In my household, we spend most of our disposable money on food. We like food. But food, unfortunately, is a fickle and delicate thing. One too many days in the fridge and the squash is shot to hell. And when the water reaches boiling, do you get pasta panic? How much do I put in?! Too much and it’s wasted, too little and everyone is sad.
Wasting food is a bummer. It’s a waste of money, it’s a disappointment, and it can be prevented. Here are nine ways to waste less of your precious, tasty, delicioso food.
The produce in grocery stores is old. Last time I brought strawberries home, they looked great in the store, but had mold by the next morning. The stuff on grocery shelves includes months-old apples and spinach picked two weeks ago. I’ve heard stories of shipments of watermelons arriving at a store after days on an unrefrigerated truck, presented on a layer of fermented slush and mold.
Some of the most delicate tasties are stupid-easy to grow: spinach and herbs like cilantro and basil. Get yourself a few small planters, a packet of seeds, and you’ll have fresh (cheap!) greens that don’t turn into gooey sludge after a couple days in the fridge. You’ll spend less money, and since you can pick-as-you-go your produce won’t have such a short lifespan.
Learn to store food
It doesn’t all go in the fridge. It can’t all sit out on the counter. A good rule of thumb for produce is to copy the situation you found in the grocery: apples, grapes, oranges, onions? They’re all sitting out in the open. Asparagus? Lettuce? Berries? Broccoli? Usually refrigerated.
I use a service called E-mealz to provide me with a list of meals each week. I dig it because the ingredients overlap, so although I may only use a half onion in one dinner, the next day I’ll finish it off. E-mealz works for me because I’m crap at planning meals. Without it, I generally have ideas about dinner at about 6 PM each day.
Whether you’re using E-mealz or a pad of paper and a pantry inventory, planning a menu before the week’s grocery trip saves you trips to the store and loads of moldy veggies.
Eat less food
That sounds dumb, right? Hear me out. During our last move, I packed up the fridge. When I got to the third jar of pickles and the fifth bottle of ketchup, I informed my partner he was on a pickle-and-ketchup buying moratorium. He informed me, in turn, I’d earned a cucumber moratorium.
Since then we’ve made a real effort to only buy what we need, when we need it. It cleans up the fridge and keeps us eating to the end of our supplies — rather than throwing out the jar of spaghetti sauce that finally got old.
In the same gesture, we began cooking less. I try to alter recipes so they’re right for two people because I know we’re not great about eating up leftovers. If one of us is still hungry after dinner, so be it! I’ll nosh on a carrot or Scott can grab a slice of bread. Just focusing on making smaller portions keeps us from throwing out the extras.
Get friendly with the freezer
It took me a really long time to embrace freezing food. When I finally did, it started with my first big batch of edamame. All you need are sealable sandwich bags (I have not had a problem with cheapo brands, although Ziploc keeps trying to tell me they’re on the bleeding edge of scientific advances in plastic bag research). It’s also good to stock up on high-quality containers — the kind that will last years, not warp in the dishwasher.
Assuming it’s kept frozen, most food will be good for a year or more. Make big batches of red sauce and freeze them. Freeze precious and pricey portabella mushrooms to pop into soups. Food goes a lot further when you embrace the freezer.
Crank out casseroles
…Or whatever your leftover-saver of choice might be. Casseroles are easy, though — take most any vegetable, add it to most any leftover carb (rice or pasta!), include mushroom soup, some salt, and cheese if you’re feeling crazy and — casserole! Now you have dinner and more leftovers, but in a form which actually tastes good warmed-over.
Fuck expiration dates
I’m a sniffer. I heartily, truly believe that our sensory systems evolved to help keep us alive and goldarnit, if that yogurt smells fine then it’s fine! Unless food has visible mold, exceeded safe unrefrigerated times, or is so old you can’t remember its origin story, smell works. I realize the page I linked to says NOT to trust smell, but I’m saying you are a grown up and you can use good judgement. I’m also saying: I live in a mostly-vegetarian household and we grow much of our produce, so our risk of food poisoning is lower than a meaty fridge with California-grown spinach in the crisper.
Ask for help
When I took over food responsibilities, my partner came down with food blindness. He’s suddenly very bad at looking in the fridge and finding something to eat. Then we added a third person to the house and confusion grew. I grabbed a marker and made a list of foods: Eat this. Not that. and On notice — see it at the top of this post? These are the foods available to be eaten, those being saved for recipes, and those which I am tossing soon as they’re nearing the end of life. To be fair, I have no idea if it’s helped anyone else in the household, but seeing the list on the fridge door helps me remember when I should give extra consideration to snacking on a cucumber while it’s still fresh.
You would not believe the amount of STUFF we’ve added to our compost this summer. Much of it comes from the yard and garden, but I also can generally fill one compost bin full of scraps each day. Bits leftover from dinner, cantaloupe rinds, petals from flowers in vases, even half-finished glasses of water go in the bin instead of down the drain — since compost needs to be kept moist to blech up, I figure I may as well use already-tapped water instead of the garden hose. We’re a vegetarian household, so just about everything we eat can go in the compost, but your mileage may vary.
It’s especially nice when something does go bad — I feel a lot less bad about chopping up a moldy squash into the compost than I do about tossing it out.
That’s what I’ve got — some of these items are common sense, but when combined they’re pretty powerful in reducing waste from our house. What have you learned about cutting down your food waste?