Nutrition Corner: Freeze food and reduce your waste during COVID-19

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Managing eating in the home during COVID-19 has challenged many of us.

Grocery shopping once every week or every other week can still be quite an adjustment. It is hard to estimate how much food you and your family are going to eat over the course of one or two weeks. You may have found that you overestimated and bought too much food. If so, freezing foods might be a way to reduce waste and save you money.

You can freeze almost any kind of food. The exceptions are canned foods in the can or eggs in the shell. Take them out of the can, place in a freezer container and freeze. Crack open the egg and separate the yolks and whites. Place in separate freezer containers then freeze.

The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients. In meat and poultry products, there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage. Luncheon meats and cooked meats can be safely frozen for one to two months. Freezing at 0-degree F. inactivates bacteria, yeasts and mold that may be present in foods. Once thawed, they can become active and multiply under the right conditions and cause food-borne illness. It is important to handle thawed items just like any other perishable food.

Here is how to freeze food and retain its quality. First use freezer grade containers. Freezer grade containers protect the food against freezer burn. Freezer burn is what happens when the food item is exposed to circulating air in the freezer. Freezer burn does not make food unsafe; it makes the food dry in some spots. It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air touching the surface of the food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food. Heavily freezer-burned foods may have to be discarded for quality reasons. Wrap foods tightly to stop air from being trapped in freezer containers, freezer bags or freezer wrap. Write the date and name on the package. Freeze foods at 0 degrees or lower. You may want to start a list of items in the freezer.

Overbought milk? Do not let milk spoil in the refrigerator, freeze it before the use by date. If the milk is unopened, then open the container and pour a little out of the container to allow room for expansion of the milk while frozen. Close container, date and freeze for up to three months.

Here is a short list of freezer times for various foods. Use a freezer thermometer to check the temperature of your freezer. Freeze food at 0-degree F. Freezing at 0 °F keeps food safe indefinitely. The recommended storage times are for quality only.

Ground beef; 3-4 months

Leftover including casseroles; 2 – 3 months

Fresh eggs, yolk, whites;- 1 year

Milk;-3 months

Yogurt;- 1-2 months

COVID-19 has challenged our not only our cooking skills but also our menu planning and shopping skills. Use your freezer to help you reduce food waste through these difficult times.

We typically do not think of stews in the summer, but this recipe is made in a slow-cooker and will not heat up the kitchen. Freeze leftovers for a quick ready-made lunch in the future.

Crock Pot Vegetable Lentil Stew

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons salt (optional)

1 large onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup carrot, chopped

2 cups kale, chopped

2 cups chard, chopped

2 cups dried lentils

8 cups vegetable broth (or stock)

1 can chopped tomatoes (16 ounces)

Sauté onion and garlic with olive oil. Combine sauté mix with the rest of the ingredients in a crock pot.

Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Spoon stew into bowls to serve and top with a dollop of low-fat plain yogurt (optional). Enjoy!

Mary R. Ehret, M.S.,R.D.,L.D.N., is the Nutrition Links Supervisor in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Carbon, Schuylkill, Sullivan and Bradford counties for the Penn State Extension.

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