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Using your freezer to save your Christmas Day leftovers

Using your freezer to save your Christmas Day leftovers

After successfully showing us how to prepare Christmas dinner in advancehow to prepare Christmas dinner in advance, Kate Hall is back with her tips on how to store your Christmas Day leftovers safely, to avoid food waste.

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8 minutes to read

Why is storing your Christmas Day leftovers properly so important?

The two main reasons for knowing how to store your Christmas Day leftovers are ensuring food safety and avoiding food waste.

When you have lots of guests joining you for Christmas dinner, it can be hard to gauge just how much food you really need. A lot of us would rather cook too much than too little (it is Christmas, after all), but this brings with it the risk that lots of food will go to waste. This is especially true if it’s left to sit out for hours because you’re enjoying the festivities. 

However, as we now know that food waste is a bigger contributor to the climate crisis than plastic waste, it’s more important than ever that we work to reduce food waste. But we’ve also got to do it safely.

Food safety is really important – particularly for young children, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and the elderly. 

So how do I store my Christmas Day leftovers without making anyone ill?

From a food safety perspective, all the key points are highlighted on page 5 of Kate’s super-helpful download, The Stress-Free Christmas Dinner. All these are applicable to both preparing your Christmas dinner in advance, and also the food on the day.

If you’d like some more in-depth advice, the food standards agency have some good pointers to follow as well.
 

Things to remember when working out how to store your Christmas Day leftovers

The main thing on the day itself is that you don’t leave food out on the table or in the kitchen all day. Leftovers should be put away into the fridge within 2 hours of cooking (and any cold sides or sauces should be returned to the fridge as soon as possible), and eaten or frozen within 48 hours. If you are freezing anything, it’s best to freeze as soon as possible, but okay to freeze within 48 hours as long as the food has been refrigerated and not left out.
 
Food should be fully cooled before putting in the fridge or freezer. This is because hot food will raise the temperature inside the fridge and put other foods at risk. Also, depending on what the food is, it might be that the food cools faster on the outside and still be hot in the middle which gives bad bacteria the opportunity to develop.
 
When you come to eat your stored leftovers, foods such as cold meats can just be safely defrosted and eaten. However, it’s important that anything that is being reheated is reheated thoroughly – standard Food Safety Agency advice is to reheat to 70 degrees Celcius for at least two minutes. If you’re in doubt, it might be worth investing in a food thermometer to double-check your food is reheated to a safe temperature. 
 

 

Some storage tips for specific leftovers

 
If you’re looking for some specific advice on how to store certain foods, here are Kate’s tips (you’ll notice a common theme regarding reheating here – the rule is only reheat once!):

 

Turkey, gammon, beef and other meats

Meat can be sliced and frozen, separated by pieces of baking parchment. make sure you wrap it well to protect it from freezer burn (or freeze it in a sauce such as gravy). 

It can also be cut or torn into bite-size pieces and open frozen on a baking tray before putting in a freezer bag. These pieces can then be used in stir-fries, pasta dishes, risottos, curries, and other recipes.  Pieces storied like this will be more prone to freezer burn so are best used within a few weeks. Although freezer burn isn’t dangerous, it affects quality, so if pieces are freezer burnt, they are fine to eat as long as the meat was handled correctly before freezing.

Slices can be made up straight into sandwiches – Kate has more information about freezing sandwiched in her Frozen Lunchbox guide.

Vegetarian and vegan alternatives

Leftovers can be frozen, but remember the only reheat once rule. It’s best to slice your leftovers into usable portions before you freeze them so you can just reheat as much as you need in the future. Also, make sure you wrap them well to protect them from freezer burn.

Gravy

Homemade gravy leftovers can be frozen if they have been cooked fresh. If you have made it in advance (or bought readymade) you’re best to freeze in small usable quantities as leftovers shouldn’t be reheated for a second time (and so shouldn’t be frozen)

Stuffing

Only freeze freshly prepared stuffing; if you prepped in advance and froze it then it’s best to freeze in usable quantities as it is not advisable to reheat more than once. 

Potatoes and vegetables

Cooked potatoes and veggies aren’t great after freezing and reheating, although it is safe to do this as long as food safety guidelines are followed. Kate recommends open freezing the leftover cooked vegetables and then using from frozen to make soups or stir-fries, which should then be eaten immediately. It’s not advisable to make soup with leftovers and then freeze it as you’ll then be reheating the leftovers more than once (first when you make the soup, and then when you reheat it to eat). 

Puddings and cakes

Most puddings and cakes will be freezable, although the texture may change, and some may be best eaten still frozen or partially frozen. It’s best to separate into single portions before freezing. One pudding that will not do well in the freezer is trifle, so it’s best to try to eat all of yours on the day! 

Other ways to avoid food waste

If you enjoyed this post and would like more ideas to reduce your food waste, you might enjoy our posts on cooking with scraps and dumpster diving. And if you need some help with reducing your own food waste, why not head to the AIluna app now and try one of our food waste reduction dares? Just open the app and look for “The waste less lunch” or the “No more binning food” dare. 

About Kate

Kate Hall is the Founder of The Full Freezer™ and author of the e-book ‘The Full Freezer (Save Food, Save Time, Save Money)’. 

She helps busy families reduce their food waste and cook from scratch more often by using their home freezers more effectively.

 

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