Guest Post: The Non-Consumer Advocate

Katy Wolk-Stanley is…The Non-Consumer Advocate. The hyphen-happy Portland native blogs about living on less and doing so with a minimal environmental impact. She was kind enough to share some thoughts on how she reduces food waste in her home. Take it away, Katy:

With food prices so high, there’s simply no excuse for food waste in the home. Regular readers of The Non-Consumer Advocate already know that the food waste issue is near and dear to my heart. Two years ago, I issued a Waste No Food Challenge and have been working ever since to get my family down to a zero food waste existence. I have learned much in my quest to eradicate food waste, and here’s what’s working for my family so far:

Be realistic: It’s all fine and admirable to fill your grocery cart with tofu and bok choy, but if that’s not how your family actually eats, then it’s just a recipe for wastage.

Serve smaller portions: This is especially important with children, but can be a issue with adults as well. It’s perfectly okay to have seconds, so make those servings appropriate to each individual.

Stop cooking such huge amounts: Face facts, you’re not an army cook. When cooking meals, estimate the amount of leftovers that’ll be produced and use your head. Leftover chicken soup is good once or twice, but after that it’s not always so tempting.

Buy smaller amounts: Many foods are less per pound if you buy a larger amount. However, unless you have a family of eight, this can be a certain road to food waste. It’s okay to buy the actual amount of food you need. I make pizza from scratch and buy the toppings from the pizza joint up the street. Not only is it cheaper, but I’m able to buy exactly the amount needed.

Only freeze the food you’ll want to eat again: Many people stash uneaten food in the freezer, only to be forgotten until that revolting smell of freezer burn has taken over. Which brings me to:

Eat the food in your freezer: When your freezer gets overly full of food, it becomes difficult to know the contents until it’s too late. Go on a spelunking tour of your freezer and start eating what you can. (The thriftiest meal comes from food you’ve already bought and prepared.)

Think about leftovers: When making a meal, think ahead to what the leftovers will be and how they’ll get eaten up. This may as simple as putting meal size portions into containers for work lunches, or even simply incorporating ingredients into another meal. For example, I roasted a chicken two nights ago. I used the extra chicken in some enchiladas last night, and then ate those leftovers for lunch today. If there’s more than you can eat, freeze the leftovers or share with friends and neighbors. (This is a delicious tradition to start, as you potentially end up on the receiving end of the deal!)

Plan Your Meals: For many people, this means scheduling the week’s menu ahead of time. I don’t do this personally, as I loosely follow the pantry principle, (I keep a stocked pantry that can be tranformed into multiple meals.) I usually plan my family’s meals a day ahead, which fits my personality better.

Store your food properly: If your flour gets buggy or your tortillas get crusty, then you have a problem. Stash dry goods in the freezer for 24 hours when first purchased to avoid moths and such, and use tight fitting lids for foods in the refrigerator. I’m a rabid fan of Pyrex dishes with snap-on lids. The glass means I can actually see the contents, and the lid keeps the food fresh. For me, monkey see food, monkey eat food. (Seriously, “out of sight out of mind” is my middle name.)

Institute a leftovers night: Often, there’s not enough of certain leftovers to create an entire meal, but they can be certainly be warmed up and set out buffet style.

Teach yourself to create new meals from leftovers: I’ve written about tucking bits and pieces into a pasta salad, but soups and burritos also lend themselves to leftover magic.

What are your methods to avoid food waste? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

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  1. Posted June 7, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    We are down to nearly zero food waste if I get your definition. Almost everything is eaten (upcycled leftovers being the norm) and everything else is composted. The real struggle is bones, skin, and other bits of animals that our community garden won’t take to compost. I don’t like them in the trash because of the smell (and it makes no sense), I usually toss them where scavengers will find them but that’s not a scalable solution. Any thoughts on handling that challenging piece?

    *Vegetarianism – yes that is a solid solution to my problem but not the answer I’m looking for. I have my reasons.

  2. Posted June 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    What a great list of tips. I use many of them and found many things I can work on. Passing this one along. So glad to find your blog.

  3. Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Avoiding food waste is kind of like shoveling the walk during a snowstorm. Leftover peas get tucked into a curry dish, but then there’s the leftover curry. It’s important to not get bogged down by small amounts of food waste in the home, when the bigger picture of food waste at the farm, during transportation, from food service and such is much more impacting.

    So I guess what I’m saying is not to beat oneself up too much for an occasional bit of food waste here and there.

    Katy Wolk-Stanley
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

  4. Posted June 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    This is an awesome post.

    To deal w/ freezer issues, I started (this summer) using a white board. I inventoried my freezer and wrote it all down on the white board, which is attached to the freezer. As something comes out, I cross it off the list. This way I can track what I’m using and keep in mind what I need to use more of.

    It’s part of my summer eating plan where I’m focusing on utilizing my massive stockpile of food, and where I am forced to use what’s in the house because I’m limited by a $10/week grocery budget (which mostly appears to be going straight to chips and candy bars).

    Another tip I’d like to second is that if you cook too much, whether it’s a meal or pastries or whatever it is, we all know people who’d be delighted to eat what we haven’t. So if I cook too much (which I often do), I bring any leftovers I think I won’t eat to a friend(s) who I know would enjoy whatever it was I made. I have gotten rid of extraordinary amounts of pastries (because no recipe for pastries just makes a single serving) by taking them to class or to work.

    A tip I’d like to add is to talk to your friends, neighbours or whatever. Sometimes they have food they’re not using or don’t know what to do with. By communicating with them, you can appropriate that food (which would otherwise be wasted), turn it into something new and share it with the person who gave the food to you. A classmate of mine recently gave me some bruised apples. I made a pot of chocolate apple butter and we both benefited from it and avoided waste at the same time.

  5. Posted March 27, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

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