Wednesday, August 11, 2010

BE A “USE-IT-ALL-UP” FOOD BUYER AND CONSUMER

Take a good look at your kitchen trashcan at the end of the week (or the end of your food-buying cycle, if you don't buy food every week). If you see food that should have been eaten but wasn’t and later has to be thrown out, you're not alone. American households account for a lot of food loss.

If this is your problem, you need to stop treating food casually. When you waste food, you've lost the perspective that our food is a gift from God. As such, all food should be planned for, bought, stored, cooked and eaten with respect. That means that very little of it should ever end up in the trash. Throwing out food that you bought with your hard-earned cash is like throwing your money directly in the trash. Beyond that, hopefully, you're already trying to make your home life a lot greener and no longer feel complacent about food or any other type of household waste. So start this week to be a USE-IT-ALL-UP food buyer and consumer.

You probably can think of some reasons why you throw out food. Mostly, there aren't really any good reasons for throwing out food. When you waste food, you didn’t do the right kind of planning and bought too much of the wrong kind of stuff. You find that extra food at the back of your refrigerator when it’s too late. So, you go to the store and often buy the same foods in the same quantities and begin the process all over again the next week.

If you want to break away from these useless and costly habits, you need to take steps to make sure the food you buy doesn’t go to waste. First of all, think about what kind of waste you have. Do you have perishable products – like salad makings, fruit, and dairy stuff - that aren’t used fully and then go bad before you cook or eat it? Or, do you have cooked food that was returned to the fridge and then nobody ate the leftovers? You may even have canned food that has stayed in your freezer or pantry for months and you’re not sure if it’s still good to eat.

To correct these mistakes, you need to start by making a realistic meal plan for your family for the week. Include in your meal plan all the food that will be your breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for one week. Calculate the average number of meals that are eaten out (like those dinners on Friday or Saturday nights) or just skipped (like breakfast on Sunday morning). Do one or more members of your family often skip a meal that others eat? You need to consider this also. It’s better to underestimate what you’ll need for the week than to overestimate. If you have to, you can make a short trip to the store for a couple of things that you may need.

If you’re still ending up with extra food at the end of the week, you need a leftover strategy. Always store leftovers in the front of the fridge in see-through containers. That way they aren't so likely to be ignored and can be used within a day or two of their preparation. If they stay in the fridge for more than a couple of days, plan for a leftovers-meal toward the end of the week. The leftover meal can be a lunch or dinner - on Friday if Saturday if grocery store day or on Saturday, if Sunday is store day. If you don’t have enough dinner leftovers, make an extra meal that includes some breakfast or lunch foods. There’s no harm done in repeating foods in the evening that are normally used as breakfast or lunch foods – just try to fix them up differently or in some unusual combination.

You can also use leftovers for salads or sandwiches or served with a white, tomato or cheese sauce. Add them to casseroles or stir-fry them. Aspire to be a good leftovers chef. Learn to make omelets, quiches, desserts, and rice dishes based on leftover fruits, vegetables, meats and cheese that need to be used.

When your freezer or pantry gets full, plan to eat only items that you already have on hand for a week or two. Buy only some milk, bread and fresh produce during that time. If you still have too much stored food on hand, pull out the items that aren’t being used and donate them to a local charity that feeds hungry people.

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