it to avoid spoilage and becoming an unexpected addition to a meal.

Since making the rogue mole I have adjusted the recipe somewhat to not include chocolate icing. Here is the yummy result and an easy recipe for Turkey mole.

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