Casaubon's Book

Mending Food Waste

Globally, almost half of all the food the world produced is thrown away.  This Global number hides some critical differences however.  In most of the Global South, food is lost to lack of preservation techniques.  Grain gets wet in the field, and instead of being dried with machines as it might be in the US, it molds and is lost.  Someone slaughters a cow, and what doesn’t get eaten spoils in the heat.  Fruit is harvested but bad weather means that it doesn’t dry adequately….you get the idea.  The majority of food is lost shortly after harvest, globally.

In the Global North, the picture is VERY different.  Here, we lose comparatively little food in the fields – we do lose some, but our access to rapid transit and mechanical preservation means that we lose a lot less that way.  It also, however, has a price – instead of throwing away food right AFTER harvest, we expend a LOT of time, energy and fuel on that food BEFORE we throw it out.  So instead of slaughtering a cow, everyone eating their fill and then having to leave some of the remains from lack of ability to preserve them, my beef-and-veggie stir fry gets tossed after…the cow was slaughtered, the meat was packaged and shipped in refrigerated trucks, the meat was held under refrigeration in a supermarket, I drove to the store to get it, I held the meat under refrigeration in my home, and then cooked it with natural gas or coal-fired electricity, ate what I could and then threw it out (ok, no food in my house gets thrown out or fully wasted – what we don’t eat gets eaten by chickens, dogs, cats, rabbits, goats etc….)

What’s troubling about this is that before we toss out about a third of the food we purchase, we’ve impregnated it with a LOT of fossil energies and emissions. If we are going to do that to our food, the very least we can do is try not to waste it, as WELL as cutting back on the inputs.

I was really good about this for a long time, and then I started fostering.  Now I will say that we have had many fewer issues with food and kids than I expected while fostering.  Most of the kids in our care have been very good about trying new things and working with us.  We do buy some of their favorites, and it has meant more purchased food in our diets, but not as much as I initially feared.  Most of our foster kids really grasp why it is that a family of 10 cannot give everyone their favorite every time, and why we don’t waste food.

And yet…there’s still more food waste.  I don’t force kids to eat more than three bites of a food, and toddlers and babies simply can’t follow rules yet.  I try to serve only tiny portions to start, but sometimes getting up three times in a meal to refill a toddler’s plate, while holding the nine month old tempts me to just put more on.

Some of this can’t be attributed to fostering – some of it also goes with Eli’s transition to a new school.  Eli attended an elementary program for kids with autism from kindergarten until he turned 12 last year, and last summer transitioned to a middle-high school program.  The big difference is that his new school provides lunch every day for all students, and Eli likes eating there.  His old program required a packed lunch, and so for years, small portions of leftovers too little to make a meal became Eli’s lunch.  Now we have to make a more concerted effort to eat them.

So the waste has been creeping up, and even though my chickens eat my food waste, I really would rather not feed risotto to the chickens.  So one of my family’s tasks is to reduce it. I’m trying to make our serving mechanisms a little easier, particularly when I’m soloing with 7 kids.  I’ve given Isaiah the task of keeping 18 month old G’s plate filled, and helping him as needed.  I’m trying to make sure we have a “royal sampler” meal at least twice a week, in which everyone can pick their favorite leftovers, and that I look at least once a day to see what needs eating in the next 48 hours… and it is working.

What are your best tricks for reducing food waste, particularly with kids?

Comments

  1. #1 Benoit Hamelin
    Canada
    April 3, 2013

    I was recently very frustrated with all the food that would be just wasted after spending a few days in the fridge. I’m the main family cook, so when the stuff I took much of my time to fix goes to the thrash, it feels like lost time and energy (preciousssss time).

    In my household, we cook the meals for the whole week over the week-end, in order to have more time to relax during week evenings. Leftovers of these meals go in lunches, but some of these leftovers are just too much. The solution? It’s so simple I feel dumb, but I’ve just been cooking less of everything. I’ve realized that I make big batches for many of my recipes, out of trying to provide multiple meals for each recipe, but these batches were often too big. I’ve been reducing the quantities over the past two weeks, and traded some leftover thrashing with a bit of extra evening cooking. Fair trade for me. :-)

  2. #2 Glenn
    Marrowstone in the Salish Sea
    April 3, 2013

    Anything our adolescent daughter doesn’t eat gets eaten by me, the dog, the poultry or the compost; in that order. My wife can’t handle (health wise) any mold, or pre-rot fermentation. I will eat almost anything the dog can. Our usual use of dinner leftovers is the next day’s lunch, since we work at home. In winter when the wood cookstove is going to provide heat anyway we start chicken soup Sunday or Monday. The next day lentils and sausage get added, then black beans, then mixed beans, and by the end of the week it’s bean dip and we eat it with nachos. For the most part we don’t have leftovers unless we’re all too polite to eat the last piece of pie or roll.

  3. #3 Judy
    UK
    April 3, 2013

    When I just had two kids I would dish the dinner out onto everyones plates and of course there was a fuss and waste if they didn’t like something or didn’t want to eat it all. By the time my 3rd and 4th children came along I couldn’t remember who liked what, so I started a new system. All the food is laid out in dishes in the middle of the table and everyone just helps themselves to as much as they like of what they want. There were rules, for instance I would always cook 2 choices of vegetables and the kids had to eat at least one of them.

    This really worked for us, because the children liked the choice, and could regulate how much they ate based on how hungry they were, rather than having to finish what was on their plates. I would save time serving it all out. Also the leftover food could be saved, rather than having scrappings left on peoples plates.

    Judy
    http://rationthefuture.blogspot.co.uk/

  4. #4 Denise
    April 3, 2013

    This idea comes from Amy Dyczan (Tightwad Gazette). Keep a container in the freezer and throw all scraps of food into it. When the container is full, add water, stock or vegetable juice to make soup. I was forced to eat food as a child & swore I would never force my kids to eat anything they did not want. The rule in our home is if you don’t eat the meal, there are no treats or snacks later.

  5. #5 Tamara G.
    Wisconsin
    April 3, 2013

    Well, we’re giving up making baked potatoes except on Friday and Saturday nights, having our two side choices then be wild rice and garlic mashed potatoes, both of which reheat well. I have figured out how long it actually takes to thaw shrimp and walleye, thus reducing that waste to almost zero. We already turn bread into croutons, and eat most of what we don’t sell. On the other hand, I’d love some suggestions for additions to our summer menu that would help us use up leftovers…especially alfredo sauce. At least our customers mostly clean their plates.

    (We are working on more sustainable sourcing as well…it all takes time.)

  6. #6 Annie
    April 4, 2013

    One word: Soup.

    We have broth on hand, and cans of tomatoes (stewed or souped), and varous other soup-making stuff either canned or dried. Stir-fry actually makes a great soup with a tomato base, and so does Pad Thai! Combining the flavours sometimes take a bit of thought, but often the result is something we wished we’d written down the recipe for . . .

  7. #7 debby
    cambridge, ma
    April 4, 2013

    I live alone, so there aren’t really leftovers I don’t eat, just ones I get tired of in the same form, so I transmogrify them into something else. (Unless I can give them to friends :-)

    I use leftover veggies in omelettes, or with pasta/rice/baked potatoes, or in quiche. Leftover proteins can go into salads. Bread can become french toast, bread pudding, croutons, or bread crumbs. Almost anything can be added to soup.

  8. #8 owlfarmer
    Texas
    April 4, 2013

    Since there are only two of us (empty nesters now for some time) I hadn’t noticed the problem of food waste around our house until fairly recently. Much of the stuff that got “overripe” ended up in the Bokashi, but I still wasn’t happy with any waste at all, so I started making “leftover soup” about once a week (rather like Glenn)–but thanks to Denise for the freezer idea. We both teach long hours, so can’t always deal with the leftovers expeditiously. Another solution, though is quiche. I realized that with a couple of eggs, a little milk, and a pie crust (make a few and freeze them) one can make pie out of almost anything!

  9. #9 Judy
    UK
    April 5, 2013

    One of my family’s favourite leftover meals is Cornish pasties. Finely chop any left over meat. I used leftover roast venison last time, which was delicious. You don’t need much meat, because you then mix it with finely chopped vegetables. Traditionally this is carrot, swede, onion and potato but I have seen recipes with cabbage and peas, so really anything goes. They are supposed to be cut really fine and added raw, but I prefer to blanche the veg for a couple of minutes if they are not already cooked. Season it well, with plenty of pepper and this is your filling, which you wrap with pastry and bake. You can freeze any left over filling to make another batch, because the pasties are best freshly made, but you can also eat them cold in a packed lunch. This really can stretch out a few slices of meat to make a filling meal :-)

  10. #10 Sarah in Oz
    April 5, 2013

    I struggle with the issue of food waste, partly because I also struggle with the problem of overeating, so I have to be alert to not eating more than I need to try and avoid waste. I live alone, and lead a busy and unpredictable life, which means that I sometimes buy food for a meal that I’m then not at home to eat. That’s a problem particularly with thawed meat or fish, or when what I’ve planned takes time to make and I’ve come home late and am too tired and hungry to be bothered. I’ve found that I do better when I cook on the weekends and freeze individual portions of food so that I can just microwave them when I get home. For the fresh fruit and veg, I do an inventory on Saturday mornings and make ‘fridge soup’ and stew up leftover fruit, then factor that into the week’s plan before I go shopping. It works well when I actually do it! But I don’t have a great plan for what to do with the small amounts of leftovers when I’ve eaten most of a portion – I live in a city appartment with no dog or chooks to feed it to, and nowhere to compost it – at least for the time being.

  11. #11 Jim Thomerson
    April 10, 2013

    I routinely took ‘mixed leftovers’ for lunch. Add some cumin and hot sauce, and cut the leftovers in small bits. Put it in the microwave and it comes out pretty good,

    Another trick with feeding children is give them very small portions. After they clean them up they can have whatever they want. It is interesting to watch children at buffets. A few are properly trained, and will come to the table with three small bites at a time, then go back until they have all they want.

  12. #12 Rose
    ADK
    April 11, 2013

    I try to limit food waste by only cooking every other day. The day in-between is leftover day.

  13. #13 Stephanie
    April 13, 2013

    We give the two and four year olds small portions and it is not uncommon to do that four or five times at dinner. They are more likely to eat what is in front of them since we only do desserts on weekends and after dinner there is no food until breakfast. That may sound mean but lots was being wasted and they were wanting tons of snacks because they picked at dinner- it took a few days but they dealt with the change just fine. We are dealing with two kids and not 10 so that works for us. Salads are dressed on the plate and leftover salad is added to the new salad, cooked veg is put in the fridge and if not used in a few days then goes into a large freezer bag along with bones and trimmings to make soup/stock when it is full and I am up to dealing with it. My husband takes leftovers to work for lunch and if the kids and I are having hot lunch I will do something with what is already made instead of making something new.
    The best thing I ever did was label containers with the date as they are put away- we have less mystery “is this still safe to eat?” conversations that way. We still throw away more that I like but we are so much better than we were.

  14. #14 Jennie
    http://myfreedompath.blogspot.com/
    April 18, 2013

    Ditto the labeling!! I use plain old post it notes, that sit in a magnetized basket on the fridge door. Every container of leftovers gets a couple words description and date. We have a much easier time getting the proper leftovers in the proper places, whether that’s baby food that can be used a second day, extra vegge that can be tossed in soup, or leftover casserole that can be nibbled at for 3 or 4 days.

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