Ever since the first post in this series that I posted a week ago after cleaning out my refrigerator, I’ve been focusing daily on trying to use up any odds and ends we have before they end up in the trash can. While my weekly record isn’t perfect, we did use up a LOT of things that were on the verge that normally would have just gotten chucked, and most of the things we did have to throw away weren’t really our “fault.”
Definite progress made this week for sure!
How I’ve been cutting down on food waste:
- Produce is always a big offender when it comes to food waste, and naval oranges tend to be one that we often don’t get to fast enough, probably because I despise peeling them. To get around that this week, I simply used a sharp knife to cut the oranges into slices and had the kids eat them down to the rind. Had I not done this, several of the oranges would have spoiled for sure.
- I often throw away the heels of the bread loaf (because they’ve never been my favorite), but I’ve been making myself use them up lately for either toast or sandwiches. I often skipped lunch before, but now that I’m trying to eat it more consistently in order to use up food, that’s been an easy way to fit stuff like the bread heels in.
- Matt packs our dinner leftovers every single night to take to work the next day for lunch, and sometimes he will put aside an extra portion that’s smaller than a full serving if his own lunch is already plenty big. Often these small portions will just go to waste because I’m in the terrible habit of usually skipping the midday meal, but I did make myself reheat a couple of those this week, which prevented them from being mold-targets that I wouldn’t find for another two and a half months until the next fridge clean-out.
- Sometimes around lunchtime I get lazy and don’t want to cut up fruit, so I’ll just give the kids an applesauce pouch. Since we have a plethora of produce we needed to use up, I put on my big girl pants and made sure I produced some kind of fresh fruit each day as part of their meal. In addition to the oranges mentioned above, this also helped us to eat up several apples and the grapes before they had a chance to go bad.
- I made this sweet potato chicken skillet to use up a couple sweet potatoes and a jar of green salsa that had been in the fridge for quite awhile (and was quickly nearing its best by date). This also used up some of the sour cream that was set to expire soon, which was a big offender on the list of food I threw away at the beginning of the challenge. Before I started tracking what I was throwing away, sweet potatoes were actually another big offender in months past, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t keep repeating that mistake.
- In a further quest to use up the sour cream, I made a revised version of these Swedish meatballs using my own tweaks and changes, which used up the rest of one tub of sour cream about two weeks before it was set to expire.
- I used the rest of the sour cream in a second container and a few potatoes that were getting wrinkly to make a quick dinner for Matt and I of loaded baked potatoes (while the kids had leftover homemade waffles from the freezer). There wasn’t enough of both meals to make enough for everyone, so we just gave the kids the one they would prefer (the waffles) and had the loaded baked potatoes ourselves (which would have been our preference).
- I needed to use up an opened half package of cream cheese and several carrots that we’d harvested from our garden, so I did a riff on a creamy potato and broccoli soup I knew we liked. (Turns out that the super dark purple carrots we grew actually produce a purple dye when cooked or handled, so our soup was a creamy purple color. Not exactly super appetizing, but our 6-year-old was into it!) I also threw some cooked broccoli from the previous night’s dinner into the soup so that it wouldn’t be forgotten and go to waste in the fridge.
Odds and Ends
- I shredded up some of the zucchini that’s been sitting on our counter forever (ever since we harvested it from the garden…last month) and put it in the freezer to use in soups or baking later.
- I took five of the brown bananas and made a gluten-free banana bread recipe that I don’t often make (because it actually does require five whole brown bananas). We all enjoyed a couple slices the first day, then Matt sliced up the rest and froze it so he would be sure to have some GF bread options on nights when I’d made non-gluten-free carbs for the rest of us, such as the French bread pictured above. I have two more brown bananas that I plan to use in some banana muffins this next week.
What I Actually Had to Throw Away
Despite my best efforts, this wasn’t a zero waste week, although it was much better than it would have been had I not been working on the challenge. The first two items on the list were not my fault, and I actually intend to ask for a refund from Sam’s Club for them, as both expired over a month before their best by date.
My list would have been longer than this even with the focus on the challenge, but some of the things — such as an apple that was wormy and a soft zucchini — we were able to just give to the chickens, who will pick out what’s still good.
Here are the things we did have to throw away:
- half package of string cheese (usually string cheese doesn’t go bad, so it makes me wonder if there was a storage issue at Sam’s Club or something)
- two-thirds of a 5-lb. bag of grated cheese (once again, I wonder if there was a storage issue at Sam’s Club since these two things of cheese were purchased on the same shopping trip and both spoiled well before they should have)
- one clementine
If you tally up the cost of these things, our total number of dollars wasted this week is almost equal to last week, at $12.84. However, since I anticipate Sam’s Club will give me a full refund on both things of cheese, I’m really only counting the cost of one clementine, which I imagine is only around $0.35 or so. So really, if you just count that, that’s a far cry better than the $15+ I threw away in food last week for sure!
Going Forward + Grocery Bill
Part of my goal with cutting down our food waste is to cut down our grocery bill. As I mentioned in the last post, I’m trying to trim down our grocery budget to be just $500 a month again (since it had ballooned to well beyond that over the past several months since we’ve been aggressively building up our food storage). I allowed it to be $550 this month because we had a few extra things for the food storage to pick up, but next month in November I want it back down to $500 for sure.
As of right now, we have spent exactly $550 on groceries for the month, with no intentions of going these last 10 days to the grocery store. This week we actually just made one small trip for a couple gallons of milk and six bananas, so we only spent around $8.
Since I’m pretty used to not going to the grocery store much (if at all) the last half of the month or so, I’m used to the challenges inherent in having to shop our pantry and use up the last of the fresh produce before it goes wrinkly. However, the one tricky thing for sure will be the fact that we only have about 1.5 gallons of milk to last the rest of the month. Considering my kids will often eat cold cereal in the mornings, that won’t be enough to last us until November! To try and offset how much we’re currently using, I’ll have to be sure to make some other breakfast options — like oatmeal or scrambled eggs and toast — rather than the cold cereal so we can make that stretch a bit further than it would otherwise.
We also just got about a dozen fresh apples and a few ripe tomatoes from my mom this afternoon as she was passing through our area (she lives a two-hour drive away), so it will be nice to have more fresh produce than we usually do at this time of the month.
I’m thinking of doing these posts weekly or semi-weekly for awhile until I can get our food waste fully at zero. What do you think? Is this a topic that interests you?