I hate wasting food for a number of reasons. For one, I don’t see it as good stewardship of the earth’s resources. Two, plenty of parents around the world would kill for that scrap of food to feed their starving children. Three, it’s not economical. Four, it just makes me feel icky. And guilty. Although tossing out food that has gone bad always bothers me, in these days of rising grocery costs, it seems even more egregious than usual. Thus, I’ve pulled out all the stops lately to avoid it as much as possible. Here are the steps that work for me:
1. Magnetic White Board
This is the single most effective tool for me. I fell out of the habit of using it a few months ago, but I reinstated it this week. After foraging at the farmers’ market, I list everything I bought on the board. Then I make my menu plan for the week, checking to ensure I have a plan to use each item. Then I check the fridge for leftover perishables from last week, whether extra veggies or meal leftovers, and add them to the white board. Then I go to the grocery store to fill in the holes. When I return, I list all of the refrigerated perishables I purchased (e.g., fruits, vegetables, herbs, milk, cream, etc.). When I’m done, I have a complete list of every item in my refrigerator that might go bad in the next week or two.
This keeps me accountable to use that 1/2 of an onion I didn’t need for an omelet, the last serving of soup, and that two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice leftover from making fattoush. It also ensures that I don’t forget about the extra bunch of kale I stored in my veggie drawer. It even reminds me of all the healthy options I have in the fridge when I need a snack.
When I finish a leftover or use up any item, I cross it off. In a little corner of the board, I leave a space so I can list items I need to replenish. Run out of marjoram while preparing white turkey chili? I just write it down immediately so I don’t forget later. I can’t even express how helpful this system is for me!
2. Menu Plan
I’ve partially covered this topic already, so I’ll make this brief. Basically, I make a plan for everything I have leftover and everything I buy at the farmers’ market, and I carefully plan what I need to pick up at the grocery store. That way I’m less likely to buy food we won’t end up eating.
If you don’t think you can use all those carrots before they go bad, share them with a neighbor or a friend. My neighbors were kind enough to do this for me recently when they brought over bags of onions and limes they couldn’t finish. This is the kind of arrangement that’s win-win.
4. Make Soup
If all else fails and I still have vegetables that are turning, I just make some soup. Soup covers a multitude of sins. I saute some onions, leeks, shallots, and/or garlic (whatever I have), add stock, and load up the pot with vegetables. The lovely thing about soup is that it doesn’t matter if I only have 2 mushrooms and half a cup of peas. I throw them in anyway. Then I might add some meat or beans (pasta and grains like barley and rice may also work for some people). After seasoning with herbs, salt, and pepper, I’m done! Another recipe I’ve been using with this hodge podge approach is Crockpot Chicken and Quinoa.
5. Use the Freezer
When I have dutifully planned plenty of meals for the week and discover that we have more leftovers than I anticipated, I package some of them properly and freeze them. This has happened to me several times. Especially when trying new recipes, it’s hard to gauge how much food I’ll end up with. Being invited out to lunch or dinner can cause leftovers to go uneaten too.
This also works for meat that’s about to turn. I try to toss it in the freezer before that expiration date and wait until I can use it. Then I’m careful to cook it within a day of thawing it.
Those are my ideas. What works for you? How do you cut down on food waste in your home?
(Many thanks to Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer for hosting Works For Me Wednesday.)