Food Waste, Week Two: Pleasantly Surprised

Well.  Knock me over with a feather.

It’s week two of cataloging publicly the entirety of the food waste situation in our home, and I was certain that we were going to end up with far more waste than we had in week one — after all, we’re just getting the hang of this, and I haven’t even started being super-proactive about it yet; I’m still in the “observation” phase, I think.  (Or maybe that’s just how I justify to myself the fact that I’m not constantly thinking about scaling back the waste quotient.)  But surprisingly, we didn’t incur that kind of waste.  Maybe I shopped smarter or cooked smarter, or maybe the kids liked their lunches better this week (or were hungrier).  Maybe I was subconsciously shifting to more waste-conscious methods of cooking and packing, or maybe we just haven’t done a good enough job cleaning out the fridge this week (totally possible).  Whatever the reasons, the list is pretty acceptable — something I may still not enjoy looking at, but something I can at least breathe through.

Last week’s waste report got very kind and supportive comments from all of you, which I truly appreciate.  Some of you encouraged me to give myself more of a break as far as the kids’ wasted lunch leftovers go — opinions, and forgive me for paraphrasing, seemed to run towards the “kids are fickle eaters and the storage issue of uneaten food in warm cubbies is beyond your control.”  While those things are completely true, and having kids is, in and of itself, something of a recipe for food waste right at the outset, I don’t want to take the “easy out” and allow myself ot overlook whatever comes home in their lunchboxes at the end of the day.  When you get right down to it, the whole point of this project was to identify, own, and embrace the positives and negatives of our household’s food usage, and the kids’ contributions to the waste pile need to be accounted for, even if I can’t theoretically do a whole lot to change those figures.

Anyway, here’s the list for this week:

2 cups of tortilla soup.  Yeeeeahhhhh…we didn’t eat it.  I mean, we ATE it, when we had it for dinner…and for a few lunches after that…and then I forgot to freeze it and it got shoved behind something and, well, you can all see where this is going.

1 serving chicken and dumplings.  We did pretty well at polishing off the chicken and dumplings, but I have to say, we did NOT do well with picking out all the bones before we packaged up the leftovers.  When I tried to eat my way through the last bit, there were little bones and shards of bone all dispersed throughout the gravy and vegetables, and I’m sorry — that’s beyond what I will consider edible/worth my time to correct.  So the whole thing went in the trash.

1/4 of a sunbutter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat.  P.’s latest breakfast kick is a pb&j, or in this case, sb&j on wheat.  He didn’t finish it one day.  I thought he had.  I found it on the couch that night when we came home from work.  On.  The.  Couch.

1 banana (roughly) and 1 tblsp. organic chocolate chips.  I packed sliced bananas sprinkled with chocolate chips for the boys’ Friday lunches, as a special treat.  Neither of them finished the serving they were given, so this is my estimate of what came back, combined.

1/4 cup frozen mango.  P. had mango and raspberries in his lunch the other day.  He ate all the raspberries and most of the mango.  The rest came home looking sad and….wet.

4 pieces dried papaya, 1 dried plum.  P.  AGAIN.  Lunch leftovers, vaguely chewed, perhaps?  I couldn’t tell, so I thought it wise to err on the conservative side on this one.

1/4 couscous mixed with sauteed vegetables.  Came home as lunchbox miscellany.

1/2 cup yogurt.  Total of the leftover carnage from lunches.

1 apple.  Found it in the crisper drawer.  I thought it was a pear, which would have been a recent purchase.  Nope.  Then I thought it was still edible.  I gave it a shot.  Also nope.

1 pound cremini mushrooms.  SOOO angry with myself about these.  I bought them and accidentally — do NOT ask me how — shoved them in the freezer.  They got frozen.  When I thawed them, they were slimy and smelled a little funny, even by fungus standards.   Word of advice: Don’t try to freeze unprotected mushrooms.

Anyway, that’s it — the sum total for the whole week.  As I look at it, I feel pretty good, because so much of it was the lunches — and it’s true that, if the boys were eating at home under my supervision, there’d be a bit more I could do to help mitigate the waste.  But just knowing at the moment that the odd bites from their lunches are a big contributor to our waste tally helps me tremendously.

I’m also feeling proud because we did a few things last week, and I’m in the process of doing a few more things this week, that were consciously designed to cut down on our food waste — as well as help keep me set up for easy cooking and lunch-packing.  Last week, when we made our breaded flounder for supper, I immediately separated out several portions and froze them for future meals.  The only leftovers that went into the refrigerator were a few pieces each for me and J., which we made sure to eat the next day.  I also made sure to reheat the leftovers of the couscous with mixed vegetables that we’d originally eaten with lamb meatballs, and serve it (refreshed with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil) alongside a quick portion of pan-seared salmon for Friday fend night, meaning that every scrap was utilized.  And at some point during the week, when I made our salad, I added a hefty dose of chopped fresh herbs that looked as though they were about to turn on me, then popped the stems into my stock bag.

This week, I’m working diligently on the buy-less-cook-more philosophy to (hopefully) rein in our waste even further.  When I made the mashed potatoes for last night’s spoon roast supper, I made double; the leftovers will be used to bind tonight’s salmon cakes.  The extras of the spoon roast are waiting in the fridge to be chopped up and quickly reheated in a stir-fry later this week, while some stray beets and sweet potatoes from last week are already slated to become veggie chips for tomorrow’s sloppy joe supper.  They’re small things, really, and not hard to do — but I feel good knowing that I’m at least thinking proactively and setting up a system that may help us to eradicate as much waste in our kitchen as possible.

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13 Responses to Food Waste, Week Two: Pleasantly Surprised

  1. Amy says:

    So I’m trying to track along with you so I can also be aware of food waste in my house (and we have no kids so we don’t even get the kid waste “excuse’ 🙂 Here is what I tossed out Sunday to clear out for groceries:
    -3 oz of moldy part-skim mozzarella
    -half a bunch of herbs that I cannot tell what they are anymore, likely purchased before Christmas
    -1 jalepeno that turned from green to mushy red (so mad, I was planning to use that on Tuesday!)
    -2 tbsp minced mint
    -1 squished kiwi (which was actually a brand new purchase at the store Sunday, but as I was putting groceries away, I heard a thump, and stepped back to turn around and see what my mischievous kitty was doing and right onto the kiwi, thus smushing it into the floor)

    Not too bad so far…

  2. Alissa says:

    Was just cleaning out my fridge and found some celery that looked borderline, and instead of throwing in the trash threw it in the freezer for stock…thank you for the inspiration! Also, I appreciate your comments about not thinking of lunch waste as a lost cause…I made a special request to my daughter’s teacher to send all uneaten food home (instead of their standard throw it out process) so I can make adjustments based on what she tends to eat. I’m sure I’ll always pack a bit more than she needs just in case she’s really hungry, but I’m also sure over time I’ll realize that she never finishes certain items and hopefully minimize the extra!

    • I’m so happy to hear that the celery was saved for its celery destiny! 🙂 Our kids’ school has always sent their uneaten food home, and I think it’s a practice all schools should try to adopt wherever possible — not only does it give parents a better grasp of what their kids have eaten, but it also provides the opportunity to choose what happens to those leftovers. If a family practices composting at home, they should have the opportunity to compost the lunch waste; if they have a stock bag, they should be allowed to put uneaten leftovers into the stock bag if it’s practical to do so. As to packing more than they need…yes, I think we all do, and in some ways I think that’s the nature of the lunch-packing beast. You have to give children the chance to eat what they need to eat, so when they’re not in your direct supervision at lunchtime, you end up overfeeding them just to be sure…

  3. Jennifer says:

    Great job this week! I noticed a similar effect, and wondered if it was a bit of a rebound effect from the first week. I know that I was particularly conscious of what was in the fridge this week, and really tried to work everything into a meal or snack (or made sure to get things into the freezer.) As it happens, this waste challenge coincides with my 2012 challenge to myself to create and stick to a weekly meal plan and really, they’re perfect partners. We actually had chicken and dumplings this week, too, and my ages-old classic family recipe (with mushrooms and black eyed peas) got a great new boost when I added the remains of a baggie of chopped kale to the broth.

    That said, there were still some casualties. They’re actually fairly similar to yours.

    – 1 lunch portion of pot roast with root vegetables: I put this aside for my husband to take to work for lunch, and he never did. In hindsight, I should have frozen it. I actually suspect that he didn’t really care for it.

    – 1 lunch portion of baked rotini with sausage: This started out as a huge casserole made of leftovers to begin with. My husband reheated some of it, I reheated some of it, and honestly, I think we just got tired of it.

    – Slightly less than half of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich: I should have known better than to make the 2 year old a whole sandwich. It sat out too long to be saved. I did think about eating it myself for a long moment before tossing it, but I really wasn’t hungry and I didn’t want to become the trash can for the sake of NOT writing it on the list.

    (That said, I did resort to being the trash can on a few occasions this week, mostly to finish up a random scoop of something here or there that wasn’t enough to keep.)

    – 1 small bok choy: I really didn’t want to throw this little guy out but it suffered in a part of the fridge that got a little too cold and the resulting sliminess was off-putting.

    – 1 small pie pumpkin: I’m sad about this, and mad at myself. I have been keeping four little pie pumpkins and I keep saying to myself, “I should just toss those in the oven, roast them, and freeze the puree” but for some reason, I haven’t actually performed the oh so difficult task of turning on the oven and tossing them in. (Argh. Seriously, it’s not like I have to chop the wood and stoke the fire or anything.) Three of the pumpkins are still okay, one, sadly, was most definitely NOT okay. The good news – the other three are being roasted this afternoon.

    – 3 small slices of sprouted, seeded bread: Poor pantry management. It was purchased fresh and since it was preservative-free, it didn’t stand up to spending too many days in the breadbox. Farewell, fuzzy bread.

    – 1 scoop of scrambled eggs: Sunday breakfast, I guess I made one egg too many because these sat in the serving bowl until they became too cold to enjoy.

    – Assorted plate leavings. I didn’t do very well recording these, but I can say that I made more of an effort to start off with smaller portions on the plates so that there would be less scrapings.

    The positive: Many extra veggies tossed into several dishes that normally wouldn’t have had them.

    Friday was homemade pizza night. We each assembled our own individual pizzas. Mine was a perfect vessel for some leftover swiss chard that had been sauteed in garlic, a handful of mushrooms that were on their way out, some oven roasted summer cherry tomatoes that I discovered in a baggie in the freezer, and the tiny blob of homemade ricotta that has been lingering in its little airtight container. It was a gourmet pizza made from scraps.

    • I’m so happy you’re doing this along with me! It really makes me feel good to realize that our patterns of food waste are a) no worse than; and b) similar in their type and scope; to other people’s. I think absolutely, you end up using more vegetables and finding creative ways to reinvent dishes when you’re trying not to waste anything that’s in the fridge. (And your pizza sounds DELICIOUS.)
      The point about becoming the trash can is an important one. I find that i do the same thing sometimes, and certainly it’s not a good habit to get into in the long term…. I’m not sure what to do about it, either. If it’s a little scrap of meat or veg, then okay, I have some idea what to do; but if it’s a fully formed dish, like a casserole or a baked pasta, and there’s only a few bites left…that’s a whole different challenge.

  4. Claire says:

    Wow we so didn’t do well this week. My list is long and I’m only keeping it mentally! 1/4 of a pear that didn’t get put back in the fridge after lunch. A slice of deli turkey that slide to the back of the drawer. About 12 oz of pearl onions. They were bout for thanksgiving not used then and despite our thoughts to cook them never were- they were black when I looked at them this week. A portion of Mac and cheese, after a week of eating the pan no one wanted. 2 small regular onions that were apparently rotten in the bag when I bought them. 1/2 a yogurt cup one of the boys didn’t eat. 2 bananas I’ve been meaning to do something with all week and countless parts of the boys dinner that ended up in the garbage.
    My question is 2 fold: so wanting to do something to stop the waste and having the time and knowledge are a huge problem for me. You said in another post about freezing bananas on their way out to use later. How does that work? Any suggestions for how when you’ve meal planned you adjust to add in say: the half a box of chopped spinach I used for something else and don’t want to let go to waste. So far we’ve added to lunch quesadillas but since the boys won’t eat it I’m not sure where else to go.
    Oh yeah and I just remember the salad greens that were turning quickly so I picked out what I thought was salvage

    • Claire says:

      Sorry: salvageable only to find it tasted gross, 2 cups or more in the trash 😦

    • Uly says:

      You said in another post about freezing bananas on their way out to use later. How does that work?

      Peel them, stick them in a ziploc baggie, press as much air out of the baggie as possible and toss them in the freezer.

      Then, when you wish to use them to make a smoothie (put in frozen) or banana bread (thaw first, then puree), take them out of the freezer. It’s that simple!

      You can freeze them with the peels, but they’re a real hassle to peel after the fact.

      the half a box of chopped spinach I used for something else and don’t want to let go to waste.

      I use spinach in rice. I chop it up very finely and add it in the last 15 minutes of cook time in my covered rice pot. (I toss it in quickly to minimize loss of steam!) When I serve the rice, I stir in the spinach. I also cook grated carrots in the same way.

      You can also try pureeing that spinach with a little water and adding it to pasta sauce, chopping it finely and putting it in hamburgers or meatloaf or chili, making a green smoothie (a banana and as many green vegetables as you think reasonable, plus some water), pureeing it with milk and using it in your pancakes (it helps if you make pumpkin or blueberry pancakes where the green color isn’t as visible… though if your kids are into that sort of thing you can call them ogre or Frankenstein pancakes and make the color a feature!), adding it (finely chopped!) to mashed potatoes, or using it in salads or on sandwiches.

      Spinach has such a mild flavor that I find it easy to get rid of it almost anywhere! And it really shrinks in volume once chopped and cooked. Just use a handful or two at a time.

    • So…Uly gave some great ideas above, and I’ll just add a few more.
      1) Uly’s right about peeling the banana first, before freezing. However, you CAN freeze them with the peels on if need be — what I’ve found is that you can actually use a paring knife to strip the frozen peels off and it’s not so bad, in a pinch. They can be used for anything other than just eating them straight-up (once they thaw, they turn to mush).
      2) With the little bit of chopped spinach, you can do any number of things. Besides the things Uly suggested, you could make a spinach pesto just by whizzing it in the blender with garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. You could chuck it into some soup, or mix it with breadcrumbs, cheese, and a little milk or egg to bind and use that as a stuffing for pork or chicken. You could put it into meatballs or meatloaf, mix into scrambled eggs or omelets, or put it in mac and cheese.

      • Alissa says:

        Can I add one more idea to the chopped spinach question? I buy frozen chopped spinach in 1 lb bags instead of the 10 oz boxes, which allow you to just pour out and defrost what you need at any given time, so there’s never any waste! I always have an open bag in my freezer and use it a little bit at a time in many of the ways listed above…I have found the bags at both Whole Foods and Trader Joes.

      • Yes, Alissa! Thanks for adding that! I also buy the bags, but I usually use them up so fast that I didn’t even think about it. great point!

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