full produce basket
Cooking Economically, Frugality, Saving Money, Zero Food Waste Challenge

Zero Food Waste Challenge {4}

a full produce basket

The last three days of the month got a little interesting as far as meals went, just because we were out of most of the “fresh” stuff and living much more off the shelf-stable pantry items. We were able to successfully conserve the milk to last through the month though (which helped significantly), although we did run out of cheddar cheese (the horror!). We also still had plenty of apples and a couple fresh tomatoes my mom had brought us at the end of the month, so not everything was from a box or jar.

The trickiest thing at the end of the month is not that we lack food (because we have enough now in our short- and long-term food storage to last our family around 6 months), but that we basically HAVE to cook in order to have anything to eat.

The first three days of the report cover the end of October (when we didn’t do any grocery shopping), and the next four cover the first half week of November (after we did). Our eating habits are definitely a little different at the end of the month vs. the beginning of one!

For more posts in this series, click HERE.

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

Breakfast

  • Between getting a puppy and multiple members of the household being sick this last week, I was admittedly lazy on breakfasts. We did have scrambled eggs and toast one morning I believe, but once I knew we’d have enough milk to stretch the rest of the month until I went grocery shopping (and once I had milk after going shopping), we just had cold cereal for the kids and Matt every morning and a couple slices of toast and a mug of hot cocoa for me. The chickens have also drastically slowed down their egg production (as expected), so that’s another reason for the lackluster breakfasts.

Lunch

  • I’m pretty much the only one in the family who likes fresh tomatoes (although I’m constantly working on having the kids–and even Matt–try it regularly in order to help them gain a taste for it), so I knew that using up the two ripe tomatoes we had left from the produce haul my mom brought us would be tricky, especially since I didn’t have any lettuce or greens to mix them into a salad (which is usually my go-to way of using them raw). I could have cooked them into something, but I ended up going the lazy route — I’ve heard so many people rave about tomato-and-mayo sandwiches that I decided to try one. Although I used Miracle Whip instead of mayo (which is generally my preference), I had to say that it was pretty good! Much tastier than I would have thought it would be. I’ve probably tried it before in my life but it’s literally been years and years (decades?) if I had, so it was a nice and easy way to use those up.
  • We did pb & j’s a lot for the kids, as we have plenty of peanut butter, jelly, and bread (and plenty of ingredients to make bread, if it came to that). Most lunches also usually had a side of sliced apples since we’ve had no shortage of those this month.
  • Once I did the grocery shopping on Monday, we rotated in some ham and cheese sandwiches as well as some quesadillas, which used up the last of the opened bag of flour tortillas we’d bought at the beginning of October. Because of the shredded cheese fiasco last month (although Sam’s Club did issue me a refund), I decided to just buy a smaller bag of the pre-shredded cheese this month and then buy an extra block of cheese for grating. It means a little extra work, but hopefully we won’t be dealing as much with the waste we have the past couple months with the preshredded stuff spoiling after a few weeks.
  • Matt was home sick from work on Monday and Tuesday, so he finished up the dinner leftovers we had (of the meatballs and rice and also the leftover Indian butter chicken, which he had over a baked potato). I also cooked up some more rice to go with the last bit of sauce left from the Indian butter chicken so that he had something to take to work for lunch.

Dinner

  • We had some leftovers from our red and white pasta for the first night, which wasn’t quite enough to feed all of us, so we just gave the kids as much as they wanted, split the remainder between Matt and me, and then the two of us ate some cheese and crackers after the kids had gone to bed because we were too wiped to want to cook anything. Not exactly the most filling or balanced meal, but no one went to bed hungry or anything.
  • I finished up the last opened bag of mixed vegetables from the freezer to make this favorite Instant Pot curry rice. I also made up some Indian Butter Chicken with it, which used up the rest of the whipping cream just days before its ‘best by’ date. (I will also note that I did use up our very last onion in these recipes, which also meant no onions were wasted this month!) This also made enough so that Matt and I could have it the next night (Saturday) after we’d taken the kids out trick or treating (while they just ate scrambled eggs and toast, since there wasn’t enough for all of us and that would have been their preference anyway).
  • I used up the rest of a container of apple cider vinegar to make up a sweet and sour sauce to do sweet and sour meatballs over rice on Sunday. (This also used up the rest of an opened bag of pre-cooked meatballs.) Using pre-cooked meatballs is a huge dinner saver around here, and I actually have a post in the works about several different ways that I prepare the meatballs to add some variety. We did steamed broccoli on the side.
  • Matt was sick on Monday and I had to put in several hours for my copy editing job, so I just made a super simple homemade macaroni and cheese (option #2), which everyone devoured. We had no leftovers.
  • I had to work again on Tuesday, so it was another easy dinner night with gluten-free waffles (our absolute favorite is this mix, which tastes fantastic). I served some canned peaches on the side.
  • Since Wednesday was the day I had to drive 3 hours round trip to go to our nearest Sam’s Club (a trip I generally make once a month), I wasn’t in the mood to put much effort into dinner, so we just had our go-to cheese ‘n avocado tortillas with fresh grapes (recently purchased!) on the side.
  • Clearly the theme of this week’s dinners after grocery shopping was “lazy” since Thursday had us picking up a couple pizzas because I was busy getting ready to host my book club group that night and didn’t want to worry about dinner on top of everything else. We did at least have some salad on the side, which I’d picked up a bag of on my Sam’s Club trip.

Odds and Ends

  • I was craving sweets one day (before all the Halloween candy came in), so I made up a basic cake using a gluten-free cake mix and a can of frosting we had on hand.
  • We ended up not buying any Halloween candy for the actual holiday because Sam’s Club happened to be all out (and we didn’t have time to run to another store). It worked out really well though because our town did a huge trunk or treat for Halloween on Saturday night, so we only ended up having maybe 10 trick or treaters come to the house (and we just used some of the candy we’d just gotten from the trunk or treat to give to them). And because we’d waited, I ended up picking up a few bags of just our favorites from Walmart on Monday for half off (not that we really needed any more, but I have a hard time resisting chocolate when it’s such a great price!).
The very un-fancy spread for my book club. The only thing that was homemade was that 90-minute Italian bread.

What We Ended Up Throwing Away

Both Matt and I have commented on how much we like the fridge being mostly empty — it really helps us to see what there is in there and what needs to be used up quickly. Now that we’ve done the monthly grocery shopping, it’s looking pretty full again, so I’ll be curious to see if our food waste goes up over the next week or two just because not everything is visible anymore.

Here’s what we had to throw away this week:

  • About 3 small pieces of cake. I don’t feel too bad about it because it means that I exercised some self control and didn’t finish off the whole pan πŸ™‚ = $0.69
  • One 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk. I was trying a new recipe for easy dulce de leche to serve with apples as one of my appetizers for the book club group I hosted last night, but it burned, so I had to chuck the whole thing. Now, in my defense, it totally wasn’t my fault — the recipe said to leave it in the oven for at least 60 minutes, and I actually pulled it out at about 55 because I noticed a burning caramel smell. Now I know that in the future, I just need to check it at 45 minutes instead of 60, but it still meant I had to throw away the whole big mess = $1.77

Total Food Waste = $2.46

Going Forward + Weekly Grocery Bill

The trickiest part about doing the majority of the grocery shopping at the very beginning of the month is managing the produce. As you can see from our super full two-tier produce basket (which you can buy here, in case you’re wondering), we have a lot of fruit at the moment (and not even all of it is pictured). At the beginning of the month, we definitely have to prioritize the produce that will spoil the fastest–like the grapes, pears, and bananas–before we worry too much about the apples and clementines. I definitely have to utilize our fridge to extend the shelf life of many items, and if some of the stuff in our produce basket is looking like it’s starting to turn, I’ll often transfer it to the fridge to buy ourselves a few more days.

I also buy all our meat at the beginning of the month and then freeze it all. I haven’t yet portioned out our chicken yet (I generally section out 2-3 chicken breasts per bag and vacuum seal them using our Food Saver, which is seriously one of the best items we have for saving money on food in the long run), but I’m planning on cooking up some of the chicken fresh tonight (no more lazy dinners this week!) and then freezing the rest. I’ve already frozen 3 lbs. of ground beef, two precooked turkey sausages, and two 6-lb. bags of precooked meatballs (though we won’t eat nearly that many meatballs in a month). The 6 or so pounds of chicken, 3 lbs. of ground beef, one or both of the sausage links, and maybe one of the bags of meatballs will be all the meat we have this month, unless I end up using some canned chicken or canned tuna we already have on hand. I’m also considering picking up an extra turkey or two for the freezer if the price is right this month.

Last month I budgeted $550 for groceries because I still had a few things to pick up for our food storage, but this month I’m setting the budget at $500 and seeing if we can stick to it. The only thing that I think would make me go above is if I decide to purchase a couple extra turkeys to freeze, but other than that, I think we should still be able to do it. I should note that my “grocery” bill also includes all household essentials such as toilet paper, diapers and wet wipes, personal hygiene products, and makeup for me.

This week’s grocery and household essentials bill = $459.40

That means I have around $40 for the rest of the month to spend on fresh items to fill in the gaps, such as milk, bananas, yogurt, etc. Should be a fun challenge!