May has been a busy month, but I thought I’d type up some tips for avoiding food waste while they’re on my mind. I’ve had less time to cook, so we’ve been making full use of fridgescraps, eating pantry foods, and having some great #ZeroWaste meals! This post turned out super long, so I’m breaking it up into two parts. Stay tuned for Part 2 on #ZeroWasteWednesday!
Disclosure Statement: This post contains Amazon affiliate links to relevant products that I have found useful and wish to recommend.
Tip 1: Cook from pantry foods and the garden
By definition, pantry foods don’t go bad. I’m talking about raw staples like flour, beans, rice, oatmeal, and dried spices as well as canned or pickled foods, storage vegetables (carrots, tubers, even celery) and frozen foods. I’m not advocating that anyone eat TV dinners and canned soup all the times, but having some dishes in your repertoire that you can make from staples means that you can avoid going shopping until you’ve really cleaned out your fridge. Keep those leftovers visible, and use up all the scraps!
Eating from the garden is so useful. I can honestly say I’ve cut my herb waste down to nearly nothing since I planted an herb spiral outside my front step. And greens stay fresher when they’re still alive and growing!
My favorite pantry foods are green or brown lentils and, of course, pasta.What’s great about lentils is they require no soaking, and your soup or stew will be done in 20-30 minutes. All you really need is lentils and a bay leaf and maybe a spoonful of Better than Bouillion, but you can also add carrots, celery, sweet potato, pasta, or yogurt if you like. A Lebanese friend told me the secret to great lentils: a splash of olive oil at the end. I swear this makes all the difference – try it!
Tip 2: Plan 5 dinners a week with daily themes
I’ve recently started doing more weekly menu planning, and it’s really taken a lot of stress and uncertainty out of meal preparation. Previously I would come up with maybe two or three meals for a week and figure I would wing it the rest of the time. This ended up meaning a bit too much reliance on prepared or processed foods, because as teachers well know “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I’m OK at putting together meals on the fly, but if I just buy random things that look good in the store without a plan, I’m less likely to actually use them. And if I have no plan, I tend to wait ‘til the last minute to start making dinner, at which point I’m opening the cupboard for some kind of canned soup or everyone’s favorite of the pantry foods: Mac n’ Cheese…
So why only plan 5 per week? For one, we need a few days of wiggle room so we’ll eat leftovers. But second, sometimes the best-laid plans go astray. If I make a specific plan for every day of the week, I end up not getting to one of the menus and then I run the risk of ingredients going bad. If I only have 5 plans, I can scrap one and go to Plan B but still find time to carry out Plan A later in the same week.
Case in point – the lentil stew above was a Plan B dinner. I can’t remember why my original plan had to be scrapped, but it seems to happen not infrequently that I’m either missing some ingredient I needed, or we decided to go somewhere in the afternoon so there’s no time to make the original recipe I was planning on, or I forgot to soak or marinade something, etc. In the past few years it was sometimes the case that toddler tantrums and moods derailed my plans. But if I can put a plan off for a day or two and use those pantry foods or eat leftovers instead, nobody gets hurt and less goes to waste.
It was a tip from Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting (a book I whole-heartedly recommend, btw) that actually helped me start planning 5 meals a week without stress. He recommends having the same type or theme of food once a week (e.g. beans on Mondays, rice-based dishes Tuesday, soup on Wednesday, etc.) to make menu planning easier but also increase predictability for kids and avoid the trap of letting them eat Mac n’ Cheese or their go-to dish every night. Helping kids try new foods is a topic for another day, but our weekly rotation of themes or types of food has helped us put the same kinds of things in front of N with more regularity, so that he starts to feel foods are familiar enough to try. Apparently my grandmother used to do the same thing – did yours?
to be continued on #ZeroWasteWednesday – see you then!…