Wastage is one of the biggest reasons why the average North American spends so much on food. While exact monthly amounts vary, everyone loses out when food is wasted. Recent reports estimate food waste at $27 billion per year in Canada and 40% of annual food production in the United States. Yikes!
Brian and I spend $200 a month on food, roughly following our ”grocery budget for 2″. There is absolutely no room to be wasting food on this kind of budget! But what can you do to avoid food wastage?
When I am thinking about what to cook for lunch or dinner, I always check my vegetable drawer to see what needs to be used up. Then, I add starch and protein accordingly. Why? Well generally, all of our meat is kept frozen and all of our starches are dry and long-lasting. So in terms of preventing food waste, I need to look at what veggies (and fruits) need to be used and plan my meals around those items. For example, if I have a lot of veggies near the end of their life, I might make a casserole or stir fry. If I have a lot of tomatoes or carrots getting soft and mushy, I make a pasta sauce or a soup.
You definitely need to utilize your freezer if you want to waste less food. I often buy food in bulk, which is great for saving money but bad for wastage – unless you’re smart about it! So when I buy large cuts of meat, for example, I’ll split it into smaller portions and freeze them. That way, I only ever need to thaw out a small portion of meat to use immediately. Freezing food is also a great way of preserving veggies that you can’t use up right away. Vegetables such as peppers, carrots and beans can be chopped, blanched and frozen for later use. Frozen blanched veggies are great additions to canned soup or instant noodles! Other foods that you can freeze include breads, fruits (especially berries!), and cooked meats like roast chicken and soup.
In the end, the best way to not waste food, is to use it up. Duh, right? Sometimes it can be hard. What do you do with half a lime and half an onion? You could make up a Mexican themed meal, perhaps some homemade salsa or some garnish on a baked chilli chicken. Maybe it’s a couple of carrots and a some wilting spinach that you find in the fridge. You could revitalize the veggies in a fried rice or toss them into a pot of water with some stock and rice and make soup. It’s easy to get into a comfort zone and compartmentalize your cooking into recipes. But if you do that, you’re always going to end up with bits and pieces left over in your fridge. It’s your ability to make something yummy and healthy out of those bits and pieces that will prevent you from wasting food! So experiment! My favourite grab bag meals include casseroles, stir fry’s, soups and fried rice – all of these meals are GREAT for using up veggies and meat. If you’re not feeling too creative, you can also download many apps that will suggest recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand.
How do you avoid wasting food? Any great grab bag recipe ideas?