When I talk to family and friends about changing their food lifestyles and trying to go unprocessed, healthy and chemical-free, most people are in agreement that it's a good idea. But when that good idea needs to be worked into an already tight budget, what do you do? There are many answers to that question, but one that Next Gen House has really been committed to lately is not wasting food.
A study from less than a year ago by the National Resources Defense Council found that Americans threw out 25% of food and beverages purchased, amounting to $1300-$2200 worth of food per year for a family of four. In a country (and a world) where children go hungry every night, it is appalling that we are wasting this much food, as well as the natural resources that are used to produce that food such as water, oil, gas, land, etc. But even if you don't try to reduce your food waste for altruistic reasons, it's good for your budget.
How many times have you opened your pantry or freezer and seen a ton of food on the shelf and thought, there's nothing to eat in here! How many times have you thrown out leftovers because you didn't feel like eating them or because they got shoved to the back of the fridge and became a science experiment? What do you do to reduce the amount of food waste you create? Here are a few of the things we do at Next Gen House to reduce food waste.
1. Plan Your Meals
We sit down once a week to plan out each meal for the next week. This enables us to make only one trip to the store per week, which also saves us gas and time (and our sanity - have you tried to go to the grocery store during rush hour around here?). More importantly, we know exactly what we need for the week and can enter the store with a list and avoid wasting money on impulse items.
2. Keep a Running Pantry/Freezer List
In an effort to really get a grip on our food budget, we spent an afternoon doing an inventory of our chest freezer, our regular freezer, our canning cabinets/shelves and our pantry and entered that information into a shared Google spreadsheet. That way we always know what staples we have on hand, and also what we need to use up. This is especially important for us because we buy our meat in bulk and use the chest freezer for storage. When we make our meal plan for the week, we check to see what we have on hand and try to plan meals mostly around items on hand.
3. Make Things You Want to Eat
This sounds so simple as to be stupid, but you will be much more likely to eat your leftovers if they are actually edible and appetizing. We've made an effort to have a large rotating list of recipes that we know re-heat well. Having good food makes it easier to resist the temptation to eat out at lunch and waste the leftovers.
4. Be Aware of Food's Shelf Life
Though sell by and use by dates can be helpful guides for items purchased at the grocery store, they are not hard and fast rules. Especially if you are eating whole, unprocessed foods, your food will "tell you" when it isn't good. Fuzzy, colored mold will show up, or it will smell bad. Sniff your milk and take a sip before you throw it out just because it's the use by date. If it smells and tastes fine, it IS fine. We try to alert each other when we notice something is coming down the final stretch of its life span so we can use it first. Rotate things that are closer to their expiration to the front of your fridge. Store items like potatoes and onions in cool, dark areas or in brown paper bags to prevent spoilage and lengthen their life spans.
We have two compost areas in our back yard, plus a few bins leftover from our first foray into composting. We also have four waste reclamation machines called chickens, who eat vegetable and fruit scraps and then produce waste/compost for our piles. It's easy to start composting in your back yard, even if you don't have a lot of room. (I'll be showing you how we do it soon!) When you have some wilty lettuce or limp carrots that aren't appetizing anymore, you can at least reclaim the nutrients from them by composting them.
Taking these steps has helped us reduce our grocery budget, and it really does feel good to not be chucking food into the trash constantly.
What do you do to reduce food waste in your house?