April 29th, 2009
Keeping food waste to a minimum should be a no-brainer. And, in theory, it is. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds. In our house, last minute cooking whims and schedule changes are a frequent culprit. Another common problem, especially in families with younger children: being left with a big batch of some food your ChowBaby suddenly detests.
Whatever the reason, we’ve put the kibosh on food waste in our house. It’s better for our wallets, the environment, and sets the tone for a larger life lesson that we hope will resonate with Isaac. Here are some tips on doing the same in your home.
1. PLAN AHEAD, make a SHOPPING LIST
Whenever possible, plan meals ahead of time and buy only what you need. If you belong to a CSA or have a bunch of leftovers from a previous shop, take a few minutes to take stock and plan around what you have. Don’t forget to look in your pantry—beans, sauces you just had to try, dried fruit and nuts, pasta, rice, and other non-perishable staples make a solid foundation for quick, nutritious meals.
If planning ahead is not your forte or, like me, you have a tendency to change your mind mid-week, this tip from Lifehacker might be useful: “I keep my grocery receipt and highlight things that need to be used in a timely fashion, or things that I hope to cook with that week. Then I stick it firmly to the front of the fridge, a visual reminder every time I open it.” An online menu planning tool might also help:
2. Commit to COOKING, even just a little bit
Be honest with yourself about how often you’re really going to cook and then stick to it. If you just can’t (need more therapy or just have an unpredictable schedule?), err on the conservative side. I keep my freezer stocked with things like veggie burgers, frozen left over stews or meatballs, and tons of frozen veggies for weeks when I think that I might not have time to cook as much as I’d like.
Keep in mind that cooking doesn’t have to mean making a Michelin star meal. Be easy on yourself. If you see that 3 different veggies you bought for 3 different meals are all starting to shrivel, just throw them together in a steamer or roasting pan. You’ll have them on hand for dinner, snacking, or packed lunches with minimal work. And you can make that hollandaise you were planning to pair with the asparagus next week.
3. EAT HEAD TO TAIL, so to speak
For those of you who purchase entire animals or raise animals for food, that’s a literal suggestion. For the rest of us, though, I’m suggesting some creativity in using up what you’ve got. If you’ve made beets, steam the beet greens for a salad or side. When you finish that parmesan, throw the rind in a stock or homemade tomato sauce (store the rind in the freezer until the next time you plan on making a stock or sauce). If that perfect loaf of french bread is stale, make bread crumbs or croutons before it’s rock solid or moldy. Not sure what to do with what you’ve got? Google it. Someone surely has an idea.
4. Be deliberate about LEFTOVERS
Planning for leftovers can help avoid that mystery-tupperware-in-the-back-of-the-fridge problem. I try to be deliberate about how and when I increase a recipe so that it can either be eaten a second night that week (when I know I’ll be working late, for example) or can be packed for lunch (saves money and guarantees a more nutritious lunch for Isaac). For us, the key is planning exactly when we’ll eat the leftovers. If I just assume leftovers will be eaten at some point, I’m usually wrong. I’ll buy fewer groceries knowing that Wed night, for example, will be chili night… again. If leftovers are intendend for lunch, I pack in them in easy-to-grab lunch portions so there’s no fuss the next morning.
5. USE YOUR FREEZER!
Before I started making Isaac’s baby food, I hardly ever used my freezer. What a discovery! It has become totally indispensable, especially in my quest to reduce food waste. Every couple of days, I take 5 minutes to check my fridge and reassess my plan for the week. As soon as I see something that’s at risk for sitting too long—meat that I probably won’t end up making or leftovers that my planning couldn’t save—I pack it in a freezer safe container, label it, and toss it in the freezer.
But the real trick isn’t getting things into the freezer. It’s getting stuff out. That brings us full circle, back to planning ahead. I reminded you to check your pantry when planning meals for the week, but you should also be sure to check your freezer. If you don’t have enough of one thing to feed the whole family, don’t ignore it—have a “tapas” night! It’s easy enough to defrost and reheat already prepared foods, so take out a bunch of things, put them on small plates, and serve family style.
I recently found myself with half a loaf of leftover tsoureki, Greek Easter bread. Sweet and similar to challah bread, french toast was the obvious way to go. This version, with a hint of orange and cardamom, was ridiculously delicious, but we still had leftovers. Guess where they went? I’ve been resisting the urge to pop the frozen slices in the oven for dinner, though I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out!
Just noticed more tips on how to reduce food waste (and more!) in today’s post on the lovely Chocolate and Zucchini. Have other ideas? Let us know!
Orange Cardamom French Toast
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)
10-12 slices thickly sliced organic bread, sweet bread like tsoureki or challah works best
5 organic eggs
1 cup organic milk
1/2 cup organic orange juice, ideally freshly squeezed
1 tbsp organic vanilla
1 tsp organic cinnamon
1 tsp organic cardamom
1. Beat eggs with milk, orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, and cardamom.
2. Place bread in a single layer in a shallow dish and pour egg mixture over bread. Let soak for about 10 minutes, flipping bread half way through. If your bread is stale, you may need to soak longer.
3. Heat butter in a skillet. I use about 1 tablespoon per batch, but it depends on the size of your pan or griddle. When just sizzling, place some bread in the skillet with room between slices. Fry for about 2-3 minutes per side, until golden brown. If you’ll be cooking in batches, you may want to preheat the oven to about 200 degrees. Cooked pieces will stay warm in there until you’re done cooking.
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