Two Weeks of Food Waste and a Muffin Revelation

And the mystery muffin is...

I owe you all TWO FULL WEEKS of food waste reporting.  Sorry about that — I have been keeping track, as promised, and I haven’t forgotten that I need to publish the results for weeks 3 and 4.  It’s just that stuff got busy, and then there was this thing, and then I, well, you know, I….

Oh, forget it.  I just didn’t do it.  I was taking care of other stuff instead.

But here I am, fashionably late, ready to unveil the many ways in which we improved our food waste tally in weeks 3 and 4!  Except that we didn’t.  Improve, that is.  I think, rather, that we’re experiencing what I feared would happen — a food waste rebound.

Oh, I don’t think it was all that horrible, but our weekly tally certainly didn’t go in the direction I’d hoped.  Maybe it’s just that once you get a few weeks into something like this, the project isn’t as fresh and it’s hard to be as motivated to save, repurpose, and account for each and every little scrap of food; or maybe it’s that we were doing so well right out of the gate that we were bound to have some off moments.  And then, of course, there’s always the variable of the kids — fickle as they can be about eating.  I try to console myself with the reassurance that at least we continued to monitor ourselves and to be mindful of the issue, whether we successfully improved our results or not.  Awareness is half the battle, right?

Anyway, here are the results:
Week 3:
1 salmon cake
.  I just missed it, seriously.  We had leftovers, we put them in the fridge, we ate them, and the next day I went to polish off the last one and didn’t see it.  I figured J. had eaten it when I wasn’t paying attention, but I later found it hiding in plain sight…a few days after what I’d consider safe for leftover fish.

1/2 cup veggie chips.  We made them, we ate them, we stored them, they got soggy and sad.  Whoops.

3/4 cup of beef and broccoli stir-fry.  Because this was actually made with leftover beef, I suppose I can’t be as upset about the waste as I want to be.  We sent it to school with the boys for lunches; neither of them finished the portions they were given.

3/4 cup miscellaneous raw vegetables.  This is a rough calculation and would include carrots, grape tomatoes, green beans, and peppers, primarily.  L., my veggie-eating champ, has suddenly started leaving behind the very vegetables he asks me to pack in his lunchbox.  He’s generally starting to act fussier about food, but I’m chalking it up mainly to his age — five-year-olds are notoriously weird.  Truthfully, he’s still such a great eater that I’m not overly concerned, but I am relatively chafed by the wasted veg.  (Some of this tally, by the way, belongs to P., the fickle vegetable consumer — I can’t chalk it all up to his big brother).

1 chunk (about 3 ounces) of fontina cheese.  Don’t wrap fontina cheese in a piece of unlabeled aluminum foil and shove it to the bottom of the cheese drawer.  Unless, that is, you’re looking to begin a home chemistry experiment.

1/2 bunch fresh parsley.  The fresh herb problem continues.  It’s not that I don’t know what to do with them…it’s just that I’m not DOING it in time.  The parsley was peaked.

1/2 lemon.  I cut it in half, I squeezed the juice out of one half, and the other half was on the counter while we ate dinner.  It was also there the next morning.  It was not quite the lemon it had once been, that’s for sure.

1/3 banana.  We often break pieces off bananas in the morning for P., who may or may not consume an entire banana at a sitting (though he usually will, these days).  J. or I generally eat whatever’s left, but we forgot about this one.  Day-old peeled banana = disaster.

Week 4:
2 portions tamale pot pie.
  Ugh.  We had it for dinner on Wednesday night and had planned to eat it for weekend lunches, but my folks came into town and everything sort of got busy.  Other lunch arrangements were made; the tamale pot pie was sacrificed.

1/4 of an avocado and a few grape tomatoes.  They were supposed to go with a serving of the tamale pot pie.  They didn’t make it.

1/3 cup yogurt and sunbutter parfait.  Leftover from one of P.’s lunches.

1 portion West Indies chicken.  We ate it…and ate it…and ate it…and mutiny began to set in, so when J. asked “Are we REALLY going to eat the rest of this?” I was more than happy to give it the ax.  I’m only human.

About 1 1/2 cups couscous.  It was mixed in with the chicken.

1/4 cup grapes.   Slightly squashed and sitting in the bottom of the lunchbox.

1/4 cup banana chips.  They came home in L.’s lunchbox and probably could have been salvaged, except for the fact that they seemed sort of…damp.

1 cup salad greens.  Yup, they just got away from me.  I had a plan to use them, but they weren’t obliging to my timeline.

Okay, looking at it…maybe it’s not SO bad.  I think what feels frustrating to me about these two weeks in particular is that there were more MEALS wasted, carelessly.  To a certain extent, I can forgive us the odds and ends…but when we’re talking about whole portions of prepared, perfectly good food, I feel less excited about our outcome.

However, I should point out that I DID still take some steps towards repurposing things in ways I might not have ordinarily tried.  For example, I omitted the beans that are ordinarily in the tamale pie in favor of mixing leftover brown rice with the beef; and instead of opening a whole bottle of tomatoes and only using part of them, I used the last bit of a jar of salsa.  (J. said these changes were improvements to the recipe.)  On DIY salad night, I allowed only leftover items onto the platter — no preparing of new options to make it more “full.”  And, realizing that I was going to lose an avocado if I didn’t think fast, I used it in a baking experiment that was a true revelation to all of us: the Avocado Muffin.

They’re not green, they’re not savory, and in fact, J. assured me that he would never have known what was in them unless I’d told him first.  The kids devoured them and begged me to pack them for their school lunches the next morning — a request I could happily honor.  These muffins are whole-wheat, they’re packed with healthy fats, and they don’t contain any refined sugar.   I won’t tell if you won’t.

Avocado Olive Oil Muffins (makes 18 muffins)

2 medium Hass avocados
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup honey
Zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs
1 cup milk
4 cups white whole-wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Beat together the flesh of the avocados, olive oil, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice, until smooth.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring just until combined.  Scoop the batter into prepared muffin cups and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.




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12 Responses to Two Weeks of Food Waste and a Muffin Revelation

  1. Michele Hays says:

    Two tips I use for fresh herbs: 1. Grow them on a windowsill in pots, cut as needed. This works particularly well for parsley, and if you start it outside in the summer (you’ll need a fair amount) you can keep it inside in the winter; it’s a cut-and-come again.

    2. Store them like cut flowers: fill a heavy cup halfway with water, trim the ends of the herbs, put them in the cup and store as usual (fridge for hearty herbs, countertop or dinner table – they smell great – for delicate ones like basil that don’t like cold.)

    • Great tips, Michele! This is an old post, but have you seen my more recent one about preserving fresh herbs for later use?

      • Michele Hays says:

        LOL, I somehow followed here from FB. However, I did see that – we keep basil pesto in the freezer most of the time. I love having a pot of fresh parsley around, though – nothing quite like it.

      • Yeah, I did a re-post from my archives! Pulling out some of the old stuff to remind people that it’s here. 🙂 I agree about having a pot of fresh parsley around, except that I always manage to kill it. So you’re way ahead of me there!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Here’s my report for week 3 and week 4:

    Week 3:
    1 avocado: It had been hanging around for about a week and I was going to slice it into a salad. I sliced into it and it was definitely NOT okay. Icky.

    1/2 cup homemade cranberry sauce: It just never got eaten. Sad.

    3 persimmons: These have been hanging around in the drawer for a while, and I finally had to bid them adieu. These were a part of a large bag of persimmons, most of which I figured out how to use, but having never worked with persimmons before getting these, it was a little too much.

    About 2 cups of salad: This was a “leftover special” salad. The greens were starting to go, so I chopped them and soaked them in the salad spinner in ice water for a long time to crisp them back up. That worked. Then I added some black beans that had been sitting around, the ends of some pieces of cheese, some old-bread croutons, and the last of a jar of homemade salsa. (The aforementioned avocado was supposed to go in, as well.) It ended up being a WAY bigger salad than we could finish, and dressed salad just doesn’t keep well. I ate some of it the next day, but it really needed to go.

    1 tiny delicata squash that somehow got piled in with the decorative gourds that have been sitting in a basket in the kitchen for a while. Poor little squash. By the time I realized it had been hiding out with the decorations it was too late to eat it.

    A handful of red grapes: Honestly? They looked okay. But I knew that they were more than a month old and didn’t really want to try one.

    Assorted plate leavings: I’ve given up on tracking these. I’ve just been trying to be better about not putting so much ON the plates to begin with.

    Week 4:
    4 small square slices of take-out pizza: HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!? I swear, in all of my years, I don’t think I’ve ever, ever had to throw away take-out pizza. It always gets eaten, usually by my husband. I think the problem is that they were put away in an opaque container and no one knew what they were. Bothers me because take-out pizza is expensive.

    1/2 cup of sweet/sour red cabbage with apples and onions: This was a side dish to accompany a meal where there were no other leftovers. I guess the cabbage just didn’t “go” with anything else.

    About 2 cups of O’s cereal: a pantry casualty. I bought these as an alternative to Cheerios (my daughter’s favorite) and the switch did not go unnoticed. They really weren’t good. I tried sneaking them in here and there but they just didn’t get eaten. Even in the air tight container, they got stale, which made them even worse. My search for Not-Cheerios continues. . .

    The heel of a loaf of pumpkin-chocolate chip bread: The rest of the loaf was gobbled quickly and happily, until we got down to the heel. My family seems to have an aversion to bread heels. (see next)

    The heel of a loaf of whole wheat bread: Argh.

    A bag of black walnuts: I don’t really feel bad about these. A farmer at the market gave them to me when I asked what they were. (I asked what they were because I keep finding them in the back yard, courtesy of the neighborhood squirrels, so apparently there is a black walnut tree nearby.) He warned me that they can be difficult to work with, and I nonchalantly said that I’d figure out what to do with them. They were freshly gathered, meaning that they were still inside their weird-looking green fruit. A search online told me that in order to get these open I was either going to have to have a workbench with a vice and a drill, a bucket, and safety goggles – OR I was going to have to put the nuts in my driveway and run over them a few times. (!!!) After deciding that I’m not THAT rustic, I stashed them in the back of the fridge until I could decide what to do with them. I should have given them to the squirrels.

    Assorted plate leavings (of course.)

    • Yay! I was wondering where you were with your amazing reports. I feel so much better every week just knowing you’re doing this along with me!

      It seems to me that we’re both running into the same categories of wasted food: 1) Assorted leavings (which, as you point out, can only really be alleviated by not putting so much on plates to begin with); 2) Best-laid plans gone awry (like your avocado); and 3) Just couldn’t want to do it (like the month-old grapes, the soggy dressed salad, and my adventures in west indies chicken for three solid days). I guess the real question I have now is: What can we do about the “just can’t want to eat it blues?” Because that’s the real shame, isn’t it? Every time I throw something out for pure lack of having mustered the enthusiasm to eat it, I wonder what somebody who can’t afford good food would think of me. Sadly, I think I know the answer.

      • Jennifer says:

        I do tend to feel the worst about the “just can’t do it” leftovers being thrown away, because I feel that better pantry/fridge management is the key there. And yes, I do often scrape those into the trash thinking that it’s terribly sad to be tossing out good food. I also feel like if no one else is going to eat it, maybe I should, but then we get back into the garbage can mode, again. I ate more salad than I really wanted to last night just to get it “gone.” (At least it was salad.)

        I admit, I’m not a great leftover-eater. Once the taste or texture of a dish is “wrong” I have a harder time eating it (some leftovers are better the next day, but not all. Not even most.) It’s a very fortunate position to be in, having the ability to refuse to eat something because it’s not crisp enough anymore or because the texture is a little weird.

        My husband is better at eating leftovers than I am, so I count on him to work through most of them. My only other real way to combat this has been to tailor dishes so we don’t have so many leftovers. (Of course, if I do that, then he ends up buying lunch at work. So, there’s that.) I’ve also been making more of the things that I actually like reheated.

        I’m also the only one in the house who pays any attention to planning, cooking, shopping, and throwing away. So that makes it a little harder, too, because if something is sitting there, I wait to see if my husband will eat it. Then I put it on the kids plates for lunch. After that, I end up starting it down and having to make the call about whether to pitch it or eat it. By that time, it’s pretty rare that I actually WANT to eat it.

        So to answer your questions – I’m not sure. For me, I probably have to just plan a little better and/or actually pack up the slightly less desirable lunches for my husband. If I did that, he’d take them and eat them. (Thus making HIM the garbage can.)

      • I think the trash-can thing is so hard, isn’t it? I don’t want to be one, and I don’t want to make J. into one, but sometimes it DOES feel like that’s the only/best way to get around wasting more than we want to. It is a difficult thing to cook only EXACTLY the amount of food that will get eaten at a particular point in time. But it’s good that we’re aware, right?

    • Claire says:

      I hate when a side is left and I just can’t seem to fit it in anywhere else. Ses to happen more when I’m trying to stick to a mealplan.

      • Really? That’s interesting to me, maybe because I’ve gotten good over the years at not overdoing it on the sides. It’s not often that i can’t figure out another way to eat them.

  3. Deb Neyens says:

    I had the same problem with fresh herbs. But now I have a plastic storage container that has a little removeable rack in the bottom. I use it to store fresh herbs in the refrigerator instead of in the plastic bag from the store. They seem to keep much better that way. I’ve had some cilantro in it for over a week and it’s still fine. I don’t know if it’s because the rack allows the air to circulate around them? I think it’s a Rubbermaid product, if you want to look for it. The avocado muffin sounds brilliant, by the way.

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