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New Years’ Resolution: Waste Not, Want Not (Part 2)

Yesterday, I presented my New Year’s foodie resolution – to stop wasting food. We do pretty good, since we already buy things with a plan and create strategies to use food before it goes off. We’re not always successful, as you can see in this photo, but we try our best! And in the new year, we hope to do better.

Sprouted potato.

Here are four more things that you (and we!) can do to stop wasting food.

Inventory your pantry before running to the store.
This is one that I am bad for not doing, and explains how we once ended up with four unopened bottles of Worcestershire sauce. After you’ve made your menu, check your pantry to make sure you’re not buying things that you already have.

Also, look for opportunities to substitute things! For example, if your recipe calls for sweet potatoes but you have a butternut squash sitting around, try substituting the squash for the sweet potatoes. This way you use the squash and save money by not buying sweet potatoes this week.

Exercise restraint.
I am my mother’s daughter, no matter how hard I try to deny it. So when I see a fantastic deal on something at the grocery store or the market, I want to grab it. Instead, I make myself pause and consider what else we already have.

A 10 pound bag of potatoes might be on sale for a great price, but if we already have 4 pounds of potatoes that we haven’t used yet, will the ten pound bag get used before the potatoes go off? This is why I’m so leery of shopping at a warehouse store like Costco. It’s easy to get sucked into a great deal (“Wow! Five gallons of mayonnaise!”) but if you’re not going to use it all before it goes bad, it might not be a good deal! One thing you can do, though, is break down large quantities of stuff like meats and freeze them in sensible, individually-wrapped packages. Which brings me to…

Freeze surpluses.
The world certainly changed when we got our chest freezer. No longer were we limited by the tiny over-fridge freezer. By the time the farmers’ market closed and my garden was put away for the winter, our freezer was filled to bursting with frozen beans, corn, shredded zucchini, peas, grass-fed ground beef, broccoli, pierogies, strawberries, raspberries, sausage, bacon, and an assortment of baked goods. Basically, if there wasn’t an immediate use for it, I froze it. This let me save a lot more of our garden produce this year than I was able to last year, which was a very good thing. This year my bean plants produced about 100 pounds of beans over the course of the summer, far more than we could eat on our own. (I’ll be doing a post later on in 2011 on how to save fresh vegetables by freezing them.)

My goal is to have the freezer mostly emptied by the time spring rolls around, so lots of our dinners right now have a “freezer dive” component to them. (Speaking of which, we have a giant bag of pierogies that we should start using…)

Use everything.
Recipes that encourage waste really irritate me. For example, I’ve run across lots of recipes that call for egg whites, and very often the recipe will encourage the cook to “discard the yolks.” Or a recipe for wilted swiss chard will direct the cook to cut out the swiss chard’s ribs and toss them, when they’re perfectly edible. The yolks can be kept in the fridge and added to an omelet tomorrow for breakfast. The chard ribs can be chopped and used like celery in a stir fry. There’s no excuse for using a tablespoon of tomato paste and leaving the rest in the fridge to slowly mold over.

So when I find a recipe that calls for one of these wasteful actions, I will add a meal later on in the same week that will use whatever the first recipe called to have discarded. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that you’ve just used your brain and saved yourself some money in the process.

Reducing our food waste is one of my resolutions for this year. What are your foodie resolutions?

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New Years’ Resolution: Waste Not, Want Not (Part 1)

I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Years! I’m not one for making a list of resolutions, but the beginning of the year is a natural time to think about things you want to change.

Happy New Year.

I never took economics in college, but I think it’s a no-brainer to say that the economic climate plays a role in what people think about. And journalists, who are always striving to find something of interest to their readers, tend to write about things that their readers are thinking about.

Thus, this year and last we have seen many articles about food waste. For example, this article from MacLeans in 2009 states that in Canada, almost 40% of all food produced is waste; it’s either destroyed or rots just after production, during transit, at the store, or once it reaches the consumer. Everyone with a crisper in their refrigerator has experienced the horror of realizing that the leafy green in the drawer might be a bit older than you thought, or digging through the freezer to find a lump of an unidentified meat-like substance freezer-burned beyond all recognition. Cleaning liquefied vegetables out of the fridge or tossing icy brown masses of food is no fun, and represents wasted food and money. And for people with gardens, it also represents wasted time and effort.

Besides just making sure to eat things before they go off, there are some things you can do to prevent wasting food.

Make a menu plan and a shopping list every week.
We’ve tried hard to minimize the amount of food we waste by planning out our meals, making shopping lists based on those meals, and then only buying what’s on our shopping list. (Even the best laid plans go astray, of course. We tend to make a lot of spontaneous purchases at the farmers’ market, since we never know what we’re going to find.) We leave some flex room if we find something intriguing that we’d like to try – for example, when we ran across dragonfruit for the first time. When we do find something neat, though, we’ll just buy enough to try it – not the big value size. In the end, making the menu, preparing the shopping list, and sticking to our plan makes sure that we’re only buying what we need.

Have a plan for the leftovers, too.
Over time, you come to learn which meals will typically have leftovers. As you create your dinner menu for the week, make another plan for the leftovers. One of the easiest things to do with leftovers is to take them to work the next day as your lunch. Not all things make good leftovers, of course, but many pastas, casseroles, curries, and one-dish meals make fantastic lunches. You can also keep things to incorporate into dinners later in the week. For example, leftover rice can be turned into fried rice. Leftover pasta sauce can be used as a sauce for a sandwich. Leftover chicken can be turned into chicken ala king or chicken salad. And salad greens that do not have dressing on them can go back into the fridge for tomorrow night’s dinner.

Tomorrow I’ll have four more ideas for you (and me!) to help stop wasting food that we buy.

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