Tuesday, April 23, 2019

How to Save Money and Reduce Waste in the Kitchen

How to Save Money and Reduce Waste in the Kitchen

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Today's post is an update of one I wrote back when the big purple mountains were the little green hills. Back before I knew what SEO was, back when I'd be silly and creative with my post titles.
I've updated the post--but the behaviors I described back then are behaviors I still practice--today!
Since I am primarily a visual learner but I want to make these simple behaviors accessible to every learning style, I've created a series of short videos to help show what I mean. Let's get started!

Keeping your kitchen environmentally friendly is more than buying certain products. It's practicing certain behaviors that help to reduce waste and save you money. Did you know that about 31% of the solid waste in the US is food waste? I learned that scary fact at a Montgomery County Food Summit and wrote about my tips for reducing food waste here. I want to do more than reduce my food waste, though. I want to stretch my food dollars to make more meals for my family.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle becomes Reduce (x3), Reuse, Repurpose, and Regrow

The first R is Reduce. I practice 3 different "reduce" behaviors to save money, get fit, and do my part to save the planet. The biggest one is that I deliberately reduce the amount of meat I eat. I pay attention to the portion sizes and often use meat as a garnish. For example, instead of each person getting a single steak on a plate I'll grill a couple of steaks, slice them into strips, and we'll each have a serving of steak strips. It's plenty for us to eat at one sitting and there's usually leftovers for another meal. What's the best way to eat less meat? Eat more veggies! Here's a post I wrote on how to boost the vegetable content of your meals all day long.

I'll stretch a pound of ground meat into 6-8 servings by combining it with finely chopped vegetables. Some of my favorites include onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, shredded zucchini or kohlrabi, chopped mushrooms, and corn. I use that veggie mix in tacos, in meatloaf, and in casseroles aka Hot Dish.
Here are some of my tried and true recipes to stretch meat:

One simple change I made to reduce the amount of food I eat is to reduce my every day plate size. Breakfast and lunch are often on 6½ inch plates. Snacks and desserts are on 5½ inch dishes. And dinners? I use an 8 inch "lunch" plate! I do keep my 11 inch dishes to use on Thanksgiving and other 'gimme all the sides' holidays when I'm wearing my eatin' pants. Piling food onto a smaller plate makes a smaller amount of food look more abundant, and that's another way I reduce the amount of food I need to buy.

The final Reduce I'd like to share is about drinks. If your go-to drink is tap water, more power to ya! I save money and reduce the amount of waste I'm generating by reducing the amount I spend on fancy single serve drinks. This doesn't mean I don't meet a friend for coffee--that's the happy exception to my daily normal. I bring a cup with me when I go out to reduce the single use packaging waste. I choose to make my go-to fancy drink (for me, Iced Chai) at home. Here's my DIY Iced Chai recipe. This Spring I'm testing out different methods to make a DIY version of the slightly sweet fruity tea that we like to drink on expeditions.

The second R is Reuse. Instead of composting, garbage disposing, or throwing away your onion and garlic skins, your celery leaves, your carrot peels, and your parsnip tips--try this! In my freezer I keep a 2 gallon size zip top bag, and every time I chop up some veggies I save the useful bits to use in soup stock. If I have a bunch of fresh parsley or thyme that won't get used, I toss that in as well. Pretty soon I have enough to take stock and make stock, and making something out of nothing is always awesome. This doesn't mean I don't compost--I do! Here's my recipe for compost.
Here are some of my published stock recipes.

The third R is Repurpose. Cooking once and eating twice is a smart way to save time and energy in the kitchen.When I have leftover cooked meats I'll save them in my freezer. Larger portions of meat, for example taco meat, can be repurposed into a family favorite, Taco Rice. Small bits of meat (breakfast sausage, an extra bratwurst or slice of bacon) are terrific for pizza toppings or frittata fillings, and I keep a basket in the freezer just for this purpose. This idea of repurposing doesn't apply only to meats. If you have extra cooked rice, for example, you can wrap up a serving in a patty shape and freeze it. It's ready when you need just a serving for a snack, or combine several servings with some leftover cooked vegetables for a quick fried rice.

The final R is Regrow. My favorite vegetable to regrow is celery, and often by the end of winter I'll have a dish or two of celery rescued from endless rounds of soup-making, patiently waiting for late Spring to get into the ground and really go to town. I've also had success regrowing green onions. I tuck the root ends into a shot glass on the kitchen windowsill, add water, and snip off as needed. Aimee of Simple Bites has a nice tutorial on regrowing a variety of vegetables.
The most important part of regrowing vegetables is to keep them in a location you frequent. I use either the dining room or the kitchen window. These little sprouts are very thirsty so when I notice the water in their bowls is low I can easily add more. Out of sight is out of mind.
What's my utter failure with regrowing vegetables? Avocados. I have some success getting an avocado to sprout, and have even grown 2 to 3 foot tall plants. However that's all they ever are--interesting houseplants. I've never harvested an avocado from a pit I'd gotten to sprout, and that's the point of regrowing vegetables in my book.

Let's summarize what I've covered today. I have 4 behaviors, 4 small changes, that I do to decrease the amount of waste my kitchen generates which in turn decreases the amount of waste my household generates. The happy side effect of these 4 small behaviors is to decrease the amount of money I spend on food--which means more money in my pocket at the end of the week! What's not to like? Studies show it takes 3 weeks to 3 months to make behavioral changes. Which will you choose? Would you rather reduce your meat intake? Reduce your plate size? Reduce your purchased single serve drinks? Reuse your scraps to make soup stock? Repurpose your leftovers into new dishes? Or regrow your vegetables? Whichever you choose, I wish you the best of luck!

Want to know more? Please check out my Visual Recipe Index by Ingredient, a resource for folks like me eating from the farm share, the farmer's market, the garden, the neighbor's garden, and great deals on ugly produce at the grocery store.

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  1. I love this idea!!

  2. I do love this idea, but we have a composting baby turtle, Herman, and her legion of minion crickets that enjoy the tops of things. And I am SO glad to know that the thumb is in fact outside of the bag, and not just another would-be cast off trash! And love the recipe. I will follow your lead and make pesto on Wednesday and pray for warm nights between now and then! I too just received a food processor after 20 years of marriage, but for Christmas!

  3. Lasar, thanks! You inspired me to tackle my pile of papers, glad I could return the favor.

    Felicia, now I want a legion of minion crickets, too! Unfortunately, Simon's terrier comes out when he sees crickets and he'd pounce on each one. Ah well, I'll stick with the pigs. They are probably noisier than the turtle, esp at 6:01pm when their dinner is late.

  4. I'm not sure how I missed this one, but I love the soup packet idea, and I laughed at your comment about the thumb (outside the bag, of course).

    1. Meghan,
      I'm starting to save more strongly flavored veggies for a Veggie Stock like I saw in . . . darnit, cannot find the link. But it was from Kristy's Fresh Foods this fall.
      So I've got 2 types of Soup Packs going right now.


  5. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing and linking up :)

    Happy Belated Thanksgiving...

  6. Thanks for posting! You just reminded me that I can use the fiber from my morning juice when I make my soup broth!

    1. That's a great idea! I only have a blender for my smoothies, so I never think about juicing leftovers. I'm pocketing this idea if I get a juicer for Christmas!

      Thanks for stopping by!