>> Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I'm going to go ahead and tell you something I'm not terribly proud of. Until recent years, I was one of the worst offenders with wasting food. Mostly fresh produce, that is. I wouldn't make time to meal plan before
writing my grocery list speeding to the store. I'd find myself wandering aimlessly down the aisles having all these grand ideas for homecooked meals.
Ultimately, I'd buy way too much or just forget about stuff in the fridge and it would spoil. This cycle continued until I started taking better control of our budget. That, along with feeling some new respect for our local produce items, in particular (when we started our CSA share + became closer with our farmers), has motivated me to find ways to use up everything -- including scraps -- before tossing it out.
// TIP 7: Eliminate Food Waste
Honestly, after a while I started to feel like buying fresh foods was just a waste. I started favoring cans or other more shelf-stable items. Then I had one of those periods where I felt like all I was eating was crap (because, well, that's what was happening), and I radically shifted my whole method of doing things.
// PLAN YOUR MEALS
As I mention above, food waste is almost entirely avoidable if you engage is meal planning each week. That way, each ingredient has a purpose. You should otherwise know how much of something you might have left + use it in another meal or as a snack. For more tips, check out meal planning and food preparation.
// CHOOSE FOODS WISELY
try you best to incorporate fresh items into your menu -- the ones that stay good longer in case you really do forget or not use something as quickly as you thought you would.
In my experience, items that seem to last longer than others include:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Winter squash
- Citrus fruits
Healthy bulk food items (including canned goods) are a great bet if you want ingredients that will stay good for a long while. Anything from oats to rice to nuts to spices can be bought in bulk. There's a great opportunity to save $$$ and packaging, too. For me, buying in bulk has always helped with our dry items. It's the fresh stuff that's much harder to tame.
// SMARTEN UP ABOUT STORAGE
I used to be a refrigerate-EVERYTHING kind of gal. But with a few tweaks, I've learned some good tips for storing all sorts of produce for longevity and optimal ripeness, flavor, etc.
- Immediately when you get home from the store, take fruits and veggies out of those plastic bags. They don't let produce breathe + making some major gas issues that rapidly make foods go South. If you like keeping items under wraps, you can purchase inexpensive cloth produce bags to save the plastic and allow items to last a bit longer.
- Many fruits and veggies can and should be stored at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. The artificially cool air can actually inhibit the ripening process and impact flavor/texture. Depending on your climate, leaving foods out on the counter is usually the best method. I can't say I do this for all my veggies, but most of my fruit is out in a large bowl.
- Alternatively, when fruit ripens to its peak -- you can move it into the fridge to preserve this state a few days longer, but that's a few days . . . not a week or two.
- For veggies you plan on keeping in the fridge, be sure to do some prep work so they're ready for the environment. Cut stems off carrots, beets, and other root vegetables. You can actually wash some greens, like lettuce + spinach ahead of time, but control moisture on other varieties.
- To further control moisture, use your refrigerator's crisper drawer if you have one. Keep it between 85%-95%. You can also purchase crisper containers for a similar benefit.
- Light/heat have an impact, too. Some items like potatoes and root veggies do best in dark, cool places. A nice corner of your basement might keep certain items fresh for months. Yes, months! Otherwise, make sure those items stored on your counters are out of direct sunlight and aren't next to heating elements.
- Otherwise, it's all about those ethylene gases. You can actually purchase special, reusable bags to help notorious emitters, like apples, fresher longer and from impacting the rest of your haul.
// USE 'EM UP
Toss in extra veggies at meal-time. Or learn other recipes intended to use up leftovers. It's easy with a few hints and tips.
- Soups and stews are very forgiving, so if you're following a certain recipe -- you can usually toss in whatever you have on hand.
- Breads and muffins are a great use for those over-ripe or ugly fruits. This is my 100% all-time favorite Banana Bread recipe, and I must say we make it quite often because bananas go fast!
- Pureeing veggies that are on their way just takes some simple steaming and pulsing in a food processor. From there, you can use in different recipes like Mac 'n Cheese, Pizza Dough, even baby food -- or even freeze for later use.
- If you ever have too many tomatoes, chop them up and make sauce (to can or freeze or use immediately). I make tomato sauce all the time. There are a number of recipes on this site -- some simmer in just 10 minutes.
- We have a saying in this house -- "if it's green, it can be turned into pesto." Anything from basil to swiss chard to spinach to kale can be blended into this delicious spread. Here are some recipes.
- Chop or rinse fruit and freeze to toss into smoothies + make Frozen Banana Bites or Banana "Ice Cream". Even the brownest bananas can work!
- Learn the various food preservation methods from freezing to canning to capture the season at its peak. Often we get LOTS of produce from our CSA and don't quite know what to do, so having this methods in our back pocket ensures we can enjoy this food year-round.
// And when all else fails you, make an over-stuffed omelet.
- Use two eggs or three egg whites. Whisk with a tablespoon of milk or substitute.
- Finely chop veggies -- this is baby kale + shiitake mushrooms.
- Shred some cheddar cheese and mix with the veggies.
- In a greased pan over medium-high heat, pour in the egg mixture and let cook until slightly firm.
- Over top of the still-wet eggs, sprinkle your veggies/cheese. Pinch of salt + pepper. Cover for a minute or two to let cheese melt.
- Then fold like a letter and keep cooking until you've reached your desired brown.
If you're just catching up:
- Tip #1: Stock up on frozen veggies
- Tip #2: Buy greens and actually USE them
- Tip #3: Create simple, go-to meals
- Tip #4: Learn to love alternatives
- Tip #5: Prep, Make, and Store + 20 Ideas for Make-Ahead Meals
- Tip #6: Cheat + Add In: Convenience foods to your advantage