By Kathryn McLean

What staples do you keep in your freezer? Bagged peas or other vegetables for making dinner, a carton of ice cream, frozen shrimp and some supermarket burger patties?

I have most of those things, too, but also frozen bananas next to a bag of frozen fruit, cheese rinds, soup and single portions of leftovers that I couldn’t bear to throw out. There’s some frozen naan bread alongside tomato sauce and some cooked salmon.

In the spirit of being less wasteful and yes, thrifty, I try to keep whatever leftover foods I think can be used again. If I’m not sure I’ll get to the item within a couple of days, into the freezer it goes. Bits and pieces such as beans or lentils, vegetables and even rice become a soup, naan becomes a quick pizza lunch and salmon will be transformed into fish cakes soon enough.

It seems that many people toss browning bananas into the freezer with the best of intentions to bake a banana bread, only to end up guiltily tossing the blackened fruit into the green bin two months later. But while frozen bananas are great, thawed, for baking, they are also perfect in a smoothie. Bananas are naturally sweet and are a common thickener in the drink, whether you add yogurt or not. And bananas can be put directly in the freezer, without peeling or chopping; just thaw before using or cut away the frozen peel with a small knife.

If you have a chunk of hard cheese in the fridge, don’t put the rind in the green bin just yet. The thick rinds of Manchego, Parmigiano, Romano and other hard cheeses can be stored in the freezer until you’re ready to use them another day. When you’re making risotto or another rice dish, add the rind straight from the freezer at the same time as the liquid and it will subtly flavour the dish. Same for soups, sauces and other dishes where a protein is gently simmering in a saucy base. 

Most times when I buy fresh salmon or other fish, I’ll buy more than my family will eat in one sitting. Then a couple of days later, I flake the fish and mix it with some cooked potatoes and fresh herbs, bind it with an egg and bake fish cakes for another night’s dinner. Or, wrap the extra cooked fish and put it in the freezer. After a few days, or even a couple of weeks, I move the fish to the fridge to defrost and make that easy dinner with the already cooked fish I’d saved just for this.

Your freezer is great for storing meat and economy-sized bags of veggies, but it can also help you to reduce waste. Try keeping some items you’d normally throw out, and repurposing them into a new meal. It’s nice to have some quick homemade backups when you want to put off a trip to the store. Plus, who doesn’t like to save some money?