Thursday, April 14, 2011

Waste Not

I really hate waste. Especially wasted food. I have had plenty of years of my life where food has not always been plentiful, and I know how many people in the world are literally starving, so to me, food is like gold. And because people often comment to me that I seem to be able to stretch a little bit of money a long way, I thought I'd give you some of my tips, when it comes to feeding a family. Which you probably already know, but maybe never thought of.

1. I almost always shop with a purpose. Meaning, I don't just go to the grocery store and buy what looks good. I check the grocery store ads to see where the deals are, and I plan meals around those items. If chicken is on sale, then I plan to cook chicken. If roast is on sale, then that's what we're having. (Or, at least that's what I'm buying to freeze.) After checking the ads, I make a menu, usually for two weeks, detailing plans for breakfasts and dinners. I make my grocery list based on what I need for those meals. Everything I buy, I buy for a reason, and I use coupons wherever I can.

2. I cook from scratch most of the time. That means, I buy basics like flour (which I don't buy a whole lot of, since I grind my own wheat), sugar, eggs, butter, buttermilk, etc. You can bake a whole lot more with the basics than if you spent the same amount on prepackaged items. That means that if I want to make biscuits and gravy for breakfast, I (usually) make my own biscuits. I say 'usually', because there have been a few times that I had a coupon for Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits that was such an amazing deal, I chose to use that and count it as a time saver. But, usually, nutrition is way more important to me than time, so I opt in that direction.

3. I grind wheat and bake most of our bread. I also make powdered milk and will keep it in the fridge to use in baking, saving the fresh milk for drinking. We go through about a gallon a day--and that's with me saying, "Get out of the milk!", so it adds up. Using wheat and powdered milk also helps me feel confident using our food storage.

4. When I plan our menus, I schedule non-meat days. I usually try to schedule one bean day, one soup day, one vegetarian day, and one salad day. That keeps our meat consumption down, and it diversifies our nutrition. For bean day we might have chili, or black bean and chicken enchiladas. For soup day we might have lentil vegetable soup, or chicken tortilla soup, or black bean soup (we love black beans), or cheddar broccoli soup. For vegetarian day we might have a quiche, or a vegetable lasagna, or baked potato bar. For salad night we have some kind of huge dinner salad, like BBQ chicken salad, or taco salad, or just a huge salad bar night with a gazillion choices to make your own. Now obviously, many of these meals can be served in different categories (taco salad, if made with beans only and not meat can be our vegetarian night, for example), but the point is, it gets us out of the meat and side dish routine, and forces us to use a whole lot more veggies and grains. My kids eat a LOT of fruits and veggies. I pile their plates with vegetables or salad, and they eat it all, because they have to. I do not feel bad requiring them to eat large amounts of vegetables, so there. They can choose not to once they're out of my house, but these are the years that their bodies are growing and that growth is my responsibility. Also, I think they've developed good habits and a taste for vegetables, which will carry over into their adult years.

5. I pride myself in finding uses for everything so I don't have to throw things out. For example, we buy a lot of produce. In fact, I buy most of my produce at a separate produce market that is very cheap. We're talking an entire shopping cart just filled with fruits, veggies, and raw nuts. I know lots of people buy produce with good intentions and end up throwing it away. I hate doing that. My kids are flying to Arizona this evening for spring break with their dad, and I realized I still had quite a bit of veggies in the fridge that I couldn't eat alone. So, for breakfast I made our green drink and juiced them all. A bunch of kale, a bunch of parsley, 3 lbs. of spinach, several stalks of celery, a bag of carrots, a cucumber, and 5 or 6 apples. Took care of that! Also, I go through my fridge, freezer, and cupboards routinely and look for things that got left over. Like half a package of cream cheese, or a cup of whipping cream, or a can of garbanzo beans, or shredded chicken, or corn tortillas approaching their expiration. A few sweet potatoes in the cupboard means we're having baked sweet potato fries with dinner. Whatever I find, I search for a recipe to use it up, and many meals come together just for that reason--to avoid wasting something that's sitting in the fridge. You know how you buy something for a meal and then end up not needing it all. Finding a use for it always makes me feel so frugal and clever. Sometimes I see friend's fridges packed full of miscellaneous ingredients and I think, "Don't go shopping till you use all this stuff up!"

6. For lunches: I pack some of the kids' lunches every day (some like to buy, and we get free lunch). At the beginning of the week I make a batch of chicken salad. It's delicious. I use a big can of chunk chicken, some mayo, and I cut up one apple (with the peel) into little dices, and a stalk or two of celery into little dices and throw that in there. Sometimes, if they're in season, some halved red grapes. A bit of salt and pepper, and it's good to go. I buy those Orowheat Sandwich Thins, Whole Wheat. I toast one up and put the chicken salad on that. It's the perfect size, and I got sick of kids not eating their whole sandwich. (Waste!) Then I cover that chicken salad up, stick it in the fridge, and use it the whole week. Also in lunches goes a fruit bag (I cut up an apple, and throw in some grapes, or strawberries, or a mandarin orange), a vegetable bag (I cut up half a red pepper, throw in some baby carrots, and sugar snap peas), and then a nut bag (5 or 6 cashews and the same number of almonds). If I've done baking, I'll add a couple of mini pumpkin muffins or zucchini muffins. That's lunch. The kids take water. At the end of the day, they leave their brown lunch bags and zip-locs on the counter and I reuse them for the whole week. On Friday, I toss them, and on Monday they get new ones. I do own reusable insulated lunch bags, but my kids won't use them. Too embarrassing, they say. But they're fine eating a fruit bag and a vegetable bag, and no Twinkies, even in high school, so I'm good with that.

For me, at home, I will often make a ginormous pot of vegetable soup with lentils in it that I'll eat from the whole week (and make Conor eat) with a slice of homemade wheat bread. I'll use chicken stock and add red pepper, green pepper, celery, onion, garlic, carrot, cabbage, and a can of diced tomatoes, and throw in the lentils at the end. Also, we eat leftovers from dinner for lunch. If leftovers pile up from two or three days, guess what everyone is having for dinner? That's right! And I dish them up--no choices. I want it all eaten! Two people get this, three others get that. No point in making something new with perfectly delicious food in the fridge.

7. For snacks? You guessed it. Fruit or vegetables or nuts. I rarely buy prepackaged anything. This is the famous line around here: "Mom, what can I eat?" "Have an apple!" I also bake a lot, so they can have muffins or bread. Of course, I make treats too, but always homemade. Cookies, brookies, brownies, etc. Now, my teenagers sometimes do buy their own junk food, like chips or candy, and that's fine with me, because most of the time they're eating well, and it was their money.

So, want a challenge? Go look in your fridge and find something that needs to get used up, and find a way to use it for dinner tonight! One ingredient can inspire a whole meal and will make you feel like a clever homemaker and a wise steward. Good luck!


Andrea said...

Love your tips. Thanks! I'm having left over chicken for supper. I love leftovers, but my dh doesn't. So now after reading this I feel much better about serving leftovers.
What's brookies?
And any ideas on how to get a 7 year old to eat fruit and vegetables?? She refuses, and I'm not sure what to do.

Heidi said...

Goodness sakes, you're amazing!

Anonymous said...

Jenna! You don't know me at all but you sure do inspire me! I can't remember how I found your blog but I have been following you for more than a year. You actually inspired me to organize my meals better even before you wrote this post! Here is a link to my post:

You will notice that I blatantly stole your recipe for trail mix!!!!

Abby said...

I comment ALL the time to Orion about how awesome you are at feeding your family well. When Lyndsay came out to help me with the babies, I was a little stunned that her actual snack request when away from home was "baby carrots". What?! No junk? Really? OKAY! It's so easy to fall into the "fun" foods when away from home, ya know? I love that so much about you. I'm jealous of it.

Calix? Nope. He'll have the occasional fruit here and there or a smoothie for breakfast...but that kid is so extremely picky with food it's horrifying. His doctor says he'll grow out of it and if he wants pb & honey for lunch every day at school? Let him have it. At least he'll actually eat it (and at least it's on whole wheat bread.) so we don't have to worry about him starving. As for the other things I throw in with his sweet. Usually fruit leather and a trail mix of sorts. It's frustrating. Maddox? Seems to hate garbage food. He must be the only 4 year old around who can't stand fish sticks or nuggets. He'd rather have string cheese, salad, fruits, nuts..etc and he'll at least try new things if he sees me and Orion eating them. Always wants a taste. He's my good eater.

Because we're doing P90X right now, our menu is limited. However, I did learn from my mistakes from the first 2 weeks. We spent close to $400 (which makes me want to vomit thinking about) on our menu items and then food for the kids. This time, I sat down and made a smaller version of the menu...easier and more cost effective. 3 breakfasts to choose from, 4 lunches, and 4 dinner options and then I worked coupons and what not into that where I could. Did you know a pint of fresh berries here is over $5? *vomit* Frozen berries (I'm using them in protein shakes anyway) are about $1.80. Simple swap and less expensive! Frozen salmon instead of fresh and pre-grilled chicken breasts...both of which I had coupons for. In the end, I spent $270 for 2 weeks of our food and the kids'. I'm proud of that for sure :)

I don't know what the point in writing all of that down for you was...except that I wanted to talk to someone about it...might as well be you. Congratulations!

I wish I had my very own Jenna to come and feed me nicely every day of the week and to force *cough*Calix*cough* to eat some friggin fruits and veggies! <3

Misty said...

I need to come to camp Jenna... honestly. I need me a baking mentor!

care to share your biscuit recipe because, girl, i have tried at least 20 and like none of them... and my family are BIG time lovers of biscuits and gravy.

Sydney said...

Love it! Great tips and I do a lot of the same things. My mother's go to quote when we were kids was "Waste not, want not!"

Lara Neves said...

This is wonderful. Just what I needed, although I am a lousy cook. But I want to feed my family more nutritiously and less expensively. THANK YOU!!

Luisa Perkins said...

We are so much the same.

(Except for the raw peppers. And we don't get free lunch, so my kids pack lunch every day. In their insulated bento boxes. :D)

We call our leftover night "Treasures from the Fridge."

This is an awesome post.

I hate waste, too, but even more motivating for me is the memory of having to clean out my mom's disgusting fridge. She always overbought and almost never served leftovers. Three months later, it would be a mold fest, and I was the one who had to dump it all. Yerghh.

Alejandra said...

Thanks for all the tips! I need to start planning more meals in advance.

Southern said...

Ahhh! A woman after my own heart. So there are some benefits to living on a tight food budget. Your kids are eating so well! Keep it up!

Tristi Pinkston said...

Awesome tips!! Thanks for this.