Monday, January 18, 2016
Waste Not...Frugal Lessons
I really enjoy "The Kitchen". I like the pace of the program which is a bit quicker than most food shows and I like the chattiness of it. I also love the quick hints given here and there. This week's program was called The Savings Show, so you know I had to tune in to hear that one. I do look for new ways to save on an almost daily basis because honestly being frugal is my nature but it's also my hobby in a way.
In today's episode it was stated that the average American wastes 20 pounds of food a year. Now I'm personally sure that you, like myself, have worked pretty hard to lose nowhere near 20 pounds of the foodstuffs in your home, but remember that figure is an average. However, having just tossed about a half pound of Brussels Sprouts due to their extreme bitterness and unpleasant texture after freezing, I can tell you that I am not immune to wasting food here and there. It happens to all of us.
One of the experiments I used a few years ago was to shop weekly. I tell you truly that until I became a stay at home mom, I knew nothing of a big shop. I shopped quickly after work several nights a week and rarely went up town to the store on weekends because that was the last place I wanted to be. When we moved here though, and my full time job became my home, and the grocery store was not right around the corner, it was not economical to run into town several times a week. As well John was being paid every other week and so naturally I shopped after he was paid and we'd paid our bills. Those first few years were so tight that my budget was 'whatever we have leftover', as John used to put it and too often it wasn't enough, but as with all things, I eventually settled into spending a certain amount and that became the budget.
Shopping every other week was difficult for me. I was not accustomed to think of meals and snacks as bulk purchases. So I either under bought or over bought. Produce was the least expensive item on my list so you can pretty well be sure I over bought in that department especially with vegetables. Truth told I over bought fruit as well, but being unaware of carbohydrates in fruit at the time, the kids and John were encouraged to snack freely and often upon the fruit and they did! However, we often ended up throwing away vegetables.
One of the things that worked against me at that time was a tiny refrigerator. Now it might not seem so small to some but I'd gone from a big bright 25 cubic foot refrigerator to a 14 cubic foot one with no interior light. It was over packed with food and I couldn't see what I had so it was not uncommon to have spoilage. We'd never meant that smaller refrigerator to be our main one...In fact, it had been intended as a second fridge but the big nice one had a faulty compressor and the budget had no room for repairs at that point. Goodbye lovely big fridge and hello small fridge. I lived with that tinky refrigerator for 15 years and honestly loathed it every day.
However, I cannot blame my spoilage all upon the fridge. A lot of it was poor inventory control on my part. Some of the problem was simply not stopping to think exactly how much of an item we would, in reality, eat. I was a slow learner. I didn't buy produce based upon my menu. I bought it and then hoped to work it into the menu.
Reality hit home the day I filled the trash can with rotting, spoiled foods...
That was the day I realized, perhaps for the very first time, that every item that went into the trash represented a portion of John's work day, a bit of his salary. And that was the wake up call I needed. Not only had I let food go to waste, I'd wasted money and I'd wasted the time and energy that went into earning it. Ouch! and ouch!
I began to plan produce into my menu and then purchased it. I thought hard about portion sizes and bought just what was needed. It required me to think twice before purchasing a whole head of cauliflower when I knew that there were only three who were going to eat it. In that case, buying a few florets that had already been cut from the head often was the better buy for our family. It cost a little more per pound but it was no more than a whole head and half thrown in the trash.
I made a hard and fast rule that I wouldn't buy any produce that wasn't already planned into a menu. Eggplants might look lush and plump but if eggplant wasn't on the menu, the odds were it wasn't going to get used. I fought momentary cravings like eggplant because in reality I'm the only one who likes it and I only like it on occasion!
I soon learned what produce was hearty for storage. Carrots and cabbage do well and coarser lettuces like romaine store well for a longer period of time than broccoli or iceberg lettuce. Onions and potatoes last well if they are not stored in the same bin together. If I knew a fruit or vegetable was likely to go off before another we ate the one that would spoil mostly quickly. Oranges and Apples lasted well but peaches or grapes or bananas were soon over ripe.
I stored leftovers in clear containers on a certain portion of shelf in the fridge. I found those clear containers were absolutely key for me. If I could see the food I didn't forget it. If it was hiding in a butter or sour cream bowl, it was often doomed to spoilage. So I saved salsa and pint and quart jars to store foods in. I began to make it a point to sort out my fridge at least once week. This generally caught an item that might be misplaced or forgotten.
I stumbled upon a 1927 article in Better Homes and Gardens about a woman who planned her menu twice each week. Once at the beginning of each week and once towards the middle, because she then knew which meals might have generated leftovers that would need to be used wisely. I followed her sage advice and began to do the same. I began to build a repertoire of recipes that used up leftovers. I found that serving a vegetable or meat plain the first meal opened up the possibilities for casseroles and such as encore meals.
Gradually I began to realize that some items I thought of as trash might be put to better usage. Root ends of carrots and celery and onion ends and tops got saved to season broth. Growing up I'd been taught to cut away most of the neck of the yellow crook neck squash...Foolishness! I started to just tip off the green on zucchini and squash and we used the whole of it. I saved bread ends and made bread crumbs and croutons and cubes to make stratas (a savory bread pudding). I started washing my potatoes very well and then cooked them peel and all. If we couldn't eat it perhaps the dogs could...so fat scraps went to the pups and they were happy and healthier for it. If I trimmed meat I'd save any bits that had meat mixed with the fat or skin and bones and boiled for broth and then those bits and beef and pork bones went to the dogs. If milk went off and was a bit sour, I used it as sour milk. It made great biscuits and breads and cakes. I saved the tough woody ends of asparagus and cooked them to make cream of asparagus soup. I liked it very well but John was unimpressed, so now I just make it for myself on occasion. Just as I saved those chicken livers a few months back to use to make a treat meal for myself rather than toss them.
I learned. Now I seldom have food waste. I am not 100% waste free every week but I am waste free most weeks. I'm ready to take the next step and get my compost pile built up now. After all, I paid for this food...isn't it time it started paying me back, too?