We don't waste a lot of food I thought one day as some product on the TeeVee was trying to sell plastic bags or preservatives or some other nonsense. We eat everything, I thought, as I resumed cleaning the living room. But there was nagging feeling of doubt in my mind about how much food we really do throw away. Do we throw away pounds of food? Do we throw away what might add up to an entire meal? For May I decided to find out.
How much food does a family of four throw away in one month?
May 5: 1 Cup of broccoli. My kids love broccoli and we are very fortunate to have kids that welcome a green vegetable onto their plate but my wife and I don't care very much for it. What happened was that I made more than the kids would eat for dinner and then forgot to serve it to them before it developed that broccoli smell.
In this gap of ten days I took to heart this challenge and ate everything that was close to getting bad. One night my dinner was half a peanut butter sandwich, a small bowl of chips and salsa, rice with cheese.
May 15. Part of one bowl of fruit loops, half a cheese roll-up from Taco Bell, and half a Taco Bell quesadilla. This was the Sunday morning of our trip to Cincinnati and I couldn't eat anymore. I was eating any leftovers the kids didn't want but at this point I was full and I knew we were about to go to King's Island amusement park with an unknown amount of spinning rides that would do their best to separate my breakfast from my stomach.
May 17: One and a half piece of bread. Burned in the toaster.
May 20: Half a carton of egg whites, seven cucumber shooters. My wife opened the eggs whites sometime earlier in the month (year?) and they never were cooked. This is too bad because I had been making some mean omelets with leftovers throughout the month and could have easily used the eggs. The cucumber shooters were leftovers from a Mother's Day brunch we hosted. They weren't very flavorful and that's probably why they never got eaten. This were both good examples of being away of things in the refrigerator. I put an opening date on heavy cream when I use it and will start to do the same with eggs.
May 22: 1 Cup of Salmon Dip, Tablespoon of Sauteed Onions. The salmon dip suffered the same fate as the cucumber shooters - it wasn't very good and no one wanted to eat more of it. The sauteed onions were pitched because they began to stink after some indeterminate amount of time pushed toward the back of the refrigerator. They must have been hanging out with the carton of egg whites.
May 25: 3 Cups of Potato Insides. This was another Mother's Day casualty - really bad meal planning on my part. I made these wonderful sausage stuffed potatoes and I'll usually fry up or mash the parts I scoop out but didn't do either and they too began to stink.
May 26: 4 Sausage Patties, 2 cartons of milk, 3 egg omelet. We stayed at a very nice Marriott in Pittsburgh while visiting family and these were the castoffs that no one ate after two mornings of breakfast buffets. While we didn't pay for each of these items the cost of food is included in the room price but it was wasteful to throw it out. I should have take a picture for accountability purposes but was too embarrassed.
May 28: 1 Peanut butter and banana sandwich. Leftover - and under the car seat - from the Pittsburgh road trip. It had to have really smelled bad for me to throw it away.
May 30: Threw out leftovers from plates when we had guests over for dinner. Half a cup of macaroni and cheese, half a cup of couscous, some hummus, some spanakopita.
What lessons did I learn about wasting food?
- Serve the kids less. One week into May I realized that we were serving the kids too much food. Once I cut back on their serving sizes there was a lot less of their leftovers to store or eat.
- Bring a cooler. During our trip to Cincinnati we were cooler-less but didn't have anything that might need refrigerated During our trip to Pittsburgh we did. Had I thrown a smaller cooler into the car it would have allowed us to save all the food.
- Think about eating the oldest thing you have. There were a few times I wanted one thing for lunch but ate another.
- Keep the food organized. I'm trying to have shelves in our refrigerator devoted to certain things and I know that leftovers are always in containers with red lids.
- Rice and eggs can have just about anything added to them. Leftover chicken can become a taco with rice and salsa and nearly anything can become an omelet.
- Make myself less food. I mind eating the kids' leftovers a lot less than throwing out food. If I make 3/4 of what I want to eat and then nibble at the kids's plates that usually fills me up. Plus, I serve myself too much to begin with.
- If I think about things I can be more creative with leftovers. After spaghetti nights we almost always have Mark Bittman's egg and spaghetti frittata in the next few days. Ditto for roasts and sandwiches and any sliced vegetable and omelets.