As I promised last time, I am addressing the biggest money drain in your kitchen. It is food waste and not only does this throw money right down the sink drain, it is also a shame when one out of every 4 children in Oklahoma is hungry, not to mention those starving children in China that some of you heard about as children when your parents wanted you to eat everything on your plate. Estimates (Slate, June, 2010) range from 14 % per household to 40% wasted food in the entire food chain. Although it is hard to pin down precise figures, food waste is both a money and a moral issue. So let’s get to it. Here are some tips to reduce food waste, many of which you already know.
Create—and then stick to—a shopping list. Plan out your meals for the week (including snacks and side dishes) and then shop for just the ingredients you need—no more, no less. Be honest about your cooking and eating habits, though, or you'll still wind up with unused ingredients.
Shop a few times a week. If you lack the discipline to plan your meals seven days in advance, do as the Europeans do and opt for small, frequent purchases. Check to see what you have at home that's in danger of going bad, then shop for ingredients so you can make use of those items. If you've got pork chops in your fridge that are about to turn ugly and half a bag of rice in your pantry, maybe all you need is a vegetable for the side. If you have to drive to your grocery store, shop on the way home from work or while running other errands so you don't increase your road miles too much
Stick to a single cuisine, to maximize efficiency. Don’t have a Chinese night, an Italian night, etc. That would leave a fridge full of unrelated foods—many of which would go bad before you have cause to use them again. Instead, designate a "Chinese week" and wait until you have finished all the bok choy, tofu, and guilin sauce in the kitchen before allowing yourself to buy Mediterranean ingredients.
Buy food with cash. It's hard, but it works. The less you use debit/credit, the more conscious you are of what you spend and so you tend not to grab items that just look good. I know, I recommended using a rewards credit card, but the idea of using cash is also good. Know thyself.
Limit your experimental purchases, like ramps and rhubarb, to things you plan to prepare that same weekend. Once you know how to use something, it can be considered a workweek ingredient, but you may not have the energy to try something new after a hard day’s work, and allow that exotic food to rot in the fridge.
Wash and prep fruit and vegetables right away. This helps combat workweek weariness. Dry everything thoroughly before you put it in the fridge—surface moisture provides a nice environment for decay-causing bacteria and fungi. If you have a spinner, use it then keep the ingredients in plastic bags or containers. Note that cutting fruits and veggies can double the rate of deterioration; I suggest using any cut produce within two days.
Keep track of what's in your fridge and pantry, with expiration dates. An up-to-date inventory not only prevents you from accidentally re-buying items but can also alert you to what's teetering on the edge of spoilage. You might use a notepad and pencil; but there are more elaborate systems: put a white board on the fridge and everything that goes into the fridge gets written down on the board,. write down perishable stuff in red ink, stable stuff in green, one section for ingredients and another for leftovers.
Use the freezer—and use it wisely. There are items like the vacuum sealer of green produce bags, but the best item is probably humble freezer. Keep a container in there for chicken carcasses, freezer-burned drumsticks, onion tops, and carrot peelings; when it's full, simmer all the contents to make soup or roast vegetables (except for cucumbers and leafy stuff) before they go bad and then toss them into a freezer bag; the constantly evolving mix can go into lasagna, soup, pizza, or casseroles. Fruit that's about to go bad can be frozen for smoothies. Also, divide larger quantities of prepared food (like tomato sauce) into meal portions and freeze. This prevents overeating as well as waste.
Schedule in your leftovers. Eat 'new' food on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, then on Thursday we have 'smorgasbord' with the leftovers from those three nights. A popular variation on smorgasbord night was "garbage night" when you challenge yourself to prepare a meal out of nothing but end-of-the-shopping-week ingredients. You might go to allrecipes.com, where you can search for dishes that incorporate up to four different ingredients.
Compost, compost, compost (no meat products, though).
There are so many opportunities to reduce your waste. DON'T FORGET MEATLESS MONDAYS!