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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Real Food, for Real People, on a Real Budget - scraps

This post is part of the Real Food, for Real People, on a Real Budget.  You can read more about the series here.

I'm going to convince you to eat garbage this week.

Yep, you read that correctly...garbage.

On average, Americans throw away $165 billion worth of food a year.  $165 BILLION.  With a B.  That works out to about $2,200 per family per year.

Holy shit!

I for one am not perfect (please contain your shock), and will occasionally toss something past its prime, but my grocery budget for the year is $3,900, so if I were follow the national average, that would be 44% of my annual budget.

So not ok!

The grocery budget is one of the easiest things to adjust when times get tough, and it has a huge potential for savings if you are willing to put in the work.  Read on for five painless ways to stop throwing out so much dang food.

1) Meal plan
I know I said painless, and for some people, planning a meal makes their palms to sweat and their body to break out in hives. It really doesn't have to be that complicated.  I'll write my next post about painless meal planning, but just know that it shouldn't hold you hostage.  I do our meal planning for the following week in about 10 minutes.

When I only grocery shop once per week, I get everything I need at one time, which means I plan on using up anything that could go bad that week.  I am notorious for buying green onions, and only needing a few of them.  Sidenote: I really wish you could buy green onions by the stalk, instead of the bunch.  To prevent them from going bad on me, I share them with family, add them to my stock bag (more about this later in the post), or find a use for them later in the week.

Green onions are not expensive.  Throwing them away will not break my budget, but simply putting them to work allows me to enjoy my investment, and keeps food trash out of the landfills.

2) Fruit
Fruit is really big in my house.  Jack's middle name is Barry after my father-in-law, but it should have been Berry considering how much fruit that child eats.  We have a total of 12 blueberry bushes (they're smaller and not completely matured), but we'd need about two acres to keep my kid in blueberries for a month.

So yeah, we eat a lot of fruit.

Fruit doesn't often have a chance to go bad in this house, but if I see something that is getting close to the "too ripe" tipping point, I put it on a plate lined with parchment paper, and pop it in the freezer for a few hours.  Once frozen, they're put in to a gallon freezer Ziploc to be used later for smoothies, or to flavor sparkling water.  Frozen bananas get put in the freezer whole, with the peel on to be used later in banana bread or this yummy gluten, dairy, and sugar-free chocolate freezer pie.

3) Meat
Making meat on the bone like whole chicken, ribs, pork chops, steak, etc.?  Don't throw it in the trash when you are done with your meal...add it to your scrap bag to make a delicious and nourishing stock.

4) Veggies
Veg scraps like carrot and celery tops can be composted, but why not make a veggie scrap bag?  I keep all kinds of veg bits in Ziplocs in the freezer.  Two bags make a killer vegetable stock.  Or add your beef bits or chicken body picked free of meat (my friend Anne can no longer tolerate me using the word "carcass") to the crockpot with some veg scraps, and hot damn, you've got yourself some chicken stock.

5) Spices
Every time I am in the check out aisle, and someone is buying a bottle from the spice aisle, I want to slap a bitch.  Purchasing your spices in those little jars is crazy expensive and so unnecessary!  I purchase spices in bulk from our grocery store's bulk section.  I could spend $6 on a jar of dill, or I could buy just enough to fill my existing jar for about $.37.  So yeah....

That being said, if you do have some spices that are no longer super fresh, throw those bad boys in to your scrap bag.  Do you buy or grow fresh herbs?  I can never use the entire package of fresh herbs, so I rinse and chop and place them in an ice cube tray with a little water and freeze.  Put them in a Ziploc, and you have "fresh" herbs to add in to any meals.

With a wee bit of proper planning, food waste doesn't have to be a big thing in your house.  If you were literally throwing away over two thousand one dollar bills, it might make you stop and realize that food waste is exactly that - throwing dollars (dollar dollar bills ya'll) in the trash.

What is your favorite way to use up food scraps in your house?


  1. Interesting post. I live in Europe, and a few months ago there were signs everywhere talking about how the average Viennese family throws away €400 annually (about $550) in wasted food. Now, my European refrigerator is not four times smaller than my beloved French door, bottom freezer, shiny stainless steel love that I left behind in the US, but our grocery bills are low(er) and our wasted food is less. Even though I still have to feed two teenage students, the smaller refrigerator means there is far less space for food to hide and go bad. Maybe the Europeans are onto something with smaller refrigerators?

    But onto your question. Here in Vienna grocery stores close around 19:00 on weekdays, and do not open on Sundays or any of the ridiculously high number of public holidays. Meal planning is critical. One Saturday we found ourselves running the day long, and the grocery stores had closed. For dinner that evening I created "leftover bruschetta" of chopped and sautéed onions, potatoes, and wilted spinach with herbs to put atop toasted bread that had been brushed with garlic and sprinkled with grated pecorino. Dinner was a hit, and now "leftover bruschetta" is a favorite in the house. No more wasted food in our house.

    1. I'm going to sound like a spoiled American, but I would cry without my new fridge. We had a small fridge before, and I felt like MORE went bad in it because I never had space for anything and there were more little corners for places to hide. Plus, I do all my prep work for the week on the weekend, so my big fridge is usually full of sliced and chopped stuff waiting to be cooked later in the week.

      My hat is off to you though, and leftover bruschetta sounds delish!

  2. A good resource for getting just one or two green onions or perhaps just a small amount of many veggies or fruits is the salad bar at your local store. (Hubby hates celery, so I use very little of it. I hate to buy a whole stalk for just me....not fond of celery sticks, but I cannot make Chicken and Rice without it!) Items are fresh and since it is sold by weight, often costs only pennies.

    1. Great idea to utilize the salad bar on low weight items!

    2. Awesome Brenda, I am totally going to try that now that our grocery store was remodeled and has a salad bar.

  3. Can you explain the scrap bag for making stock a little more? Right now, I've got this image of all the ugly ends of celery that I don't want to eat floating around in a soup bowl!

    1. I did a pretty piss poor job of explaining it, didn't I? See this post for a visual and instructions:

  4. We occasionally make what we call "garbage soup" or "garbage frittata" at the end of the week. Any sad looking veggies or leftover cooked meat gets tossed into a pot with some homemade bone broth and we have yummy soup! Same goes for the frittata. Chop up the smooshy looking veggies pretty small, sautee them for am short time, then dump a dozen scrambled eggs on them and cook till done!

    We freeze our green onions (if those are the same things as scallions). I just chop them up small and freeze them in smaller ziplock bags. The kiddo loves them in her chili so I need to start remembering to pull them out and add them straight from the freezer (might help cool the chili down so she can eat it faster!).

    Looking forward to the post on meal planning! My meal planning has pretty much been no existent lately. Can't wait till my finals are done this week!

    1. Love it that you use it to cool down food. Genius!

      I had my final last Thursday, and my fingers are crossed for you. It felt so good to get it done, and I got a good grade in the class. Phew!

  5. I cut up and freeze green onions for when I need them and I keep the white ends in a glass of water on the window sill and they grow so fat anddon't seem to go bad

  6. Soup is a good way to use left overs. Cut them up fine or puree them and as long as it tastes good and is healthy who cares. Be creative. Tonight I using the last of my turkey for spaghetti.

  7. Green onions are one of the easiest things to grow from scraps! Once you purchase them for the first time, you can cultivate more from that initial investment. Place them in a drinking glass that you're not using, fill with water, and put it in a sunny windowsill. Attempting to protect said mini-green-onion-terrarium from obnoxious dogs/kids is the hardest part....they grow like the weeds they are! I use my kitchen scissors to clip the tops as needed and let those babies keep growing year round.

    1. So I tried that, but I found that after 2-3 days, the roots got super duper funky, even with water replacement. What I am doing wrong?

  8. Great post! You can totally freeze green onions. Freeze those bad boys on parchment on a cookie sheet then transfer them to a jar later! I never throw them away!

  9. I love to grab the bags of slightly sad peppers at one of our stores when I can. I chop them up and freeze the bits from each one separately. Then I can just through them in whatever I'm making. Same for celery stalks, or any other veg I have leftovers from. Nobody but me will eat veggie soup, except for beef and barley and I can sneak veggies in it. The hubs is old and set in his ways and it takes an act of Congress to make him change! Does your budgeting cover all the non-grocery items you might need? How does it work if you get paid once a month? I try to buy as much as I can once every month or two (meat) and stretch it, but it doesn't always work. We live two hours from any really cheap stores so we do major meat shopping usually every two months, supplement it on the month inbetween with sale meats, and stock up as much as possible on everything else. I think the biggest problem is what the hubs expects on the table. He says he will eat cheaper things, but when it comes down to it, well....I'm working on it! I really miss my crockpot (left it accidently when we moved) but I do have a slow cooker. I think I'm just going to have to do more soups and let him tough it out. I never really had a leftover problem until the boys left home and it's taken me four years to learn to cook smaller meals or just freeze and reuse everything.

  10. Either freezing them or giving them to the chickens. I adore your blog, I am a new fan.

  11. Can you get BBC iPlayer in the US? On Monday this week there was a Masterchef Professionals and their challenge was to make two courses from kitchen scraps which was really interesting.

  12. Green Onions can be sliced and frozen - al onions can be sliced and frozen - I've done this for years and just toss them into whatever I'm making (works with 'cooked' foods like soup, stews, etc...)


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