Kitchen Wisdom: Waste Not, Want Not!
As a thrifty-minded mama of five, one might think I’d have a lot of “saving money at the supermarket” tips, but I don’t. Since I try to buy as little processed food as possible, I find very few coupons that we can use. As I told my husband recently when he was lamenting a high grocery bill, “They don’t offer coupons for asparagus.”
But I realized there is one way I save us money every week and that’s by refusing to let food go to waste. A little effort needs to be put forward before it is even served. (And when it is served, I give the children small portions and let them ask for more if needed.)
But before we even get to dinnertime, there are steps I take. I plan my supermarket trip so that within 24 hours of shopping I have time to do prep work to that food, such as:
- Properly store all vegetables so they don’t go bad before we can eat them. For most vegetables this simply means putting them into an airtight container.
- Cut some of the veggies such as cucumbers and peppers and package them in small containers for snacking or packing in lunches. I also cut the stems off of strawberries and so they are ready to eat.
- Salads in jars! I normally prepare four salads in plastic jars for my husband to take to work and another four in wide mouth mason jars for home consumption. I place approximately 2T of dressing in the bottom and then layer the ingredients, starting with the sturdier foods like cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and olives and then topping off with spring mix, spinach and crumbled feta.
- I also use this time to make any of the foods that I normally make that we are out of like yogurt and bread.
- As the week progresses, I serve the fruits and vegetables that go bad faster first. Green beans seem to get slimy after several days, so I serve those first while sturdier vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts can wait. I also usually buy a melon a little on the hard side so that it can sit on the counter and soften up while we eat up the fruit that will go bad first. By the time we cut the melon open, it must mean it’s almost time for me to go shopping again.
Of course there are sometimes busy weeks or lapses in the plan when I may find myself with food that is about to go bad. But this doesn’t mean this food needs to be wasted! Here are some tips for saving that food:
- But if you don’t have time to make banana bread with your browning bananas, peel and freeze them. Not only could you use them for future bread, but they also are a great addition to smoothies. This is also great for zucchini: shred it and freeze it. When you defrost to use for muffins, you’ll have to squeeze extra water out.
- Peppers can be cut into strips, flash frozen (by placing on plate and put in freezer. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container). Frozen peppers can be thrown right into a frying pan with garlic and onions for fajitas or sausage and peppers.
- Bread going stale? Cut into cubes, mix it up with some melted butter and dried Italian seasonings, spread onto baking sheet and bake at 350 until you have crispy croutons.
- It’s happened to all of us: we’ve cut up apples for the kids to eat and now they’re turning brown and nobody will eat them. My secret? Sprinkle them with a little cinnamon sugar! It hides that other brown they refuse to eat, they think they’re getting a special treat; you get them to eat fruit and not waste food.
After following these steps, there is very little food wasted at our house. If ever there is some that needs to be tossed, we are sure to put it in the compost bin along with all the other kitchen scraps.
I read recently that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted annually. Additionally, The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition says that the amount of food wasted in the United States exceeds that of the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, France and Germany combined. I like to think that by following the steps I’ve listed here my family not only saves money on our grocery bill but also helps us from contributing to those statistics.