Recently some patients in our waiting room were talking about wasting food, which is a topic close to my heart. I was shocked to find out that here in the US we throw away $43 billion of edible food each year. In fact a 2004 study at the University of Arizona, estimated that between 40 and 50% of the food we buy does not get eaten. As food prices rise I have become more conscious of the way my own family wastes food and have been looking for ways that we can improve.

Like many of you I am very aware that our grandparent’s generation did not have access to the wide variety of foods we see now. My grandmother raised her children in Britain during the war when food was rationed. In order to keep her family from going hungry she had to be very creative about eking out the food she had. She also supplemented her rations by growing vegetables and fruit in her garden and canning the surplus for use during the winter. What a contrast that is to my trip to the supermarket with my daughter last weekend where we took in the rows and rows of processed goodies designed to tempt us. We have become people who buy food on a whim whereas my grandmother had to be organized and make a plan. My daughter wanted to buy a large tub of guacamole and was shocked when I told her she couldn’t have it unless she had a plan for how to use it all. She decided not to buy it because she really only wanted a little bit.

So for the past few months I have been cutting down on my family’s wasted food and I thought I would pass on to you the things that we have been doing that have worked for us.

Making soup and salads out of leftovers

Every Sunday night I use up all the veggies in my refrigerator. Some of them get combined with meat or beans to make soup and some get chopped into a salad with some cheese or a hard boiled egg. These then get decanted into small containers and my husband and I take them to work with us for lunch. The French have a name for soup like this. Its called Garbure and can be delicious and varied depending on what vegetables you have lying around or what seasoning you add.

Checking sell-by dates and freezing what we won’t have time to use

I’ve got into the habit of going through my fridge every couple of days and checking perishable items to see if any are nearing the end of their shelf life. If we are not going to eat it in time I put it in the freezer. For instance you can mix leftover yogurt with fruit and pour it into popsicle molds and freeze them. I have also started to grate cheese and breadcrumbs and freeze them to be sprinkled on gratins. Sliced bread can be frozen and then defrosted in the toaster.

Using up leftovers

I am trying to be more creative about recycling leftovers. In my Granny’s day she minced the Sunday roast to make Shepherd’s Pie for a weeknight or baked leftover chicken in a pot pie. We’ve found that cooked rice tastes good when mixed with veggies and baked in the oven with cheese on top.

Keeping our store cupboard stocked with staples

I keep jars of pulses, brown rice, whole grain pasta, nuts, beans, grains, oils, vinegars, herbs and spices as well as cans of tomatoes so that I can create tasty meals from leftovers. Having a well-stocked pantry also means I can feed my family even if there’s not much in the fridge. At least once a week we concoct a meal from what we have rather than going shopping which results in some delicious and inventive culinary creations.

Keeping whole grains in the fridge

Whole grains go rancid much quicker than refined grains and I have found it really extends the shelf-life of whole grain flours to keep them in the fridge.

Keeping an eye on portion size

I’m someone who behaves as if she’s feeding a small army and so I’m trying to get into the habit of not cooking more than we can eat.

Planning Ahead

Our grandparent’s generation planned their meals ahead of time instead of deciding on the spur of the moment what they fancied. I know it takes some of the spontaneity out of things but it really helps me buy only the food I’m going to use. Having a plan means that I can write a shopping list of food we actually need instead of impulse buying whatever catches my eye. In past three months we have reduced our food wastage by 2/3rds and eaten well. My Granny would approve.
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