It is staggering how much food we waste. A recent study showed that Americans waste approximately 25% of all food that they purchase. That’s essentially taking every fourth grocery bag and tossing it in the garbage on the way after shopping. When we think about food waste a lot of it comes down to simply using it. But, it also comes down to proper food storage—because the better you know how to store your food, the longer it will last, meaning less waste.
Berries go bad pretty quickly. They’re also expensive, and when they’re in abundance you want to eat ALL the berries, but how do you preserve them? A great way to save your berries is to freeze them. But here’s the thing—you can’t just wash them and dump them into a freezer bag with the hope of using/eating them a few at a time. What inevitably happens is they all clump together and then you get this big frozen mass of berries. Instead, clean your berries, chop them into your desired size, and then find yourself a cookie sheet. Lay the berries out flat as if you were roasting veggies, then put that in the freezer. Let the berries freeze completely then take them off the tray and pop them into a storage container and put that in the freezer. Boom! Nice frozen individual berries.
If you store sugar at home, you’ve probably encountered the rock-hard mass that develops over time. In order to keep sugar in its crystal format what you need to do is find a nice airtight container, something that ideally has a tight-fitting lid with a rubber seal on it. You can get these at tons of stores, they’re not expensive and they really do preserve the life of your sugar, whether white or brown. The other thing that’s great about this is it keeps pests (think ants/mice etc.) out and as we all know that these little critters love sugar!
There are lots of varieties of lettuce. I’m going to specifically focus on head lettuce. That’s anything that’s attached by a core at the bottom—romaine, iceberg, you get the picture. When you bring that home this instinct is to cut it all up, rinse and store it, but that is actually not the right thing to do! This actually ages head lettuce quicker. Head lettuce wants to be kept intact for as long as possible. So when you get it home, you want to have a look at the lettuce, remove anything that’s wilted or moldy or kind of decaying. Then, you want to wrap the lettuce in a paper towel and put it into a crisper drawer. Now, I always like to keep my crisper drawers lined with paper towel which also helps. The other thing to remember is to keep your lettuce away from anything that is a ripener—something that produces ethylene gas, so apples, pears, avocados, just to name a few. Meaning, if you’re going to store your lettuce in one drawer, you want to store that stuff somewhere else.
Kale & Spinach
On the topic of leafy things, we’ve got some other super-greens that we have to cover off, namely kale and spinach. These are clearly not attached to a head like the lettuce that we just talked about. Now, particularly with spinach, it tends to get slimy really quickly and in turn can go bad quickly as well. So, as soon as you get this stuff home, don’t just put it in the fridge, there’s a little bit of prep involved if you want this stuff to last. What you want to do is pick through all the pieces and pull out anything that is slimy, wilted, or looks like it’s on the brink of going bad. Toss that. Then, you want to throw your greens into a salad spinner. You’re going to rinse really, really, really well. Then spin like crazy. Once they’re dry, you’re going to put them into a zipper-lock bag (or a glass container) lined with paper towel and store that in your fridge. This can keep your greens in really good shape for up to a couple of weeks.
Ice Cube Tray
This is kind of a cool idea if you have an extra ice cube tray lying around, and even if you don’t, it is worth picking another one up just for this purpose. If you have any extra stock, marinade, sauce, or herbs, you can put them into one of the ice cube slots and freeze them. With herbs specifically, you can just add in some olive oil and freeze them. It’s really handy to just pull out and throw into a frying pan whenever you need something. This is a wonderful, easy, inexpensive way to preserve food. I use this a lot for smoothies. If I ever have coffee, juice, any remnants of fruit, I just throw that in. Super-handy.
If you’re in a smaller family or you’re a single person and you want to shop and take advantage of good sales at the grocery store, but you know that you’re not going to be consuming a whole five-pack of chicken breasts or a giant piece of meat, one of the things you can consider is getting yourself a vacuum packing machine. This is a great way to store food long-term while avoiding freezer burn. You can also pre-marinate your food. There are tons of videos on how to do that. It’s just a great way to keep your food fresher for longer and it really does save you money.
To make sure that you’re not wasting money on things that you’ve already purchased, it’s ideal to take an inventory of what you have in your fridge each week. Now, this doesn’t have to be exhaustive, it’s more about understanding what you have before you hop out to grocery shop. You want to specifically look for things that are on the brink of expiration, and try and use them in an upcoming recipe so it doesn’t go to waste. Sometimes people talk about fridge clean out recipes and that’s exactly what you would want to do in this situation. So if you have some vegetables that are still okay but like not going to be okay tomorrow, pull all of them out, chop them up, make a sauce, soup, or stir fry with them. Reduce the waste!
When you’re going through and doing this inventory, be prepared to do a little bit of maintenance as well. If you notice that there’s some sticky sauce or a cracked egg or yucky kind of slimy paper towel in your crisper drawer—it’s at this point that you’re going to want to do some quick little cleaning tasks. Honestly, it won’t take more than a couple of minutes and it will help keep your fridge healthy and fresh and keep your food looking and tasting the same. Your appliance manual probably indicates a temperature range that your fridge should be at, which is food safe and appropriate. Remember, if your food gets too hot, it can spoil. If your foods gets too cold, it can freeze. And particularly with produce, if it freezes, it’s kind of gross and not usable (at least in the way that you wanted to use it). So be mindful of the temperature, especially if you live in a seasonal area; with us, for example, in the winter, our house is colder so it might make sense for us to adjust our temperature up a little bit so that our food doesn’t freeze too quickly. And conversely, in the summer, if you live in a super hot climate, you might want to consider dropping the temperature in your fridge just a bit.