Last fall, I attended the Lovin’ Spoonfuls Tailgate party at Sam’s. I will be honest and tell you that I went because I was invited, and because I knew a lot of fun people would be there. I wasn’t particularly passionate about Lovin’ Spoonfuls mission, mostly because I didn’t know that much about it. For the record, their mission is the recovery and redistribution of perishable food that would otherwise be discarded. This food is delivered to the community organizations where it can have the greatest impact.
At the tailgate, they showed a video that had me in tears, and frankly quite disgusted with myself, by the end. It’s not an easy three minutes, but you should watch it. Because it will shock you. And after the shock, it will motivate you.
That video stuck with me, and about a month ago I made a commitment to myself that I would stop wasting so much food. It was good timing, because TJ had also challenged me to reduce our grocery bill by 50%. And, we decided we wanted to have the majority of our meals come from home, for additional savings. Cut the grocery bill by half while creating double the meals. And end food waste while we’re at it. The challenge was on.
In the past month, I have gone from throwing out a garbage bag of food each and every Sunday, to running my fridge down to the barest minimum each week, with almost nothing left over to waste. Our grocery-based waste has been reduced by 80%. In four weeks, we’ve saved $2,000 (a combination of savings from grocery bills, take out, and dining out). I have been reduced to tears more than once at the site of a nearly empty refrigerator – even though I know I have planned well and that there is food to eat, even though I know that I can always go to the store and pick up whatever I need. Imagine looking at that fridge and knowing that you are out of options, that there is no food or money to fill the fridge – that’s what happens to innumerable families across the country each day.
Here’s how I tackled our food waste problem:
1) I have a weekly budget of $250 for all family groceries and most home supplies (toothpaste, etc). To accomplish this, I buy 90% of my food at Market Basket (the value there is amazing) and then my meat and a few other things at Whole Foods. I plan every meal we’re going to have for the week, and use leftovers for lunches (and TJ’s at-work dinners) throughout the week.
2) When I get home from grocery shopping, I go through my fridge and take out everything that I haven’t used from the week before – veggies, fruit, etc – and use it right then and there. First, I roast any leftover veggies and make them into a grain salad to munch on during the week. Any sketchy fruit gets made into smoothies. Left over meat gets thrown into a Sunday salad. If something is gross I chuck it. No guilt. Last week I threw out only three mini cucumbers that were close to liquified and beyond saving.
3) I wash everything and put it away. I know, you’ve read this tip 100 times. But it really helps me to not waste food. For years I’ve bought grapes for the kids and never served them because I don’t feel like washing them. They always go bad in my fridge. Do you know how expensive grapes are?! I’ve probably chucked $1000 of grapes since my children were born. Now, I come home, wash them, take them off the stem, and put them in a big tupperware. Just like that they went from the hardest fruit to pack for lunch to the easiest. Hence, they all get eaten.
4) I make things in bulk and freeze what I am not going to use. I was so blasé about this in the past. I’d be all, “I really should freeze that before it goes bad.” And then never do it. Inevitably I would end up throwing it out. You can’t watch that video above and do that ever again. This isn’t about starving kids in Africa, this is about a shocking number of kids in MA being food insecure. Also, soup rocks. It’s cheap, you can put almost anything in it, and you can eat it all week. If you get sick of it, freeze it!
5) We stopped ordering take-out. If we’re going out to dinner than fine, that gets planned into the week. But we stopped the spontaneous “I have food in the fridge but don’t feel like cooking, so can you get sushi?” nights. That was the number one practice that was leading to so much waste. When we get a little better at this, we may add in a take-out night here or there (because my God, I get so sick of providing food for people), but it will be planned for so we aren’t ignoring food that is in our fridge.
6) We just plain eat less. And my waistline is thanking me for that.
There are a few steps left to really complete this exercise. Like I want to start composting, because I want to have a little garden at our new house. Granted, we have turkeys and skunks and foxes and raccoons and coyotes out here by the city’s limits, so I’m not sure how that will work. But I’d like to try. And I’m determined to teach our kids to waste less. This starts by my serving them less and letting them ask for seconds. But it’s also teaching them that they can’t take food for granted. Noah is great about this. Jason, not so much.
I truly hope you will watch the video above and join me in this challenge to waste less food. Alone, it’s not much of a savings, but if we all did this together, the reduction in food waste would be incredible. And think of all the extra money you’ll have for the truly important things in life. Like wine.
*If you want to support Lovin’ Spoonfuls this month, go visit Treat Cupcake Bar at The Street in Chestnut Hill. They are the featured charity of the month. And then stop by UGCH for a tasting, obviously!