This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, as I soldier on in my battle against food waste. Very often, food waste happens because I’ve had good intentions to feed my family a bunch of healthful food (particularly produce).
I think this is due to several factors, one being that healthy food is usually more perishable. Lettuce is going to go bad way before potato chips will, bananas will rot while cookies will stay fresh, and milk will go sour while gatorade stays perfectly sweet.
The second factor is that often, healthy food takes more time to prepare than unhealthy food does. So, we go to the grocery store with great intentions, buy up the whole produce section, and then we get home, face real life, and find that we don’t have enough time to prepare all the food we bought.
Then too, there is the fact that unhealthy food is often just flat out more tempting to eat than unhealthy food. We have NEVER let cookies go bad in our house, but we’ve let plenty of cucumbers and broccoli heads rot.
I could probably reduce our food waste to almost nothing by purchasing processed foods, but that wouldn’t really mesh with my other goals. Not only do I want to reduce our food waste, I want to reduce the trash we produce, and I want to keep my family healthy. Processed foods would help me with that first goal, but would do almost nothing for the other two.
So, what’s a person to do? At the most basic level, we need to buy appropriate amounts of produce and we need to use up what we buy. Here are a few things that help me accomplish just that.
1. I plan my dinner menu in detail, including side dishes along with the main dishes. I used to only write down a main dish plan, which meant that I’d go to the grocery store and haphazardly buy produce. Sometimes I got it right, and I ended up with just enough for that week. More often, though, I bought too much and we didn’t end up eating it all.
Now I decide ahead of time how many nights we will have salad, or green beans, or zucchini, and I buy accordingly.
2. I’m realistic about how much produce we will eat. It’s lovely to imagine that we will eat salads for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, but that is just not reality. I’d like for us to eat more produce, of course, but simply buying a whole bunch of fruits and vegetables isn’t going to get us any closer to accomplishing that goal! So, instead of purchasing produce like there’s no tomorrow, I buy amounts I know my family will eat.
3. I try to keep a close eye on our produce throughout the week. This is not something I do perfectly, unfortunately. If you’ve been reading my Food Waste Friday posts for long, you know that I do lose things in the back of my fridge on a fairly regular basis. But, when I do manage to do a daily scan of my refrigerator to see what needs to be used, I waste much less food.
4. When produce needs to be used up, I give it to my kids when they are hungry between meals. I’ve written before about how hunger will make pretty much any food more appealing, and I’ve found this is especially true of fruits and vegetables. When my children complain about being hungry before dinner, I don’t want to give them something that will fill them up, so I often give them sliced cucumbers (they like to eat these sprinkled with salt), carrots, grapes, or whatever else needs to be eaten.
5. If the fruits and vegetables can’t be sloughed off onto my hungry kids, I try to think of alternative uses. If a sweet potato is going bad, I cook it, mash it, and make sweet potato muffins. If I have extra citrus fruit, we make juice.
6. If #4 and #5 don’t work, I sometimes freeze produce. Bananas, pineapple, and many other fruits can be frozen and used in smoothies. Frozen banana slices and frozen grapes are good to eat as a snack, and frozen bananas can be thawed and used in banana bread. And while frozen celery is no longer good for eating raw, it works very well in soups and stuffings. Sweet peppers can also be frozen and used in soups.
So, that’s what works for me. What do you do to avoid wasting your produce?