I don’t think anyone comes home from the grocery store, unpacks their food purchases, and then plans to throw away a significant percentage of the food they just bought. And yet, how often does produce “get away” from us, turning moldy and inedible before we get around to using it? How many little containers of leftovers get lost in the back of the fridge, only to be rediscovered too late and tossed? According to one study, the typical Canadian household wastes an astonishing 140 kg of food each year – and that’s not counting inedible things like bones and peels! That’s over $1000 of grocery money going straight into the trash! But those dreadful statistics don’t have to be a reality in your home! The following are five tips I’ve found invaluable in reducing edible food waste in my home to almost nil.
Tip #1: Meal Planning
For anyone who follows my blog, this one is not a big shocker! I return again and again to the topic of meal planning because I find it the single most important way to reduce waste, save money, and simplify my life in the kitchen. I was very inconsistent in my planning for years because I found sitting down and doing up a new meal plan every week was such a chore, so I would skip it until the amount of food we were throwing out and the amount we spent on groceries got out of control again. Now that I use a meal-planning rotation system, however, I never have to spend hours deciding what to cook or making up long lists of obscure ingredients to shop for. For more on my meal planning system, check out my other blog posts, or contact me and I can send you the worksheets and info from my recent Meal Planning 101 Workshop!
Tip #2: Don’t Buy Everything “Fresh” Every Time
This sounds like stating the obvious, but it really was an epiphany for me. I used to pile my shopping cart high in the produce section because I really wanted our family to eat healthy, and the recipes I typically make in a two-week period use quite an array of different fruits and veggies. But not all produce lasts very long, especially if it’s already looking a little sad even in the grocery store. I had no idea of the lengthy transit times for many common fruits and veggies, or the fact that many items are picked long before they’re even close to ripe, and then sprayed to artificially ripen once they reach their destination! No wonder a lot of that “fresh” produce is lacking in flavour! And yet, living in the climate we do, you can only grow certain things or get certain things from the farmers’ market for a relatively short season before that option is gone. So what’s a mama to do? That’s where I found Thrive Life came to my rescue! Now, I will buy in-season produce that’s fresh and flavourful, in amounts that we can eat and enjoy before it turns squishy. If I just need 1/2 cup of celery in my soup though, I use Thrive Life. If I just need enough mushrooms for my home-made pizza, I’ll use Thrive Life. If I just need green onions to top my baked potato, I’ll use Thrive Life. The cans hang out in my pantry, ready when I am, with nothing moldering or losing any of its nutritional value. I can’t tell you how dramatically this has revolutionized my kitchen! I used to constantly be throwing away wilted spinach, squishy green onions, moldy berries, or that half an onion I didn’t need earlier and forgot about… now I barely toss any produce at all! And it’s not that I’ve gotten that much better at managing my kitchen (although I do try!) – the drastic waste reduction without compromising on variety (I would say we actually get more variety now!) is entirely due to Thrive Life.
Tip #3: Use up those Leftovers (or cook less!)
I also used to constantly be throwing away leftovers. I would get really angry too, because I worked hard to prepare that meal, and it was as if all my effort (as well as the food itself and the money we spent on it) was getting dumped into the compost pail! It took me almost two years of marriage to finally realize that, when it comes to lunches, my husband is just not a leftovers guy. I used to love having a hot meal in the middle of my nursing shifts, and it boggled my mind that my husband would choose a peanut-butter-jelly sandwich to take to work rather than last night’s lasagna! But, when I finally just acknowledged that fact, and either cooked less or froze the leftovers for me and the kids to eat another time, suddenly we were no longer throwing away so much food!
Tip #4: Buy Yourself a bit more Time
I finally took the plunge and invested in some of those vented plastic containers that are designed to keep produce fresher for longer, and I was shocked how well they work! Now my typical routine when I come home from grocery shopping is to throw all my produce into a sink full of cold water and vinegar, then dry it thoroughly and either put it in the fruit bowl to snack on, or stash it in those containers in the fridge. In my experience, that buys me anywhere from 3 days to two weeks more than my produce used to last!
Tip #5: Don’t Over-serve Little Kids
Toddlers and babies have the most unpredictable appetites and preferences in the world (or at least mine do!). One day, my 2 1/2 year old will eat and eat green peas until finally I cut her off, but then the next day she couldn’t be less interested. One day my baby will eat almost as much butternut squash stew as I do, but the next he doesn’t even want supper. Even if I save the leftovers from my kids’ plates, there’s no guarantee they’ll eat it all the next day, and I feel like reheating leftovers once is my food-safe limit when it comes to little people with developing tummies and immune systems. I’ve also found it’s much easier to convince a toddler to “try one bite” of something when there’s only a limited amount of it on the plate – and so gratifying as a mom and cook if what I serve is gobbled up and a request comes for “more”. It may not seem like a big thing, but in my quest for zero food waste, even giving my kids smaller “first helpings” makes a difference!
With so much global concern about the environment, as well as my own desire to be a faithful steward of the money and food I have been entrusted with, reducing or eliminating food waste is a priority in my home. I hope that the tips I’ve shared, and my experiences, provide a little encouragement and inspiration for you to reduce excess waste in your kitchen too!