My husband and I recently attended a dinner party to welcome and honor a guest visiting from Sweden. We had never met our friends’ Swedish comrade and other than his origin, knew nothing about him. I was even a little baffled why we were invited to the party.
When we arrived we were briefly introduced to Anders, who was at the stove seasoning a soup and putting the finishing touches on the meal. Prior to sitting down to dinner, about 15 of us gathered in the kitchen to hear our friends’ story of meeting Anders and their unfolding friendship. It wasn’t until Anders took the floor that I finally understood why we were included in this special gathering. Our friends knew I would stand up and cheer when I heard his ethics surrounding food.
Anders owns a restaurant in Sweden, he’s the author of a cook book, and a former television personality from a cooking show. He knows food and is passionate about it. The message he shared that night is one that I stand firmly in agreement – food is a gift from the earth that should not be wasted. He posed the question, “Why do you think people throw out food?” The answer came easily – because they can. There’s great quantities and varieties of food available, and it’s cheap.
To drive home his message, we learned that many of the ingredients Anders used in the evening’s meal were sourced from the bottom of the produce drawer, dug out of the deep freeze, or pulled from the back of the pantry from our friends’ home. He created a delicious feast with what he had on hand – leaving nothing to waste.
I don’t claim to be the greatest cook, but my family will attest, I don’t let food go to waste and can turn practically nothing into something. Hearing Anders’ mantra “food is a gift” had me reflect on ways I honor the very thing that nourishes our bodies, provides us comfort, and brings us to the table for conversation and celebration. I came up with ten ways in which I minimize food waste in my home.
10 Tips to Minimize Food Waste
- Change the way you look at food. I consider food as a gift, but I also look at it as money that I worked hard to earn. You wouldn’t carelessly throw two dollars in the trash, so why would you throw away a wilted head of lettuce? Changing the way you look at food can increase the desire to make sure none goes to waste.
- Keep a well stocked pantry. One of my successes in using up perishable foods before they spoil is having staples on hand, like grains, dried legumes, nuts, dried fruit, spices, oils, canned tomatoes, etc. Having a stocked pantry allows me to create meals with what I have on hand. With that said, I stock my pantry with ingredients I routinely use. If there’s an ingredient that keeps getting shoved to the back I make a point to use it up and make a mental note not to purchase it again.
- Get familiar with different cuisines. I think having a basic understanding of the flavors and ingredients that are used in different cuisines allows creativity and gives you the flexibility to pull together different ingredients successfully. I keep a small cook book collection that I refer to for inspiration.
- Stretch out the time between shopping trips. I purposely will hold off on grocery shopping just so I can clean out my fridge, freezer and pantry before I fill it again. No one is going to reach for a bruised apple when there’s a shiny new one sitting right next to it.
- Eat perishable foods in order of longevity. This means eating that head of lettuce before the kale, eating the peaches before the apples, using up the milk before the yogurt. You get the idea – plan accordingly.
- Have some go-to dishes that are good at utilizing foods that are soon to spoil. My husband’s go-to is fried rice. He’ll take leftover rice, chopped onion and garlic, a couple eggs, tamari, and add to that whatever veggies and bits of meat that may be lingering in the fridge. No two are the same, but every one is out-of-this world. I tend towards soup and frittatas to clean out the fridge. Milk that is soon to spoil gets made into pudding, poured into popsicle molds, and is frozen for a favorite family treat.
- Freeze foods for later consumption. I freeze everything, from chunks of cheese, to leftover soups and casseroles, to juice squeezed from citrus. There’s not much that I won’t put in the freezer to save for a later date. I also make a point to “shop” from the freezer, so that foods are rotated out on a regular basis.
- Think twice before you toss. I once stopped a woman at the grocery store who had pinched off the greens from a bunch of beets and was about to throw them in the trash. I gladly took them (for free) and at home sauteed them with a bit of garlic. Tough broccoli stems, when peeled of their outer layer yield a tender core that can be cooked with the florets. I often save the outer layer of onion skins and the trimmings of carrots and celery in a jar in the freezer, as well as the carcasses of chickens or other meat bones, which I use to make stock. Parmesan rinds impart a subtle flavor when added to a soup. Dried out bread can be turned into croutons or bread crumbs. What you may consider to be trash, may very well be edible.
- Compost the rest. Rather than sending your food waste to the landfill, compost it. If you don’t have a backyard compost, I encourage you to check out my friend Celia’s compost guide on where to compost in the U.S.
- Get inspired. Run to your local library and check out An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Author, Tamar Adler, lyrically shares philosophy and instruction that inspires a refreshing way to approach food and cooking. It’s a beautiful read that will have you salivating at every turn of the page. Other books have inspired me, but none quite like this.
Bon appetit! Or as they say in Sweden, smaklig måltid! And please, do share how you minimize food waste in your home in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.