Saturday, April 11, 2009

Says Food to consumers, "Rescue me before it's too late!"

You had great intentions for that rice, right? "Oh, I'll just eat the rest tomorrow," you said. Then tomorrow came. You took a bite of what used to be soft and fluffy rice and instead nearly broke a tooth at the dry and unappealing cold, sad rainy-day-in-a-bowl staring you in the face. What to do when life gives you old rice? Make lemonade!, rather in this case, "fried rice."

A NY Times article from last year claims that we throw out about 27% of food that could otherwise be eaten. Some is discarded after being put on a plate, and some never makes it there to begin with. Since this equates to cash-in-the-trash, JC and I have three ways to keep this number much lower: The Weekly Plan, The Deep Freeze and Improv Night.

  1. The Weekly Plan. We look at what's on sale or what is in the house, and try to build a weekly menu out of it. We've found that if we don't know what we're having by about noon, we're probably going to pay for take-out. It's nothing too fancy, just enough to help us prepare for our week, what needs to come out of the freezer the night before, etc. What's "nothing too fancy?" Here's last week for us:

    (click for a larger version)

    (Lunches with "L.O." means left-over from the dinner before. In that case, we plan to make enough dinner for the next day's lunch.)

  2. The Deep Freeze. This one takes a little effort, but we've found that it's well worth it. Rather than buy small portions of food for a night of cooking, we try to buy family packs when they're on sale. For instance, 3-pound family packs of sausage were on sale at Pathmark last week for $1.99/lb. This is about as cheap as we ever find it, so we bought three. We wrapped them in 3's in saran wrap, then put them in Ziploc freezer bags. When we need sausage, we easily pull 3 links out of the bag, or more as needed. Since we only take out what we need, we're not left trying to make additional sausage meals, or worse -- Throwing out meat due to spoilage.

    Measure twice, cook once: Want to only eat 4 cookies? Don't make a batch, just pull out cookies (ready in 14 minutes), sausage or a meal of chili. Want not, waste not. I'm sure I could think of more cliches that are apropos, but you get the idea.

    We do the same thing with ground chicken/turkey/beef (flattened bags of 1.5 lbs, which thaw very quickly), larger batches of crockpot meals (chili, tomato sauce, etc.). There's no (apparent) loss in quality in using frozen meat, and the savings in cost combined with the convenience of a mini-supermarket in your freezer makes planning meals so much easier. An added benefit is that the sales for these items usually coincide with our stock, so when the sausage is out, it's usually on sale again.

    Super space-efficient, the right side is a stack of 1-Gallon Ziploc bags with ready to thaw: Chicken breasts, sausage, ground beef, Chili and more.

  3. Improv Night. The idea for this post started when JC and I were making a fritatta for dinner. That meal should have lead to a post about kitchen safety and 2nd degree burns, but I digress. We had some cooked string beans from the previous night, and thought -- eh, throw them in! It got us thinking about meals that can be made with leftovers. Leftover white rice from Chinese take out? The next day it' perfect for making a quick Fried rice. Are your strawberries or bananas starting to head towards the light? How about making fruit pancakes (and freezing what's left) or making a batch of fruit muffins? Leftover steak/roast/london broil, etc? Cube it and toss it into a chili and making it what what we call "Cowboy chili". The idea is to find a way to save the food before it winds up in the trash. Be the "Cinderella Man" of your kitchen, and give those onions one last chance in the ring....

    You can google what to do with your leftovers, or check out sites like Love Food Hate Waste for suggestions.


laura @ mtp said...

Hi :)

I've menu planned for a while now but still always managed to throw out food.
I've really worked on this, this year, reducing the amount of food cook in the first place and now, never throw anything out.

Nice to find your blog

Columbia said...

Hi Laura!

JC and I are very happy to eat leftovers for lunch, but I know that not everyone is. This definitely helps with letting less go to waste. I had heard that some people will skip a day for left overs so that they don't have to eat the same meal twice in a row.

Do you see any patterns where the food goes to waste?

Lealand Eve Richard said...

I am deeply impressed by your food-planning skills, and also the amount of produce you guys buy and cook.
Although Nate and I rarely buy lunch out, we probably eat dinner out of the house 3-4 nights every week, and my freezer is full of Cadbury eggs and empty ice cube trays. I always get my leftovers wrapped up, but I never eat them later, and they moulder in the fridge. For shame!!