Waste Not...Frugal Lessons

This photo from some time back but I've just heard on "The Kitchen" on FoodTV that you can freeze whole lemons, limes and oranges.  They said just to thaw in the fridge, or if you want to zest them, do so while frozen.  You can also microwave for about 15 seconds if you want to thaw quickly so that you can juice them.  And here I'd thought I'd had such a great idea freezing lemon juice in cubes and slices of lemons.  To be sure they took up a lot less room...And can you imagine getting bonked by a frozen orange that rolls out of the freezer?  ouch!

 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?


Anonymous said...

This post is really timely for me. I struggle with how much to buy, and way too much goes to waste. I like your thought that wasted food represents a portion of John's work day. I also know that many people would love to have the food that gets discarded. My situation is different, I have a grown son and a five year old granddaughter living with us who frequently eat out, but my son also buys groceries. I work hard as a teacher, well beyond my contracted hours and don't always take time to plan healthy menus. It is just easier to estimated the food we'll need and have frozen things ready so that I can use them on those days that I have no time.
I take a lunch to school daily. My son packs a lunch for himself and my little granddaughter, my husband eats cafeteria foods at his school.
I often buy too much fresh produce and it gets wasted. I have little freezer space. I am really trying to use up the refrigerated foods before I thaw a bag of frozen stuff, and also just not buy as much. Your post has inspired me to be more careful.
Thanks, Terri! Hugs! (Ginny)

Living on Less Money Blog said...

Encouraging post! I'm always looking for ways to avoid more waste. Great job!

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

I like The Kitchen show also. I've picked up several tips from that show and generally the food they prepare is pretty down to earth and items that my husband and I would enjoy. Some of the other cooking shows just get a little too over the top for my budget.

Our stores around here are constantly trying to sneak in onions that are starting to rot. Have to be careful of that, those onions don't store at all and will spoil other onions that are with them.

Is anyone else finding it difficult to find good potatoes that are not green-skinned, or perfectly fine on the outside, but with big areas of rot inside? Around here most of the potatoes are being sold in plastic bags. I think that is what is causing the rot and green skin. Lately I have been picking out potatoes that are sold loose in a bin at the store to try and avoid the problems, but they are more expensive that way. I have container grown a few potatoes for the past couple of years and the ones that I grow taste so much better than store bought, but to grow enough potatoes for us to eat regularly, I would need need a potato farm. Potatoes and cabbage are the only vegetables that my husband likes to eat.

Anonymous said...

I have been making basically only 3-4 supper meals each week and using leftovers of them as they are or reinvented. I guess this is kind of like the women did in the 1927 article. We are not big eatters and what another couple might eat up we always have leftovers. I keep making less and still leftovers!! :D
I never heard you could freeze whole lemons and oranges! I knew you could freeze whole tomatoes only. We have a navel orange tree and I know when you freeze navel orange juice it is sour when you defrost it. Valencia oranges work though to freeze your own juice. I wonder how the whole navel orange would do? I will try it this year! I dry lemon slices but have not tried lemons. I bought mandarin oranges dried so I should try drying our oranges.
I seldom watch the food network but will check out this show now. Thank you for the recommendation. I remember the first months of marriage. I would look at recipes but have no idea if I made it hubby would like it at all. Everything was so new. And how did you get the potatoes hot and ready at the same time as the meat and vegetables?? :-) Timing was everything!! Back then I had no experience like I do now. Now I can read a recipe and know it is probably something we would like to eat. Also I have the 'taste' of the food in my mind to realize how blending this food with this spice and this other food will probably taste. Yes there are so many things to learn about the many aspects of getting meals on the table. It is so fun to learn yet another thing too! I so enjoyed this post.
I better hop to it...I have an eggplant and cottage cheese waiting to be used up!! :-) Lasagna to the rescue! Sarah

Anonymous said...

Update: Diabetes classes are not till next month but we are learning a lot daily on how to manage Hubby's diabetes. The internet and the sites you've given us have really helped. Also we found a few people we see often we did not know were diabetic and they are sharing some of their experiences with us. We also know 2 friends who we are Not asking information of a we have realized for years they do not know and do not manage their diabetes. This is too important to not get it right. :) I still have not been tested but have tried to cut back on goodies and eaten what he does. As much as his health allows he has been exercising more too. Your encouragement and thoughts have meant a ton to me. I shared it all with Hubby of course.
Grocery shopping is faster as the cookie/ baking isle has little to offer us right now! As do other areas. But others we are scanning more closer and finding many new good things to try we like. Some things we tweak and others we avoid. A new adventure. :--))) Thank you againTerri. :)))) Sarah

Lana said...

Did you know that premium not from concentrate orange juice is squeezed from oranges frozen whole? About 20 miles from my parents house in Florida there is a freezer warehouse company and there are rows upon rows of concrete block buildings that are freezers full of whole oranges.

I have not though of food waste as my husband's labor but that is an excellent point. I do think of it as dollars of my food budget. With only $250 a month every dollar counts. Anyone else seeing that prices are going down with the drop in gas prices? My husband's favorite cereal has gone down 50 cents a box, for example. I am seeing beef sale prices as much as a dollar a pound less.

I manage milk by having a glass bottle in my fridge in which I keep out of date milk. I reach for it for all sorts of cooking and baking. Milk keeps much better in glass in general so I pour just opened gallons into half gallon glass containers that I found at thrift stores. The flavor of the milk just stays fresher than in the plastic jugs.

Colleen Gold said...

Good ideas , I will be saving ends of both broccoli & asparagus for soups for my lunches. I plan on Thursday or Friday as clean the fridge meal days when needed. Leftovers are usually eaten for lunches here

Melissa L said...

Great post. Food waste is something we need to improve upon here. I throw entirely too much out. It is a good idea to connect it to an hours wage, adds perspective!

Anonymous said...

One of the things I learned early. Food waste just not tolerated in our home. Like you with your dogs, what wasn't usable went to the pig, and then we ate the pig! One of my kids memories that they always bring up was frozen milk. I remind them those little savings are what enabled them all to go to college! My mother had a huge garden, fruit trees, cow, pig, chickens so we were pretty much self sustaining. All summer long she canned. Even meat got canned. Sure wish I had some of those wonderful canned things. My son in law got into vegetable gardening big time and I have had some yummy salsas, etc. That he has canned. I asked my 5 year old granddaughter what was the best part of having a big back yard. Vegetables! Love it answer so does he. She spent quite a lot of time "helping" this summer. Gramma D

Mable Hastings said...

Have you tried shredding the woody ends of asparagus spears and sneaking them into soup or raw into salads? Shredding or using a peeler to get ribbons of asparagus hides the woody texture. Since I learned this trick, we have not tossed out any of the asparagus.

Years ago I learned to evaluate whether I wanted to buy something by asking myself how many hours of my life I was going to trade for the item---I found that I bought less and less when I thought that I literally was trading work hours, thus my life, for what was often junk.

Kathy said...

Great advice. Thanks for the reminder. I bought a pkg of b/s chicken breast a few days ago, so I went just now to check the sell by date. Since it was today, I put it in the freezer, so you helped me save almost $4. I have also been adding some apple to my tuna, and it really tastes good. Have tuna cans shrunk through the years? I remember my mom making 4 sandwiches from a can of tuna, and now I am lucky if I get 2. I have some wrinkly apples in he crisper that I may turn into an apple crisp.
Thanks again for your suggestions.

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