|Not a whole lot left on a Friday evening! We'll probably eat this for lunch tomorrow before going grocery shopping..|
So, the question becomes, how do you reduce your produce waste? I'm definitely still working on this as I threw away an orange and had to peel some green onions down to hardly anything to be able to use what was left (and that was 2 days ago). Here are some of the things I'm working on and I can say that it's been a long time since I've had to completely clean the produce drawers out to put in new.
Tip #1: Meal planning
I used to go to the store with no idea what I wanted to buy. I would just buy what looked good. If I made a list, it was to make sure that I wouldn't forget things that we had run out of-and of course 9 times out of 10, I forgot the list. I would meander through the grocery store thinking of things to make. Inevitably I would get to the end of the store and realize that I hadn't picked up a key ingredient for "x" dish and I would walk back across the store for it, picking up 10 other "must haves" on the way. I'd get home and realize that I didn't have as much, or any, of whatever as I thought I did. Another trip would have to be made, again picking up a lot of "must haves." When I first started my daycare business, we budgeted $1000/month on groceries. This did not include eating out (which we did at least once a week or so). It's infuriating to look at that number now, thinking how much debt we could've paid off by doing better in the grocery department.
That was the old way. Now, I plan every meal we are going to have for the month: breakfasts, lunch, dinner and morning and afternoon snacks. I also take into account that hubby and the girls take their lunches everyday to work and school and I have to make sure to have something for them to take. I make my shopping list by looking through my freezers, pantry and fridge and making sure that I use up what we have and adding to the list what we need to buy to make the dinners that I've planned for (trying to take into account grocery store sales). I check my bulk supply. Do I have enough flour, sugar, cheese, butter, etc. to make it through the month? And, lastly I plan my produce. When I meal plan, I choose a fruit and/or veggie for each meal. I plan fruits and veggies as snacks and each week I write those down on my list. Occasionally, there will be a great sale on blueberries or some other fruit and I'll swap it out with something that was more expensive so I don't end up with a lot leftover at the end of the week. That keeps the food fresh and it keeps my from overbuying and throwing food out that has been hanging out too long.
Tip #2: Salads
No matter how well I plan, there will always be some leftovers. Whether not as many daycare kids came on apple day, or little guy didn't feel like eating many strawberries one day, I'll have a few things here and there. One way to use them up is in a salad. Chop extra apples and mix with some mayo, cheddar cheese cubes, raisins and walnuts to make an apple salad. Slice extra strawberries, that last banana and remaining cantaloupe into a bowl and have a fruit salad (my kids love fruit salad on breakfast for dinner night). For veggies, shred your extra carrots up with some leftover cabbage and make a slaw. Have too much lettuce? Instead of making a salad a side dish, make it the star by having taco salad or chef salads. You can chop up all the extra tidbits of veggies and let the family make their own salad. If there are some remaining at the end of the meal, can you use them the next day as a snack with ranch dressing for dipping? Or could you blanch them and toss them in the freezer to put in a veggie soup?
Tip #3: Smoothies
It is a running joke that I will stick anything in a smoothie (pureed chicken anyone? And yes, it tasted awesome! LOL). Smoothies lend themselves to using up produce. The only thing that I've ever had trouble with in a smoothie is blackberries and that is because the kids don't like the tiny seeds (makes them gritty) and I'm too lazy to strain them out. Many fruits can go into a smoothie raw (apples I cook in the microwave until soft, but we very rarely have extra of them). Several veggies need some prepping. Crunchier things like carrots and cabbage have to be boiled soft or you'll end up with chunks in the smoothie and that doesn't go over well with the preschool crowd-at least in my house. Spinach can go straight in, so can kale (I've heard) but I haven't used it, so I'm not speaking from experience.
Produce I've used successfully in smoothies: strawberries, blueberries, bananas, peaches (remove the pit or it will break your blender), apples/applesauce, pears/pearsauce, oranges, clementines, tangerines, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, kiwi (again don't usually have extras), mango, pineapple, papaya, carrots, spinach, cabbage, sweet potato (previously mashed), squash and pumpkin (cooked, pureed, and frozen), potatoes (leftover baked potatoes that I mashed for smoothie purposes). I'm sure there are other possibilites-don't limit yourself to the usual. The worst thing that can happen is that it will taste bad and if you are using produce that would likely have gone bad and you had to throw it out, are you any worse off for trying?
Tip #4: Reinvent it
Can your produce be turned into something else? Last week, I had to pick up a prescription and we use a local grocery store. On my way I saw that grapes were on sale for $1/pound. That seemed like a good price for this time of year, so I picked some up. Of course, I should've known better (if I were following my own advice). They weren't on the menu plan; therefore, they were barely eaten. By the time I got to them, they were starting to get a little soft and had started to dry up at the stem. They were definitely no longer good for eating off the vine. It pained me to think of throwing $3 of grapes away. I started thinking about what I could do with them and came up with jelly. I'm almost out of grape jelly, so I got out my trusty Ball Book of Canning and Preserving and read about making grape jelly. As it turns out, I didn't have near enough grapes to be making jelly without having to do a lot of fractional math, which I can do, but it would be difficult to concentrate with seven kids running around my ankles. Grape juice on the other hand was completely doable, so I pulled off those grapes, washed them and cooked them down. Granted they only made about 2 cups of juice, but I was able to use that juice in a smoothie, saving some money by not using other juice.
Other ways to reinvent your produce: cook, puree and freeze veggies like carrots and squash to be used in quick breads, pasta sauces, and muffins. Secondly, apples, pears, and other soft fruit can be cooked down into a sauce or fruit butter (spread for breads-yummy)
Tip #5: Prep it and freeze it
This works really well with produce that doesn't fit well in my smoothie category. I buy onions when they are super cheap (last time it was 3 pounds for $.70, so of couse I had to buy 9 pounds!), and if I can't use them all in a reasonable time, I chop them and freeze them in recipe sized portions. I do the same with green peppers as those things are too expensive to let go bad. You can shred zucchini, carrots or yellow squash in cup-sized portions to be used in quick breads. Bananas can be either peeled and frozen whole or mashed and frozen for use in smoothies or muffins. Pineapples have been on sale lately for $.99 each. I'll buy 3 or 4, core it and cut the outside off and freeze them in rings. They work great in smoothies and the kids love them just as they start to thaw making them a great summer outside snack (where a hose is handy)!
Those are my ideas. Do you have any ideas to reduce produce waste? If so, I'd love to hear them. I'm always on the lookout for ways to stretch the produce dollar!