Not wasting food

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After purging my refrigerator this weekend, I came across this article on Planet Green. I do hate wasting food, and I was really feeling the need to plan ahead better after tossing so many leftovers and condiments, so I was ripe for the ideas on this page.

I have a very bad habit of buying all kinds of produce with no plan in mind, then throwing a bunch of it out at the end of the week. I have been working on this for a while now with menu planning, and trying to get better about substituting what I have on hand in recipes to make sure that things get used, but I definitely could use some improvement in this area.

Here are some things I have done to lower my food waste:

1) Composting.

Yes, this is still food waste, but at least it will be used for something and it isn’t going into a landfill. I have two compost bins in my back yard. For the first year and a half or so that I lived in the house, I used one bin almost exclusively to dispose of my food waste, then I switched over to the other one. I haven’t done any turning of the compost to help the breakdown, although I did occasionally add extra brown matter when the compost looked particularly wet, and my gardeners tell me we can now use the compost in that first bin when we are setting up my garden this year. I am hoping we can speed up the process going forward, so that we always have a bin ready to go in the summer. We are better about composting everything now, since I had a friend give me a big plastic kitty litter bucket with a hinged lid to use in the house each time we have something to compost, so that we don’t have to choose between multiple trips a day to the bin and leaving rotting food on the counters. That will help to increase the amount of compost available, but I may have to start thinking about getting a compost turning fork or shovel and mixing it up to hurry the decomposition process along.

2) Menu planning

I have gotten a lot better about menu planning in general, and consulting the fridge and pantry before writing the plan in particular. A quick look at what we have on hand really helps to make sure I don’t buy veggies that we already have waiting to be used. Having a definite plan also means I am more likely to actually cook dinner each night, because I don’t need to stand in the kitchen, looking in the fridge, then looking in the pantry, then looking in the freezer, then back to the fridge, etc., just to decide I don’t have everything to make anything, and so we might as well just eat peanut butter sandwiches or go out. I just come home, go in the kitchen, and start making dinner. The area I really need to work on here is breakfasts and lunches. I often end up buying a bunch of random foods to make sure we have something to eat, and we end up with too much of some things and not enough of others. I do not yet have very detailed breakfast and lunch plans, but at least I am thinking about it more before I get to the store. Some key learnings in this area:

  • When I have bell peppers or cantaloupe for healthy snacks, I need to actually cut them up and have them ready to eat if we are actually going to snack on them
  • I need to start looking at the entire menu for the week to see what I can prep ahead on the weekend, or when I can work ahead throughout the week (slicing peppers when I am chopping another one for a recipe, for instance)
  • When I go to the grocery store, the list isn’t quite enough—I need the menu, too, so that I can make suitable substitutions if I see something on sale, or cannot find something on my list

3) Using leftovers
 

I hate it when I make something really good, and forget to eat the leftovers. Or, I make too much, and have more leftovers than I really want to eat. I like having some leftovers, because it makes lunch the next day easy, but most of the time, I don’t want to eat a meal more than twice. One dinner, one lunch, and I am good. I am also guilty of planning a bit too well for my cooking, and not accounting for leftovers, but I am getting better. The last few weeks, I have had lima bean and Brussels sprouts curry on my menu for Tuesday nights, when the kids are at their dad’s. This works well because the kids hate lima beans and Brussels sprouts, while I love them, and the girl isn’t too fond of curry. However, it also works well because my veggies are frozen and my sauce comes in a jar, so I can put it off if I need to, like this week, when I looked at all the leftovers in my fridge and decided to eat some of those instead. I still need to do some tweaking, though. Some lessons I learned on this topic this week:

  • If I make a sloppy joe pizza, I should freeze half of the joes; I don’t need leftover pizza and sandwiches
  • Combining the third tip to eat reasonable serving sizes and the fourth tip to eat the leftovers can be problematic at times; I need to get better at estimating how much of a certain food to make
  • The girl doesn’t like fried rice/quinoa/whatever grain, so it isn’t always an ideal way to be creative with leftovers
  • I really should consider writing down all that we eat in a week to help with more accurate planning sometime
  • Clearing out the fridge really does help me to see what is in there and available so that things get used up; I need to be careful not to let it get cluttered

4) Not eating out

I decided to conduct an experiment in the month of April—no eating out for the whole month. I saw a chart somewhere recently—probably one of those USA Today snapshots—that compared the average number of times that people in various countries eat out per year. Japan was the highest, but the US was right behind them, at 100 meals out per year. I thought about how I have really cut back on eating out in the past few years since I bought the house and thought, “Wow, that is a lot of eating out!” Then I thought a bit more deeply and realized that is just under twice per week, and I totally still do that, if not more. We go out with friends on the weekend, or I don’t plan ahead for lunches and have to head out to a restaurant, or I buy some eggs down at the cafeteria when I get to work. This puts me in a position where I am spending money at restaurants at the same time I am throwing out food at home, which is just crazy. So, I decided to just say no to eating out for April, and see how that goes (one exception: if I go shopping on a Saturday with my mom and aunt and grandmother, and my grandmother wants to buy me lunch like she always does, of course I will go). So far, it has been a lot easier than I thought it would be. I made a big batch of cole slaw at the beginning of the week to make sure I had a veggie side every day, and I only spend a few minutes in the evening making sure there is something to take for lunch the next day. It has really helped to get the leftovers eaten, too.

 

I know I am still going to throw out some foods this week. This morning when I was packing my lunch, I saw a container of leftover spaghetti that I can’t remember exactly when it was new, but I do know I have already eaten from more than once. I suspect there are a few other things I won’t get to as well. But, I am paying closer attention now, and it will be getting better. Progress not perfection, right?

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