Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

In honor of Massachusetts passing a "no food waste" bill for places that serve hot foods, I am taking up a challenge of "no food waste" in my own home.
Having the privilege of a garbage disposal, it is very easy to lose sight of how much food, good edible food, gets wasted due to poor planning or simple laziness. While I do compost quite a lot, I am limited because of close neighbors and too much neighborhood vermin (not necessarily the same thing *wink*), as well as city laws which prohibit feeding the wild life. All it takes is someone to get a wild hair across their ass and I am being fined for "feeding the wild life". I know, I know.
So far, I have instituted a worm bin, and have a contained compost outside for some of the overflow of scraps and waste. I also have a "less is more" rule when it comes to food. Take a just a little. If you are still hungry, there is more (usually), but it is less likely that food left on a plate will be saved if not eaten.
Still, there is a LOT of waste. I am embarrassed to admit that I have had to throw out, in this past month alone, one whole roasting chicken and 2 smallish round roasts. Partly, it is because I had some flares and 'sodes that prevented me from taking care of it right away, and partly is was piss poor planning. This was food intended for processing and storing, but I had too much to do at once, and with the pain I could not do as much as I needed to. So, wasted food and money, money we do not have and will have to come out of something else, like my med and doctor co pays, or holding off on paying the monthly mortgage in full. That is not acceptable. It is also not acceptable that all of the resources connected to growing that food were wasted too. Meat uses a LOT of resources, so I am especially perturbed at wasting meat, which cannot be composted or used in another way.
The first step is to create a menu. I have often created weekly menus, using the sales flyer and current food stores to save money and cut back on waste. The problems with doing just a weekly menu is that it must be done more often, which means it is unlikely to be done every single week, increasing the problem of food waste. My answer was to come up with a monthly plan, based more on the types of sales one sees during that season. I plan to have several monthly meal plans set up to easily mix and match, so that eventually, I will not have to create one at all. Doing this in excel makes it much easier to play around with various menus so that each month is personalized, working with current sales and most importantly, what is in season to work with.
This months menu took me two full days to create, but please, do not let that stop you. First, it takes me longer to do things than it used to, so my timeline is not yours. Second, I used an Excel worksheet that someone else made up, so I had to not only make the menu, but go through all of the recipes and create a standardized way of converting all of the ingredients so that it would produce a workable grocery list. Since the menu is for an entire month, and there are still a couple months in Autumn left, if I cannot make another next month, this one is easy to reuse since there is a different meal for each day. A monthly rotation leaves a lot more variety than a weekly one.
Besides using an Excel workbook, I also made a cuisine for each day of the week. Monday is "meatless" or at least "nearly meatless", Tuesday is Italian, Wednesday is soup, Thursday is Pizza (homemade is the plan, but at least ordering one is  not' expensive), Friday is for family comfort foods, Saturday is up in the air as a way to either use up left overs or foods that were not used from the last shopping trip because, well, life does happen, And Sunday is a family dinner type meal like roast chicken or lasagna, something that I associate with big family dinners. I also try to keep leftovers from meals in mind while planning.
Here is a screen shot of my meal plan:

You should be able to find templates for many different types of planners, all free, just do a search using your favorite search engine.

When there are mistakes, there needs to be a way to take care of the possible waste. I like different preserving practices, and they all have excellent uses, but currently I am using the dehydrator because I find that it is easy to store, and easy to do.

My husband accidentally got 5 extra pounds of organic carrots and 3 English cucumbers too many for our meals last week, so I have dehydrated shredded carrots as well as sliced some and blanched them for use in soups and such. There is also 1/2 large cucumbers worth of slices flavored with cinnamon and sugar for crispy snacks, but that is an experiment I will share if they turn out properly tasty and edible.

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