Monday, November 17, 2014

Zero-waste week OR Use it or lose it OR Stop before you shop

None of the above headlines really captures what I’m trying to do this week: Reduce our family’s food waste by cooking with foods that are already in our fridge and cabinets.

I don’t know about you, but we waste a buttload of food up in this house. Whether it’s unfinished meals that we scrape off our plates into the trash, forgotten leftovers, or ingredients that I bought for a single recipe and never used again, I’m ashamed to admit how much we throw away.

I recently cleaned out our cabinets and tossed so much food, from a bag of faro that everyone hated and I never cooked with again, to expired boxes of noodle soup and saltines that I bought when one of us was sick. I clean out the fridge about once a week, and throw away a lot from there, too.

And we’re not alone: The Environmental Protection Agency says 20% of what gets dumped into municipal landfills is food, adding up to a whopping 35 million tons of food in 2012, says a new NPR article.

Not to get all “starving kids in Africa,” but seriously…there are starving kids in Africa. And America. And everywhere.

Still unmoved? OK, let’s say you’re a heartless megalomaniac and don’t give a shit about starving kids. Think of your wallet, then: If you spend $100 a week on groceries, that’s $20 a week you’re chucking in the trash…and $1,040 a year.

Our waste-not week begins with a refrigerator/pantry audit. We have (among other things):




  1. A mostly unused tub of ricotta cheese leftover from our broken noodle dish
  2. Carrots and onions leftover from making chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup
  3. Half a box of baby spinach leftover from making spinach and artichoke pizza
  4. Several nubs of Parmesan cheese from various recipes, since I’m forgetful and often forget that I already have Parmesan cheese
  5. A box each of fresh sage and fresh thyme, leftover from making chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup
  6. Chicken broth leftover from making chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup
  7. A bowl of cooked rice
  8. Half a spaghetti squash
  9. Eggs
  10. Cherry tomatoes, apples, a banana
  11. The usual pantry staples: Rolled oats, rice, pasta, flour, baking ingredients (like sugar, spices, peanut butter chips), canned tomatoes, olive oil, breadcrumbs, vinegar, etc.
  12. Cans of salmon (Chloe’s vegetarianism doesn’t extend to fish).
  13. Sandwich bread
  14. In the freezer: Mostly frozen meat, including a pound of ground beef, and some cuts of pork from a pig that my cousin and his wife raised.
As you can see, there’s a lot of food just hanging around in this house! This is all without doing the week’s grocery shopping. Without much thought, I already see a few dishes shaping up:
  1. Homemade raviolis stuffed with ricotta, Parmesan, spinach, and sage
  2. Pasta and meatballs with homemade sauce from canned tomatoes and meatballs from the frozen ground beef
  3. Pork chops in a vinegar-thyme brine and served with rice and cooked carrots
  4. Peanut butter oatmeal cookies
Admittedly, this is a lot of cooking from scratch, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly swimming in time. I have a full-time job and a kid (who happens to be home sick right now). But it’s a challenge that I want to take, and I’ll spend the week blogging about it.

Wish me luck!

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