My kids don’t like Thursdays around our house. It’s not because it is chore day, or a day that I don’t let them play on the computer, but it is because the pickings in the kitchen are slim.
I do my weekly shopping on Friday morning, and things are kind of empty around here. The bins in the fridge aren’t running over with fruits and vegetables. The cupboards aren’t stocked with crackers and chips, and the tubs of yogurt need to be scraped clean in order to get a sizable portion.
Yes, Thursdays in our house requires a bit of rationing, sharing, creativity. Don’t get me wrong, things aren’t so empty that there is no food. It’s just empty enough that we must to be creative with what we have.
In general, I keep a well-stocked pantry, filled with lots of bulk foods, grains, and the like. So on days like Thursday, they’re not going to go hungry — they just need to work a bit at finding something to eat. No grabbing a handful or two of crackers, no assuming there will be four apples – one for each to eat; no variety when it comes to cereal – just one kind.
Thursdays are a little more work for me, too. But I’ve welcomed the challenge wholeheartedly because it proves to be a cost savings, and I don’t feel guilty any longer – as most of the food in the house gets eaten.
It wasn’t too long ago, when it wasn’t this way. The fridge was filled with containers of leftover meals from yesterday, or the day before, or even weeks gone by. I’d unearth soft and slimy cucumbers that were barely even cut into. There would be browned and stinky broccoli, leftover risotto or rice covered in mold, and stale crackers that tasted like the box they sat in. We’d have a fridge full of food, but nothing to eat!
I know that I’m not alone in this food waste conundrum. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that every day, 1.5 pounds of food per person is thrown away in the United States. (The greatest waste is on the farm, but coming in second is waste at home).
In fact, of the food Americans spend time preparing, 25 percent is thrown out, about 96 billion pounds each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While I don’t think I ever reached the point of throwing out over a pound of food a day, I realized that the habit of wasting food at home had reached a point that I needed to make a change. If not for the Earth, at least for my pocketbook.
When I finally said enough is enough, I took a look at our weekly food bill. I didn’t like what I saw. It was way too high, and considering the amount we threw away, the thought of it made me cringe. I wanted to lower my bill, and I wanted to stop throwing away money.
I had to start planning.
I had to make a list.
I had to reevaluate what I purchased.
It’s been a few years since I came to this realization, and I am so happy that I did. I still spend a sizable amount of money on groceries, but I have a family of six to feed, and the kids are eating more and more each day. I continue to plan weekly meals, which does allow me to save money, and cut back on food waste without doing without our favorite foods . . . even if the cupboards are bare on Thursdays.
If you are finding that you’re adding to that 1.5 pounds a day, here are a handful of ideas on how to cut back on food waste.
1. Plan a Week of Meals – Cutting back on food waste starts with planning your meals. If you know what you are going to cook, then you know what to buy at the store – and how much of it to buy.
2. Make a Shopping List and Stick To It – Perhaps one of the hardest things to do, especially when you have been in the habit of looking only for the deals – or being tempted by the deals – or the pleas of the children.
3. Shop Once a Week – Don’t go back for ‘this and that’ several times a week. Plan to shop once a week and get everything that you need. It doesn’t always work out that way, but if you cut back on the times you head to the store, you’ll make the most of your visits, thinking about what you need, and buying just that.
4. Stock your Pantry – We started buying foods in bulk – dried beans, oatmeal, flour, sugar, nuts. What we found was that when the cupboards seemed bare, we had to look at food in a different way – now when we see oatmeal, honey, sugar and dried fruits, we think of homemade granola bars, not just a breakfast option.
5. Make your Own (when you can) – and, don’t buy prepackaged foods. Oftentimes making your own is healthier and costs less. Get in the habit of digging into your cupbards – deep – to find ingredients that may be perfect for snacking and eating – nuts for a granola mix; leftover rice, eggs and scallions for a late afternoon fried rice snack. Just think — you’ll actually learn how to create delicious snacks and meals using ingredients on hand.