Americans are notorious for wasting food. While over 1 billion people on our planet do not have enough to eat per day Americans throw away approximately 1,400 calories of food per person per day. Put another way, America throws out 40% of the food that it produces.
Not only is this fact about waste disturbing in relation to those around the globe who are starving to death, but when you consider the volatility of the economy and how expensive food is becoming at the grocery store you would think that it would make more sense for people to guard against waste.
Think about the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator. Did you throw out moldy cheese, produce bags gone gooey, or bowls of leftovers that now resemble some sort of science experiment? Did the leftovers even make it to the fridge or did you just toss them out right from the start?
The problem is, our society has become so immune to the concept of waste; so used to throwing things away, that perhaps part of the problem is in not understanding how to avoid food waste. When we throw out that bag of spinach that has gone bad we know that the next bag is only as far away as the nearest grocery store. We won’t go hungry because we bought too much and/or failed to eat what we had on hand. How can we re-train ourselves to be more conscious of food waste? Here are seven basic tips that can be followed which, when taken together, will significantly avoid the amount of food wasted in your household each day.
1. Only make what you need. One of the biggest problems with food waste is that we often make more food than you need for each meal. If you are in doubt as to how much constitutes a serving, check online. You should be able to gauge how much you will need to make for the number of people you will be cooking for. Cooking only what you need will cut down on leftovers and potential waste. And if you do decide to cook extras make it a family rule that lunch the next day is leftovers from the evening before.
2. Prepare your food correctly. Many today are so used to pre-cooked and prepared food items that they don’t know how to prepare fresh food properly. They may buy up some fresh foods hoping to make some old family favorites they had as a child but since their cooking skills have fallen by the wayside in favor of boxed mac and cheese the foods may sit and go bad. Many times people waste large portions of these items because they don’t understand how to prepare them or they don’t have the confidence that they can do so. Now though, you can look up recipes online and get step by step pictures even. If you buy the food, put the effort into actually making it.
3. Cook your favorites. You know what you and your family members like so come up with a list of favorites that you can cook from scratch and cook well. Serve those meals once or twice a week and make a habit of buying the items you need to make them. When you see those familiar ingredients in the fridge you know what you need to make before things go bad. Occasionally I make a vegetarian version of chicken scallopini for instance and it uses white wine and cream (2 things I usually don’t buy or use). I will often make this meal 2-3 times in a single week until I use the wine and cream up. I do the same thing with Potato Leek soup when I have potatoes and leeks to use up.
4. Use your leftovers. Leftovers have a bad habit of sitting morosely in the refrigerator until they sprout mold and have to be thrown out. No one seems to want to take the time to put the items together to make a new dish. A key to avoiding waste is to devise new meals out of leftover items. There are lots of websites that give ideas for dishes that can be made out of common leftovers and if you get creative I’m sure that you’ll find a way to make something new out of something old. Produce that you know you won’t use in a meal can often be used in green smoothies too.
5. Get Creative – Freeze your cutting board scraps like onion skins, carrots, celery, garlic, mushroom stems, etc and reserve them to make your own veggie broth. Produce that is about to go bad can also be used for this purpose. Stale bread can be used for bread crumbs and coutons.
6. Do a pantry/fridge challenge once a month. This means you avoid going to the store and figure out what you can eat from what you have. Spending a week or more eating this way gets rid of older foods before they can go bad and it saves money too!
7. Compost. As a last resort, compost all the biodegradable items that you are not able to eat or use. While technically this IS waste, it is waste that is being reused for something productive; in this case fertilizer for your garden and is not entering the standard waste/recycling system. We had had great success with our Worm Factory Compost Bin.
By following these seven simple steps you can significantly reduce the amount of waste in your household and, hopefully, will serve as an example to your children about curbing food waste.
Avocados are one of those amazingly healthy foods that even kids will eat and they seem to be nice and ripe in stores right now. Usually they are from Mexico but still on our continent at least. They have nearly 20 different vitamins and minerals, they are a source of healthy fats, and they are creamy so they can be fed to babies and toddlers as well.
Some ways to serve Avocados:
* For guacamole and chips of course!
* As dip for veggies
* Blend them up with cacao to make chocolate pudding
* As filling for raw key lime pie
* Slip some slices into sandwiches
* Puree and add to hot cereal
* Combine with tuna for a sandwich filler
* Spread on toast or a bagel
* Add strips or chunks to salads
You can tell when they are ripe by their dark green, pebbly skin and they will stay good in a fridge for 3-5 days. If you only need to use half of the avocado just squeeze some lemon juice on the remaining half to keep it from going brown. You can also use an avocado saver.
To make the job of scooping out the filling and slicing easier I recommend an avocado slicer. I find mine to be a bit hard to clean but if you have a dishwasher (I don’t) that may not be such a big deal. Enjoy!
Part of being a savvy mom means shopping for deals and buying in bulk. This can be especially true of certain health foods because they cost more, and buying in bulk may be one of the few ways we can bring prices down. That five pound bag of raw organic almonds is none too cheap but perhaps it is a bit easier to digest when you buy a 25 pound bag and do the math.
The problem with bulk buying and shopping for deals and sales is that you may end up with a fridge and pantry stuffed beyond their capacity. Things get shoved in the back and they go bad, you have no idea what you have to work with, and you end up not even bothering to take inventory before your next shopping trip… which only exacerbates the problem.
This is a problem we have been having and we decided to start a pantry eating challenge… to avoid shopping for groceries as much as possible and just eat what we have. It is amazing how much money and time you can save when you do this. Plus I think I Iost 5 pounds because we ran out of stuff to “snack” on, LOL. Our fridge is almost empty now too, just some jars of bulk nuts, seeds, and Quinoa. This will be a perfect time to clean it!
After a couple weeks of meals like beans and rice and buckwheat pancakes with goji berries and nuts I think we will be sooooo ready to buy some fresh fruit and veggies. Although we did use up our frozen fruit stash making various smoothie concoctions and adding a little bit of everything and those are always good. This week I need to find some creative recipes for Quinoa.. cause we will be eating a lot of it!
This little lesson also helped me prove to my husband that we do not eat out of cans! Every time he goes to the store he buys up canned foods in bulk, despite the fact that I almost never cook out of can. The kids wouldn’t even touch the canned fruit cocktail… blah! So I may cook up some of the MSG free soups and perhaps use the beans but the rest is getting donated to someone who needs bomb shelter supplies.
What say you? What are your favorite things to eat when you have to use what is on hand in the pantry? I would love some ideas!
Top Photo credit: vigilant20
I never much liked the play dough you buy in stores. Its smells funny and it has lots of chemical dyes in it to get those nifty colors. It stains carpet when it gets mashed into it to. ;) But every kids likes play dough right? Well, for several years we have either made it ourselves or bought homemade dough from crafters on Etsy.
Recently though we used a DIY play dough kit called Yohoho Dough. It comes in a nifty canister that can be reused for numerous other things and inside it you have everything you need to make 4 pounds of modeling dough. My youngsters give it a thumbs up. It is fun to watch mommy make and fun to play with. Using the canister to hide their treasures in afterwards is a bonus.
The dough is organic and non-toxic and it is a USA made product. The whole pirate concept is a winner too, my kiddos love it. Our dough is still going strong after a couple weeks. We keep it in a bento container on top of the fridge and pull it out almost every day for a few minutes or hours of doughey fun. I could REALLY see myself using Yohoho Dough for all future play dough requirements. It is waaay smoother than anything I have ever made on my own, more like modeling clay and the process was so simple.. just combine the wet and dry ingredients, heat and mix. It was easy and my kitchen stayed clean.
I used an old plastic spoon to mix because I didn’t want to get a wood one all sticky but the plastic one almost broke when the dough got stiff so use metal or wood!
You can jazz up the dough with scents and food coloring too! We plan to try that soon…
This is a somewhat regular feature I added awhile back to organize reader questions. I have a build up in my email inbox so I am doing some virtual housekeeping now.
Reader Jen: My plastic laundry baskets are falling apart and I really need to replace them. Any ideas for a great eco-friendly solution? I haven’t thought of anything I can re-purpose for hauling my clean laundry upstairs and I’m not sure where to look (preferably locally) for something made with sustainable materials and eventually biodegradable. Any ideas for me?
NatureMom: Well, Jen you have a few options in eco friendly laundry baskets. For one thing the metal frame baskets with cloth liners that you find in big box stores are not to shabby. If you want local you can also canvas yard sales. Even if you don’t find laundry baskets you may find something else that can be re-purposed into a laundry collection unit. ;) Wooden egg crates or wood barrels come to mind.
You could go with a wicker or bamboo basket too. They are natural and they will biodegrade when you are ready to toss them. They have a few on Amazon here and here. Gaiam also offers a bamboo laundry organizer with a basket and bar for hanging clothes.
I also really like these hampers made from recycled feed sacks. They are made by Cambodian villagers with old rice and feed sacks. They are unique, colorful, recycled, and they look they would be really easy to carry down into the basement to do laundry. ;) If you are able to find old feed sacks locally you could also make something like these on your own.
Reader Teresa: Hi Tiffany! Have you looked into these? I have had a Brita in the past and loved having cold, filtered water right out of the fridge. I have heard though, that there is some BPA in the filters. Do you know of any safe alternatives?
NatureMom: Great question! Buying bottled water presents a serious plastics problem for our planet but tap water may be down right nasty to drink. So the more eco friendly option would be to filter your tap water at home and assuming that a whole house filtration system is not in the budget that means having some sort of portable system.
As far as I know Brita’s filter, filter canister, and pitcher are made of 100% polypropylene plastic. Polycarbonate plastics are the big BPA culprits. The Soft Landing has a good article on this very topic. So its appears that Brita is a good brand for you. They also recycle their filters.
The water filter that I have (and that you see in this video) is from Zero Water. It has a pretty darn impressive 5-Stage filtration and a push button dispenser for in-fridge use. I hope to get a review up for it very soon. It has no BPA plastics in it and they have a filter recycling program. They also offer an awesome filter bottle that fits on top of a water cooler. It is quite awesome since conventional water cooler bottles do have BPA I believe.
Reader Wendy: I was thinking that at least buying locally is better than store bought and cheaper, so I was trying to do that. However, it was not organic. I thought it was still a good compromise. But I have read things lately that are making me wonder. When I thought I was doing good… did I do bad?
NatureMom: Ah yes, the question we probably ALL ask ourselves. If you have a choice between organic but not local OR local and not organic which is best? Well, this one doesn’t have an easy answer. There are people who argue for both sides and insist their way is best. Eating local as much as you can without regard to organic may be better for the planet but eating only organic may be better for the body. Of course if you toss air and soul pollution into the mix with organics the answer becomes muddled. And if you think about how pesticide use destroys our soil then local become muddled.
Here is my take on it…just do your best. If you are shopping at farmer’s markets and “you pick” farms you are likely getting pretty close to organic because small farmers don’t have the budget for mass quantities of chemicals. Talk to them and find out how they grow the food. You may be surprised to find that many are organic… they just don’t have the expensive certification. Balance that with some non local foods that are certified organic. I buy local and organic whenever I can and when I can’t I just do the best I can. But continue to ask your local farmers and grocers for local, organic foods and you may just eventually see the change you want.
Reader Sarah: My hang-up is that there always seems to be so many more things I could do that it feels overwhelming. And then I feel like the things I am doing, aren’t enough. Also, and especially now in this economic crisis, buying organic and other green products is more expensive (sometimes twice the cost of the regular product), that it feels irresponsible financially. I know that may sound horrible. Anyway, I’m hoping you can pass along some insight as to how you make things work for you and your family. And stay sane. ;-)
NatureMom: I understand your frustration Sarah but in order to stay sane I recommend not trying to do too much at once. I have a wish list that I keep of green changes, green products, green renovation ideas, etc that I use to keep track of my goals. I do this because I cannot afford to go whole hog and do it all at once. So I do it little by little.
For instance in my kitchen you will find bamboo cutting boards, wooden cooking utensils, green (Teflon free) non-stick cookware, recycled colanders, stainless steel and ceramic mixing bowls, glass refrigerator dishes, etc. I did not buy all these things at once. I just made and inventory of what I need to change… paper towels replaced by cloth rags, plastic cooking utensils replaced by wood or metal… and I worked on those things one at a time. I still do this.
And as much as you can try to utilize the green ideas that actually SAVE you money and you will have a lot more wiggle room in the budget to work with.