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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Reducing Food Waste

Frugal Kitchens 101
Two important areas of avoiding waste in frugal kitchens are food and energy usage. Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 will focus on avoiding food waste. Every time a food spoils before it can be used or anytime food including any portion of that food is tossed you are basically tossing out your hard earned food dollars. The average home kitchen can loose hundreds of dollars each year just on wasted food. It is virtually impossible to prevent all food waste in the kitchen but it is certainly possible to minimize this waste.

To lessen food wastage, the following points should be considered. On the surface you will likely say "I already knew that." but hopefully I will add a few tips you didn't know that will help you.

  1. proper storage
  2. food prep
  3. planning
  4. serve smaller portions
  5. use every last drop
  6. buy/preserve only what you will use
Proper Storage
It goes without saying that all foods should be properly stored in terms of temperature, air and light exposure. In many areas food also needs to be protected against insects, rodents and humidity. All foods stored in your pantry should be in glass, metal or food grade containers. Vacuum sealed mason jars are ideal for storing dried foods as they offer the best protection against the aforementioned problems. Larger 1 and two gallon glass jars can often be found for no charge simply by asking at restaurants or other institutions like nursing homes. Quite often these large jars can be found at yard sales as well. I save any of the institutional sized jars when empty from other products I buy in bulk. If someone you know buys at the warehouse stores (eg. Sam's Club, Costco's) and they use institutional sized jars ask them to save the jars for you.
You can prevent a considerable amount of food spoilage by investing in a FoodSaver® vacuum sealer. Not only can this relatively inexpensive kitchen appliance vacuum seal special storage/freezer bags it can vacuum seal mason jars or optional canisters extending the shelf life of pantry foods and prevent food loss from freezer burn. Vacuum sealing in glass is a sure fire way to protect your food from rodents, insects and humidity. At the same time the FoodSaver® can re-seal opened bags such as potato chip and snacks bags keeping the food fresh for later use.

Food Prep

How many times have you peeled potatoes then toss out the peelings? Now consider if you pay $2.49 for a 10 lb bag of potatoes. If about 10% of that bag is just potato skins you are essentially tossing out 25¢ per bag or $6 per year. Sure it's not a lot of money but if you extend this idea to all your food prep you can see where this can add up to a substantial amount of money over the year. Vegetables should be well washed then if peeled the peelings can be froze to use in making vegetable stocks when you have enough. Once the stocks has been made, strain it well and put the remainder of the peels into the compost bin. You have now added another product to your pantry shelves or freezer while enjoying the vegetables earlier and you have put the used peelings towards a product that will put more food on your table. It's a win/win situation. Bones can be froze until you have enough to make stock. Unfortunately bones should not go in the compost so should be discarded. Some vegetable peels (beets, onion skins) make great natural dyes for Easter eggs, paper and textiles.

Extend this thinking to include egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, left-over coffee and left-over tea. These are all foods you have paid for so maximize that cost. Ground egg shells sprinkled throughout your gardens is a natural, organic slug and snail control. Coffee grounds can act as a natural, organic nitrogen supplement, a soil amendment and slug/snail deterrent in the garden. Tea leaves are a good soil amendment for increasing the acidity in alkaline soils. Used tea bags can be used for reseeding bare spots in your grass. Cold, used tea bags are great for soothing puffy eyes. Both tea and coffee can be used as a natural dye for paper and textiles. Use dried tea leaves as a potpourri for a natural, light scent. If you have a baking dish with caked on grease, fill with water then drop a tea bag in and leave overnight. The acid will break down the grease. Use left-over coffee for making rye and pumpernickel breads, coffee ice cream, coffee ice cubes and iced coffee. Dilute left-over coffee to use for watering house plants.

Anytime you are cooking, plan to maximize the energy you are using. For example, cook two roast instead of one. Use one for dinner and planned left-overs. Slice half of the other roast for sandwich meat and freeze. Cut the other half into slices then pour any remaining gravy over, freeze. When you make soups, stews, chili or spaghetti sauce always make a large enough batch for that day's dinner plus enough to can or freeze. In this manner you are constantly adding to your freezer and pantry. Cook extra during the winter months when you want the heat indoors to stock your freezer and pantry with ready to use meals and quick meal starts for the summer when you don't want the heat indoors. Focus on planned left-overs. For example if you have a traditional meatloaf dinner on Monday plan to use the left-over meatloaf Wednesday in meatloaf sandwiches served with a pickle spear and homemade French fries for an easy, frugal meal that is different from the original.

One of the biggest wasters of food dollars is putting a left-over into the fridge then it gets pushed to the back of the fridge where you pay to store it until the resulting science experiment is tossed. Ideally you should not have your refrigerator so stuffed that this happens and a stuffed fridge costs more to operate because of reduced air circulation however in reality this happens to all of us. Try keeping one refrigerator shelf dedicated to just left-overs. For normal day to day use this works nicely. If a left-over is on the shelf for more than two days, use it or freeze it. However, events such as holidays and entertaining can greatly tax your refrigerator with a lot of left-overs, stuffed where ever they will fit. The best way to deal with this is tackle the over flow the following day. Freeze what ever you can that will not be used in the next two days.

Serve Smaller Portions
Anyone who has had children knows to reduce their portion size because they simply do not eat as much as an adult. The same principle applies for all servings. Reduce the portion size with the option of having seconds if they are still hungry. This reduces uneaten food on plates that cannot be safely saved. However, food scrapings are money! Unless they are meat, cheese or bones all food scrapings should be composted. Even if you do not garden, compost can be used as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. If you live in an apartment think vermiculture to reduce those food scraps to compost for use in growing edible plants indoors. Food scraps can also be fed to chickens and pigs if you are fortunate to live where you can have them. By far the first two choices will see those small bits of food dollars go back into providing you with more food. Left-over pieces of fruit that have a bite or two out of them can be put out for the birds if desired. Partially eaten bread products that cannot safely be used again can be put out for the birds as well but be careful doing this as you may attract rodents. If this is the case, you are further off putting the scraps into a secured compost bin where rodents and other small animals will not be able to get into. In some progressive communities (eg. Guelph, Ontario) food scraps can be separated from other household recyclables and put to the curb for recycling as well. This is an ideal solution for those living in apartments so give your local waste recyclers a call to see what they accept.

Use Every Last Drop
One way that food gets wasted is by not getting it all out of the container. This particularly applies to anything in a squeeze bottle or jar. There's only a smidgen left so it's easy to just say to heck with it. A spatula is ideal for getting that last little bit out of jars and you should have several sizes of spatulas on hand for this purpose. When using that last little drop from a squeeze bottle or jar as an ingredient use one of the liquids from the recipe to rinse out the bottle. That way you are not diluting the ingredient for the recipe. Save butter and shortening wrappers for greasing baking dishes. Use a toothpaste squeezer for getting that last little bit out of foods that come in tubes.

Buy/Preserve Only What You Will Use
For day to day food purchases buying a little extra makes good common sense because part of that extra can be used for another meal. It also makes good economic sense to buy in bulk those staples you use a lot of. So many are now realizing the value of a well stocked pantry. What I have noticed is some are doing this type of stocking up without taking into consideration what they will and will not use. This just does not make good economic sense. The same hold true when you are home preserving. Never buy or preserve anything for your pantry you will not use! Even something bought on sale on the premise that you might use it is not a good frugal practice. Tossing stored food that is beyond it's expiry date is not frugal either. Know your eating habits and stock your pantry accordingly. For example, if you use on average 16 oz (purchased or home canned) corn per week, you should stock 52 jars/cans of corn plus 8 extra to round it to 60 and give you just a bit extra. If you are home canning that means going from one growing season to another so you will need to stock all 60 jars but if you are buying canned corn you could get away with stocking from sale to sale so would only need 20 - 30 cans on hand depending on the sales in your area. Always buy or can/freeze/dry based on your family's usage.

Now is a good time to aim for that one year supply of food. That doesn't mean you need to go out and buy all that food at once. Shop the sales focusing on one or two products that you do use then buy $20 worth of those products. Chances are good that product will be on sale again so don't worry. Continue in this fashion for those items that you use. Avoid mixes, convenience foods and snacks. Focus on whole foods, grains, dried pasta, beans, fours, baking supplies, nuts and that type of food. Other good foods to stock up on include instant potatoes, dried milk, canned tuna and canned fruits/vegetables if you do not can your own. Consider canning, drying and freezing foods even if you do not garden. Garden in anyway that you can for a cheap way of increasing your pantry stores. Whatever you do, keep the primary rule in mind.

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