America wastes 40 percent of its food, which is really depressing. While we can’t necessarily control the waste that happens in grocery stores and restaurants, we can control the waste that happens in our own homes. Plus, the less we waste, the more we can save!
If you're throwing away 40 percent of your food, you could save a whole lot by cutting that number down. Here are a few ideas.
1. Reuse leftovers: You don’t simply have to microwave last night’s dinner to not waste leftovers. I think that is a big reason why “leftovers” are so unappealing to people. Microwaving food tends to change some food’s texture, heat unevenly, and that double cook time can also dry it out a lot. We don’t own a microwave and never have, and I think that has helped us enjoy our leftovers more as can’t simply pop it in the microwave. I also feel that the simple dishes I make tend to make good leftovers as they are easy to remake into something else!
Remaking leftovers ideas: Leftover grains and legumes: Make rice salad, quinoa salad, or fry it up in some butter (so delicious!). Make it fried rice by adding peas, shredded carrots, bits of leftover meats, and tossing with soy sauce or tamari. Add leftover chilled grains or legumes to salads or soups (both of which are delightful). Make grain patties by adding a little arrowroot powder, an egg, and herbs and spices and fry up in a shallow pan. Mash leftover lentils with Mexican seasoning for a bean dip and/or then fry up in some naturally rendered lard for refried beans.
Leftover meats: Add to soups, add to sandwiches by making chicken salads, thinly slicing beef, or pork, or shred it and make into taco meat. I like cold roast beef served with homemade biscuits and mustard to dip the meat into as a simple lunch. The trick is making it really tasty the first time around, and then it is good even if it is cold. Shredded chicken can be added to salads, made into chicken curries, chicken pot pie, or used as a tamale stuffing (shredded beef and pork works well here too). So many options here!
Leftover oatmeal or hot cereal can also be made into patties by adding a little rice flour or arrowroot powder and/or an egg with perhaps a bit of sweetener and a dash of cinnamon. Fried up in some healthy coconut oil or butter and then served with pure maple syrup and you have another excellent breakfast or snack.
2. Organize your leftovers. Place leftovers in mason jars for a frugal and plastic-free option, and then label them with a bit of masking tape (you can use a fine pen or marker to write on it) and make sure you add the date! Otherwise you may find yourself wondering how old that quinoa in the refrigerator is, and unsure whether it is still good or not.
3. Keep your refrigerator and pantry organized. This is something I am trying to improve because food (including leftovers and produce) tends to get lost in my refrigerator as one of our shelves broke, so we tend to pile food in. I will let you know how that project goes once I have figured something out! But I think this is the biggest reason I have wasted food. If it is out of sight, it is out of mind, and doesn’t end up getting eaten. Keeping my pantry well organized also helps me reduce waste. If things are all helter-skelter, items get wasted as they are forgotten.
4. Serve small portions (especially to children). I swear that our food waste went way up once we had our Aria (my 2-year-old), simply because she is an inconsistent eater. One day she eats a huge bowl of food, and then the next day I serve it, she picks at it and barely eats anything. While I can save it to reheat, it is much simpler to serve small portions and give her multiple servings as needed.
5. Don’t buy food without a plan. I have learned this from my own (sad) experience of buying food that looked good at the market, and then never getting around to figuring out what to do with it. You don’t necessarily have to have plan when you pick it up, but make sure you do ASAP so that it doesn’t go bad as you figure out what to do with it.
6. Buy food with a menu plan in hand. The better I menu plan, the better we eat, the less I waste, and when done right, the more I save on food. Come up with a system for menu planning that works for you, plan simple and frugal meals, and then you will generally save money and waste less food.
7. Consider a leftover night. Some families have a night set aside to enjoy leftovers (and give the family cook a break). I think this may work best for those with microwaves. Other friends have a leftover soup night where they create a soup made out of leftovers in the refrigerator or slow cooker. Some very tasty (and unusual) soups have been created in their kitchen this way! Soups are a great way to use up random ingredients and less than perfect produce along with leftovers. We generally use our leftovers for lunches and that works well for us too.
The less you waste food the more you can save on your food budget, plus it is just a good use of your resources to cut down on food waste. Any other tips? I’d love to hear what works for you.
Related on MNN: 5 recipes to help you reduce food waste
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