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Ontario, Canada
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, March 02, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Think Green (Packaging)

Frugal Kitchens 101

Last week I gave a few tips on how you can save money on acquiring food simply by thinking green. Did you know that by simply thinking green with respect to food packaging that you can save a considerable amount of money on your grocery bill? It's true! This eco-friendly approach to food packing will you be save you money with very little effort. It will not be possible to eliminate all food packaging but you can greatly reduce it to save money and help the environment.

Packaging plays a huge role in the cost of groceries from increasing transportation costs to storage costs and even getting that food home. We even package our groceries in shopping bags to get the food home. Some grocery stores charge you 5¢ per bag while others do not provide any bags at all but rather provide empty boxes to cart groceries home it. Those stores that do not charge for bags factor the cost of the bags into the price of the groceries just as they do for all other costs of operating the store. The debate has long been plastic verses paper bags however the green approach is to use cloth re-usable bags or plastic grocery bins. In the case of bags, at one time the cloth bags were about $3 each but now many stores are selling them for 99¢ or you can easily sew your own cloth bags. In most cases the cloth bags will pay for themselves within a few grocery trips and last several years. If you make your own, I recommend not making them too large to prevent them from being too heavy when filled. An alternative to cloth bags is to use heavy wicker baskets with handles but these will take up more storage space when not in use.

Everything in the grocery store is packaged in one form or another. Most fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh nuts have their own natural packaging and while some may need bagging to get them home, most do not. Choose fresh produce over canned or frozen and in season to save money as well as eliminate store packaging entirely. Avoid pre-packaged salad mixes, pre-chopped packaged produce, pre-made packaged salads/fruit or vegetable trays. There is no reason to buy apples, oranges, peppers and other types of produce conveniently packaged in plastic bags. Simply put the loose fruits or vegetables in your cart to be put into your cloth bag to take home. Whole nuts bought in bulk are an exception so package these into a produce bag that can be re-used over and over. Most pastry and bakery items are packaged with some of it being over packaged. Avoid packaging on these items by making your own at home. If for example you make 2 loaves of bread per week you will have kept 104 plastic bread bags and bread ties out of the landfill while enjoying a healthier product at a considerably lower cost. Simply switching your dried breakfast cereal to fruit/yogurt, fruit smoothies, hot breakfasts, hot cereals or even off brand cereals packaged only in a plastic bag without the box you will be saving both money and keeping extra packaging out of landfills. Consider changing your over packaged instant oatmeal to quick cooking oatmeal (cooks in 1 minute) for a healthier product not laden with salt, sugar and preservatives that is considerably cheaper than the instant oatmeal packets. Flavour with homemade jams, jellies, maple syrup, fruit or brown sugar.

Avoid buying anything meant as individual servings. Examples of this are pudding cups, fruit cups, frozen entrées, yogurt cups and individual snack bags. All of these are more expensive than homemade versions and all produce an incredible amount of garbage. Homemade versions will keep this garbage out of landfills. Avoid anything over packaged as this packaging does increase the overall cost of that particular food. A good example of this is individually wrapped cheese sticks that are then packaged into another bag. Per unit price the cheese sticks are more expensive than simply buying a block of cheese.

Some stores off bulk food bins where you scoop out what you want into rather thin plastic bags or plastic containers. The food is priced in $/kg or $/lb. This gives you the flexibility to buy as much or as little as you want. In general this food tends to be less expensive than pre-packaged foods. Buying this way allows you to avoid entirely jars, bottles and boxes. It is especially cost effective when buying herbs and spices.

Consider canning, freezing and drying your own foods either home grown or purchased from farm stands and taking advantage of good grocery store sales. Canning can save a considerable amount of money while completely avoiding store bought foods packaged in aluminum cans and jars. Canning jars are re-usable so this practice prevents aluminum cans and jars from ending up in landfills in areas where recycling is not available. Freezing will of course involve you packaging the food into freezer bags or wrapping in freezer paper. Vacuum sealed foods packaged for the freezer eliminates freezer burn. These bags can be re-used until too small to seal. Re-usable freezer containers will help reduce this cost. Many foods are cheaper when home frozen in comparison to foods in the freezer section of the grocery store. Take advantage of in season produce to dry foods as well. Homemade beef jerky, fruit roll-ups and trail mix are examples of foods made with dried foods that are all cheaper than store bought.

Some food products should be avoided entirely or limited. Included in this group is soda/soft drinks, bottled water and ready to use juices or juice drinks. Unless these containers are recyclable in your area they will end up in a landfill unless you re-use them. The problem is these containers will add up in numbers greater than you can re-use. Soda is just empty calories with no nutritional value. I'm not saying to give up soda entirely although it will save a lot of money if you do, what I am saying it to limit soda as much as possible. Bottled water is expensive per ml or ounce compared to the very water you are already paying for from your taps. Consider if you drink two bottles of water per day that adds up to 704 bottles per year. Individually purchased at 99¢ that is $696.96! But also consider just in production costs of all that plastic and the impact all those bottles have on the environment. Invest in a couple of 16 oz refillable water bottles (2 - 4 per adult) and it necessary a filter for your tap or even a filtering water jug. Filter your own water to fill your refillable water bottles for a fraction of the cost of store bought bottled water. In most cases ready to drink juices are more expensive than concentrated fruit juices in the freezer section. Buy the concentrated fruit juices to save money buy not paying for the water and to reduce packaging. Invest in a fruit juicer or a steam fruit juicer to make your own healthy juices with in season produce then can or freeze them for later use. Fruit drinks with only 10% real fruit juice or less are not a good value for your dollar so are best avoided. Individual juice boxes (tetra pacs) should be avoided as they are more expensive per ml (oz) and not eco-friendly. Avoid pre-made ice tea and ice tea powders. Some tend to be high in sugar but both are more expensive than making your own ice tea using tea bags. Even using herbal teas along with black or green tea to create different blends is still considerably cheaper than store bought. Pour into a refillable water bottle for easy portability.

Eco-friendly ideas: It is virtually impossible to avoid or eliminate all food packaging. In this case choose re-usable over recyclable (eg. glass jars over aluminum cans); recyclable over non-recyclable. Remember to always follow the first rule of grocery shopping - unit shopping. At some point you will come across a product where the larger size is more expensive per unit than the smaller size. In this case you have a couple of choices. You can buy one or more of the smaller size or you can find a substitution or simply just don't buy. In many cases you may decide to buy one or more of the smaller size so either recycle or reuse the packaging. Get creative at reusing packaging. Jars and cans are easy to find uses for especially since jars protect dry foods from insects, rodents and humidity. Large aluminum cans can be turned into small foot stools and used to hold a variety of spreadable items in the garden like grass seed. Plastic squeeze bottles can easily be reused and not just for food items. Cereal boxes can be cut to use as magazine organizers or open them up and use them for weed control under mulch. Institutional sized jars and plastic containers (eg. mustard, ketchup, Miracle Whip®) with their cheaper per unit priced contents are ideal for holding all sorts of small toys in the playroom. Coffee cans with lids and the new plastic coffee containers are also ideal in the playroom. From experience rodents will chew on bath soap so store your bar soap stash in empty metal coffee cans. Soda cans can be turned into emergency single burner stoves or cut to make windchimes or whirlygigs for the garden. Use large plastic soda bottles to protect seedlings in the garden. In some communities you can even sell your aluminum cans to local recycling businesses or even returned for a refund of a pre-paid deposit. Check online for many other uses for packaging that you might otherwise recycle or toss.

next week: Think Green (Cooking)


2 food lovers commented:

Petula said...

Very good tips and information. My teenager and I usually purchase the 100 calorie pack snacks, but today we bought snacks in family-sized portions and separated them ourselves. It was cost effective and fun to do the project together.

Garden Gnome said...

Thanks Petula. I'm glad you found the information useful and saved a little money as well.