The Question: "I heard a lot about food waste in the news this summer, is there a way to avoid wasting food in my own kitchen?"
The Answer: Absolutely, and in so many ways!
Much of the news this summer revolved around so called "ugly" produce and the food that gets wasted by grocery stores due to their standards of merchandising. To help with that cause you can sign the #WhatTheFork petition on change.org encouraging Wal-mart and Whole Foods to sell less than "perfect" product. More recently, the cause was taken a step further when some of the most high-ranking world leaders were fed a working lunch made only from grocery-store waste, which you can read about here.
Whether you are looking to save money, save farmers, or save the world...I have several tips to avoid wasting food in your home.
Shopping to avoid waste:
These tips can be a little challengin to keep to if you and your household have a hectic schedule, but they have the added benefit of also saving money. Here are three great ways to avoid flood waste by changing your shopping routine:
- Shop for your produce at the farmers market. By doing this you are buying seasonally and locally, virtuous goals in and of themselves, but you are also helping buy up what chain stores won't/can't. We in Virginia have an advantage through weather; our markets can operate for a large portion of the year. Fredericksburg has even more advantage because every day there's at least the C&T stand open at Hurkamp Park (except Sunday).
- Don't impulse shop. Pre-plan all the meals you are shopping for. This may mean that you have to shop more often or spend more at one time depending on your current shopping habits, but if you know when and how you are using each piece of produce you will automatically not be wasting any.
- Look for dates on packaging and understand what they mean. Non produce items usually have either (and sometimes both) a packaged on date and a sell by date. BUT that doesn’t mean throw it away if what’s printed is before today’s date. Eggs are safe to eat for over a month after the date on the carton. There are some great tips for decoding packaging dates in this interview from NPR.
Avoiding waste in your home:
- The best way to avoid waste is to be more aware of what you bought at the store and when it is going to go bad. There are both organizational and cooking techniques to do this.
- It can take time to reorganize your life, but in this case the results can make it worth the effort!
- Keep a running list of what you have in the fridge and when it is likely to go bad. Giant post-it pads with a magnet are great for this.
- Organize your fridge so that leftovers or older products don't get hidden by newer purchases.
- Keep produce in clear glass or plastic containers after they have been cut. You'll be able to see if something is starting to go bad and will always be able to see what is currently in your fridge without searching and opening every container.
Cooking with scraps:
- Sometimes the natural packaging can feel wasteful. On one extreme that natural packaging really is just protection for delicacies, like pomegranates, and good for nothing else. At the other extreme that organic waste is usable as a flavoring agent (corn cobs, onion skins, etc.). I like to remove corn kernels before cooking and then steep the cobs and smashed garlic clove or two in milk to make bechamel, adding layers of flavor. To steep these sorts of remains add a cold liquid to your flavorful oddments, bring to a boil, cover and take the pan off the heat, then wait for 20 or so minutes -if it is fibrous like onion skin turn the heat down and simmer for a while before turning the stove off. With this technique you can make your own stocks and flavored milk or cream to use in my second cooking tip...
- "Leftover magic" is my mom's favorite kitchen phrase. Avoid letting odds and ends of old meals mold/crust in the fridge by restructuring them all into a new dish. Imagine you have one odd piece of chicken, some sausage and various vegetables or fruit about to go bad. Alone, none of those things scream, “That dinner was delishous, thanks!”, but together they can be transformed into comfort food with common pantry items. Usually, the secret to truly great leftover magic is adding a crispy texture and of course some cheese. Once you taste leftover magic you will never throw away that lone drumstick again.
- Make leftovers au gratin (pictured above)! Many think that potatos are the only gratin, but here's a secret: the word "gratin" just means the crispy crust on top. So cut or shred your leftovers to a generally uniform size. Stir them all up and put them into a wide, shallow dish. Make sure there's some liquid, a little stock or cream if you want to be super French. Then cover the top with cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees to reheat everything inside and then broil the top until golden and crust-y.
- If the stovetop is more your style, treat your leftovers like you're making paella. The same general idea as the gratin above...add all of your uniformly cut leftovers to some short grain rice add broth and simmer until the rice has fully hydrated. Then turn the heat up to crisp the bottommost layer of rice. Top with grated parmasean if possible depending on your leftovers.
- Before you know it, you'll be wasting less and saving more. I call that a win!