Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week on Waste: How to Limit Your Food Waste

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $6/day.

About a month ago, I was talking to an uber frugal friend of mine. She said she wanted a post on how we waste so little food. I've been thinking about it on and off since then and it seems the perfect closer to our week on waste. (P.S. I've noticed that talking about waste is less popular than talking about chocolate--just saying).

1. We have a leftover night once or twice a week. It seems like a lot, but it works for us. We also have leftover night even when I know we don't have enough leftovers to feed everyone. On those nights I pull out things for sandwiches as well or make a sort of side dish type thing. The trick is to make sure people don't just eat sandwiches. I tell everyone they have to eat something leftover first.

2. Leftover meals. A little meat and some vegetables can go a long way with some rice or pasta, a white sauce or cheese.

3. I throw things in the freezer when I know they're going to go south soon. This is great to do if you've got good leftovers that people are bored with, but will be happy to eat in a month. It's also good to do with small portions of food that could be of use in a soup or casserole later. The only problem with this is that sometimes food is going bad because no one likes it. In this case, throwing it in the freezer is probably only going to prolong its life before you waste it. That's silly. If everyone really hates it and it's not going to get eaten, throw it away. But if it's perfectly good, toss it in the freezer. Some people even have a bucket or bag in the freezer for bits of leftover vegetables and meat. When the bag is full they make a soup. I've never had the guts to do it, although it sounds like a great adventure.

4. Make a plan. Yeah, boring tip, I know. It doesn't have to be a day by day plan, but try to get about 4 meals planned for the week and buy the things for them.

5. Keep your produce in the most whole form possible. If you know you'll be eating it, then by all means, chop it up. Just remember that as soon as something is cut, chopped, or shredded, it's going to go the way of all the earth much faster. Along that line, don't cook the whole head of broccoli if you know there will be leftovers and you know no one will eat them (because, I'm sorry, plain leftover broccoli is a gross leftover). There's not a rule that says you have to cook the whole head of broccoli or each ear of corn you bought. Chop and cook what you'll use and save the rest, well-wrapped in the refrigerator. I'm always shocked at how long my carrots, celery, and even salad greens last when I leave them alone. They can often last for months. Even the greens if they're a tight head will last for quite a while. Cut the stuff up, however, and it's got no more than a week.

6. When things look wilty and sad, but not rotten, make a soup, casserole, or smoothie. Or throw them in the freezer in order to make a soup, casserole, or smoothie later. Yes, the quality will decline somewhat, but if used cooked as part of a greater whole, it won't matter too much.

7. Buy and make quality foods. It is one of the ironies of being a cheapskate that we sometimes cut corners a little too much. The tastier and better your ingredients, the more likely you are to try to think of ways to use them up.

Which concludes our week on waste. Stay tuned next week when we attack the world of squash. Because, the summer squash, they are coming.

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