Cooking Economically, Frugality, Saving Money, Zero Food Waste Challenge

Zero Food Waste Challenge {3}

The last week of the month is always a bit interesting with our meals since we do a gigantic grocery haul at the beginning of a new month, a very small trip or two in the middle of the month for milk and maybe some fresh produce, and then nothing for the last 10-12 days or so. Admittedly in some of the more recent months we WERE making one or two small trips in those last two weeks of the month because I wasn’t really keeping a close eye on our grocery budget, but I’m trying to challenge myself to only spend around $500 a month on groceries and all household essentials from now to the end of the year, so this month we’re not making exceptions.

I’ll admit that this last week was particularly challenging to stick to the “no exceptions” rule, not because of the food per se, but because I ran out of Diet Dr. Pepper and really wanted some more. I’ve been wanting to kick my Diet DP addiction to the curb (*yet again*), but I’ll admit that it’s been hard to summon up the willpower lately. If I can manage to cut myself off of it completely, it would really help our grocery budget out since the price of soda has gone up a LOT over the past 18 months–I estimate that we’d be saving between $30-40 each month if I can just take the plunge and cut it out already.

How I’ve Been Cutting Down on Food Waste This Week

Breakfast

  • Knowing that we needed to make our last gallon and a half of milk last the rest of the month (since we had met our grocery budget number of $550 already), I knew we couldn’t do cold cereal every morning. We also are still getting eggs from our 15 chickens (although that will slow down really soon), so we needed to make sure we were staying on top of those. Scrambled eggs and toast for the win! (I also used some of the bread heels for my own toast on a few occasions, which means we haven’t let any of those go to waste yet in the challenge.)
  • In a further effort to conserve the milk, we also did oatmeal and toast for breakfast. I’d gotten a 10-lb. bag of Fuji apples from our small town grocery store the other week for just $5.99, so we sliced up some of those to go with the oatmeal one morning too. (And Matt has been taking one of those apples nearly every day to work with him as part of his breakfast or lunch.)
  • We had several boxes of cereal with less than a serving size left, which had just been taking up room in our cupboard (as no one was reaching for them). Since my youngest — who’s not quite 2 — didn’t care about the portion size and loves variety anyway, I just gave him all the different kinds, one after another. I was particularly satisfied that this not only prevented the cereal from being wasted, but that it also cleared up a ton of space in our pantry cupboard πŸ™‚

Lunch

  • A trick I’ve learned from my in-laws is that pretty much any savory sauce or gravy (usually meat-based, but you could do vegetarian sauces too) will taste good over rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes. In fact, at most large family gatherings on my husband’s side, there’s often just a big pot of some kind of gravy (think like a beef stroganoff or chicken pot pie filling) and huge pots filled with your choice of rice, egg noodles, or mashed potatoes. So this last week, when we just had a serving of Swedish meatballs and sauce left (but were out of the rice that went with it), I just put two wrinkly-ish potatoes in the microwave to soften them up, mashed them down with a fork, and poured the meatballs and sauce over them. Yep–delicious!
  • We successfully used up all the naval oranges before they spoiled by continuing with my “trick” of slicing them rather than peeling them (since it’s the peeling that makes me not reach for oranges hardly ever).
  • I cooked up an extra cup of penne noodles so that the garlic alfredo sauce and pasta we had leftover from the night before would stretch to feed all three kids the next day for lunch.
  • Matt went to work one day without much of a lunch (just a couple of granola bars) and I had some extra time in the morning, so I made up a quick chicken and veggie stir fry using up various odds and ends in our freezer, fridge, and pantry to make him a hot meal, which we surprised him with at work. I ended up being able to finish off the rest of an older bag of frozen stir fry veggies, the rest of the container of liquid aminos (basically like a gluten-free version of soy sauce), and the last few tablespoons of a jar of pure maple syrup that I’ve had for a year or two just sitting in the pantry. So satisfying!! We still have a LOT of random things in our freezer especially that need to be used up, but it’s now not such a Tetris game to be able to close the door every time!
no fancy food photography here — just delicious Shepherd’s Pie in all its imperfection πŸ™‚

Dinner

  • I love cooking with fresh garlic cloves, but I’ll admit that sometimes the last few cloves in the bulb head will go to waste because they often tend to be smaller, so I don’t always use them up before I grab another head. However, since I didn’t actually have an extra garlic head in reserve, it was easy for me to make sure I used up every last clove of our remaining one, which went into this garlic alfredo sauce (a go-to quick dinner option for us).
  • The potatoes were continuing on their downward trend (and fast), so I needed to use up the rest of them quickly. Since I had ground beef in our freezer as well as a bunch of carrots still from our garden harvest, I decided to do a shepherd’s pie for our Sunday dinner (and did a riff off of this recipe). In addition to using up all the rest of the potatoes, it also had the added bonus of finishing off a partial bag of mixed vegetables and another partial bag of peas that were both in our freezer, as well as using up some of the tomato paste that was also in the freezer. Considering that our freezer (both of them, actually) has gotten a little out of control lately, it’s nice to finally be freeing up some space!
  • Warm corn tortillas with melted cheese and smashed-up avocado is always a go-to dinner option for us, but it was especially important that we fall back on it this week because our avocados were on the verge.
  • Because of last week’s sad cheese demise, I wasn’t taking any chances with the shredded cheese we had left and froze it. I did end up using about a third of what we have left on this red and white pasta dish we make frequently. I also used up a frozen turkey sausage rope we had in the freezer to bake in with it.
  • To make sure we were utilizing every single bit of leftovers in the fridge, we had some unusual dinners, like scrambled eggs and toast with a side of leftover macaroni and cheese. Hey, if it works, it works.

Odds and Ends

  • We had a small amount of frosting that had been sitting in the fridge since the end of last month (when we used most of it for birthday cupcakes). Because the fridge was so cleared out, we could readily see that it was still there, so we put some on graham crackers for a snack and finished it off.
  • We had about 5 dozen eggs from last month that we weren’t able to sell or use up in the time frame we’re comfortable with, so I scrambled all of them up and fed them to the chickens.
  • We kept flip flopping back and forth on our Halloween plans, so I hadn’t bought any Halloween candy yet (because I thought we might be trick-or-treating by our parents’ houses rather than staying around our house this year). However, we’ve decided to stick around our own community this year instead, which means I ran into a hiccup — I hadn’t bought any Halloween candy, and I’d already spent all the money in our grocery budget. For Mathias’s preschool class, I ended up just sending a bunch of individually-wrapped snacks (like goldfish and veggie straws) since we had plenty on hand. For the actual holiday (which we’re celebrating on Saturday rather than Sunday around here), I’ll be stopping by Sam’s Club that day (since we’ll be in the area anyway) and hopefully getting a refund for all that cheese that spoiled last week, so I’ll just use some of that refund money to buy candy for trick or treating. Crisis averted! πŸ™‚
  • I had two brown bananas left over from last week that I planned to make into our go-to gluten-free muffins, but then I realized we didn’t have the sour cream to make that recipe. I tried to look for other easy gluten-free muffin recipes, but the vast majority also called for sour cream (or plain yogurt, which we also didn’t have). Since I didn’t want to overcomplicate things, I just used this basic banana muffin recipe and warned Matt that he couldn’t eat them. I try hard not to bake too many things that he can’t have, but occasionally I still will.
current glimpse of the fridge

What We Ended Up Throwing Away + Weekly Grocery Bill

There aren’t *too* many things we actually have to throw away because so much of our food waste can be fed to our chickens, but there are some things they can’t eat, including citrus, potatoes, some beans, and raw aromatics like onions and garlic. We also don’t feed them anything that’s obviously moldy or rotten, just in case they would happen to eat some of the bad parts and get sick. This week, they did enjoy several things from our kitchen, including all the food left over from the kids’ plates at various meals, the rest of the carrots we’d harvested from our garden (which basically just consisted of the really tiny ones), and the vegetable and fruit (apple) peelings and cores.

Note: I *am* trying harder to use up even more of the food on our end BEFORE it ends up in the chicken coop. For example, I’d pretty much just always feed the bread heels to the hens before, but now we’re actually the ones eating those. So even though I’m not considering food given to the chickens as “wasted” (especially as it saves us money on chicken feed!), I’m still trying to make sure as much of it as possible ends up in OUR bodies πŸ™‚

That being said, despite our best efforts, we once again had a small amount of food waste this week. Now, I don’t want to be giving off the wrong impression like I’m beating myself up over this — because I’m not — but I’m actually just finding it a fun challenge to see if we really can go an entire week and have zero food waste. I guess the good news for you is that since we did have some this week, you’ll get at least another post in this series!

And our food waste for the last week is . . . *drumroll, please* . . .

One small potato.

Although we were trying to use up those wrinkly potatoes as fast as we could, there was still one very small one that went moldy before we could get to it.

So all in all, the amount of money lost to food waste this week was a whopping $0.16 or so. Not too shabby considering what week one and week two both looked like!

Also, I’m pleased to report that our total spent at the grocery store this last week has been a nice round $0.

I will note that we had budgeted for a lunch out with friends when we met up with them at Capitol Reef National Park this last weekend (tab = $40.85 for the five of us) and that we also did a fun little splurge for the kids by doing a fries-and-drinks run to McDonald’s (for $5.39) while they were on their Fall Break so we could take in a little surprise to Matt’s work and have something to eat ourselves while we visited. We typically budget between $75-100 a month for eating out. While there are months when we have to eliminate that line item from the budget, going out to eat is something we all really enjoy and I’m fine with the expense for most months, especially when we can keep our grocery spending in check.

Now the real question is — will Week 4 be the week we finally don’t have ANY food waste? Keepin’ my fingers crossed!!