Over the last two years we, like so many others, have made the shift from occasionally organic to almost entirely organic. And while this definitely requires that a larger portion of our monthly budget be attributed to food, it’s “not as bad” as we feared. Yes, it costs more to eat well. But not as much more as we were worried that it might.
While there are a number of factors that have mitigated the potential food cost crises that plagued our fears during this transition, they all stem from a common factor – we appreciate our food more! So we waste less. We eat out less. We cook from scratch more. And we eat more directly sourced foods. Although all of these changes are without question, monumental, I think the single most important commitment has been to waste less food. I won’t lie – it’s a constant challenge and requires continuous thought. But everyday is a little easier as waste-free choices become habitual.
Now to really get you all pumped on this exciting lifestyle change, here’s a super glamorous truth. Reducing waste starts with good planning. Meal planners are the super heroes of smooth running kitchens and virtually eliminate “oops I didn’t use that and now it’s a rotten pile of mush on the bottom of the veggie drawer” or “the milk has chunks” waste. And it’s not as dull, or as tedious, as it sounds. Actually, I love having meal planners. I update our five-day planner before placing our grocery delivery order and before picking up groceries. This ensures that the brocolli’s cheese sauce has a definite repurpose in tomorrow’s mac-n-cheese casserole and that the leftover brocolli makes it’s way into the following day’s frittatta. Leftovers magically and seamlessly become new meals while saving prep time and money! As if this weren’t enough benefit for a 10-minutes-twice-a-week task, it also virtually eliminates the what-to-make-for dinner-tonight anxiety (that is annoying at best and leads to nutritionally inferior and costly impulse buys/orders at worst) and encourages the opportunity for the kids to look at cookbook with me and to participate in the meal choices.
Obviously, there are still the occasional items that pass that best before date (and I don’t mean the one typed on the yogurt, I mean the one that is evident because now the food is gross). If you aren’t lucky enough to have backyard chickens, then this is where the compost bin becomes essential!
Suprisingly, making a sincere effort to minimize scraps on plates at the end of meals has also significantly decreased food waste. It’s easy to overlook the scraps here and there, but we would be remiss to do so. Plus, it’s ridiculously simple to all but eliminate scraps. The solution – dish smaller portions and encourage seconds. We like our kids to try a few bites of everything, so generally portion a small serving of each dish and allow seconds of choice foods when the plate is clear. In so doing, I’d say we save approximately one “lunch”‘s worth of leftovers. If that saves me buying lunch when I’m at work, we’re up $8.
Finally, we don’t intentionally waste anything. This is best illustrated using an example. Whole chickens are one of the most economical ways to purchase organic poultry, but they are a long shot from cheap! We roast chickens about twice a month. When we do, we enjoy a yummy dinner. Then I cut all the left over meat off the chicken and use that either for sandwiches, chicken pot pies or chicken curry. Then I boil the carcasses, and pull the final bits of chicken off the bones for chicken soup. Lastly, I devide the broth, half for chicken soup right away, half for broth to be frozen for future use in any number of recipes. Or taking a recent example, we roasted and ate the Halloween pumpkins (mostly as soup).
In addition to bolstering the pocket book, reducing the amount of food we waste works with our overall green philosophy. For example, returning to the roasted chicken illustration, we no longer purchase icky deli meat, bouillon/stock, packaged chicken parts (like breasts) or prefab soups. All of these choices reduce the amount of energy (be it processing, packaging, transport, or product display) that our food requires.
This isn’t novel. My grandmas all did it. But somehow, meal planning skipped a generation and it’s a skill that we are learning anew. It’s a good skill, and I’m glad that the monetary incentive associated with eating organic has encouraged us to revist our wasteful food habits!