It is that time of the year when gyms are overflowing, waist lines have popped after the sweets-eating season and resolutions are made (hopefully not to be broken!). If there is one resolution I make every year, and try hard to stick to, it is minimizing food waste. It is not as easy as it sounds, especially on working days! I make huge quantities of a dish that gets put in the fridge. After two meals, H and I get tired of it and go searching for a Subway or Chipotle!
I envy people who go to the grocery store with a purpose. H an I are pretty good at sticking to our weekly grocery list. It gets harder though, when we go to specialty stores, that aren’t easily accessible in our neighborhood. We end up binge-buying a whole load of things. One final day, we remember to make something out of the ingredient we had considered extremely important on our trip to the Indian store/ Asian market. By that time, the product has expired! How many of you have had the same issues?
There are days when you have a craving for a certain thing, and that is gone by the time you shop for the ingredients; you packed lunch, and ended up eating out at an office get together; the ingredients are never right in front of your eyes to remind you that they are there; or my favorite, you are plain lazy, to make an elaborate dish out of something you bought it for. The process of using up left overs is one that involves some thinking, but trust me, they are the easiest things to use and dish something edible out of!
H is quite the health nut and we periodically have issues using up extra veggies, fruits, different types of rice or just plain Indian cooking spices. I am quite the junk-eating person, who can live on maggi and popcorn/ sweet corn, given a choice!
When I think back to my childhood, it is only now that I realize how important the use of optimizing food has been to my family as well. I am so proud of that! Paati and amma were always saving up orange peels to be pickled, or make into a face-pack, paati saved up the almost completely squeezed lemon half to put into her pressure cooker to prevent the pan from burning at the bottom, and rasatthadi (the bottom left overs of rasam) from dinner always became a side for idlis and dosas and even curd rice!
Honestly, there have been several days when I have emptied the bottom shelf of my fridge or the top shelf of the pantry into the trash, with a heavy heart while looking at how the veggies/ condiments could have benefited at least one family that was going hungry that day! Truth be told, subscribing to WFP and watching John Oliver’s video on Food wastage didn’t help with the guilt, but it helped make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. I am still working on my commitment to avoid food wastage and to make the process a sustainable one! I have been improving every year, devising new plans to try and not overfeed ourselves, at the same time, minimize our waste.
There are some general rules H and I have set for ourselves, that also helps with sticking to budgets:
- We draft a cooking plan for the week just before our weekly grocery shopping. This includes rummaging through our pantry and fridge to see what needs immediate consumption. Of course, we stick to the list we make of things to buy for the week.
- I have started concentrating on making everything I put in the fridge visible. The fruits that go in the tray have now come up to the top rack. We have transparent boxes to put away left overs to make sure we can see everything.
- We make enough just for 4 meals. This is because after this point, we grow tired of the dish and it sits there in the fridge ready to be thrown out. Here again, I am reminded of how athai and periamma always made the perfect quantities of food, so that they never had to throw anything out.
- We are not really picky about when home cooked food is prepared, as long as it tastes good, and nothing is spoilt. More than a matter of preference, it is a necessity.
- As long as there are other things at home to eat, a trip to the Indian store/ Asian market can be put off for as long as it is absolutely necessary! This last point is something we are still working on.
The moment someone says “left-overs” , your mind tells you it is probably something unwanted. However, “left-overs” are the most versatile things ever! These days all I do when I find a cup of lentils that I want to use up, is google recipes using lentils, and find other ingredients that I already have, to make my dish! Pinterest comes in handy as well.
Vegetables can be used up to make some Pasta Primavera, Bisibelabath, a Thai curry or simply stir-fried! H’s mom always asks me to prep my veggies for the next day. In my case, when I cook an extensive dish, I am almost always left with a huge amount of food waste. The peels and ends can go into making a vegetable broth. Left over bread, can be used to make a quick bread-upma, a sandwich or even a PB&J for a snack. Other possibilities would be to use it up to make croutons/ bread crumbs for use later in a salad. Whenever I have yogurt that needs to be used, I end up making a Gujarati khadi, or south Indian mor kozhambu, or a recent favorite, Khatta moong dal! Like I said, all it takes is a simple google search!
There was a time when I even subscribed to recipe boxes/ meal kits to avoid having to put away anything back in the fridge. That could be an option too, if you are up for the flexibility in cuisines, and the cost associated. There a number of providers these days, including Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, the popular ones.
If you are as guilty as I was about wasting a lot of food, it is never too late. Here is also a way of redemption! Donate to WFP.
Of course, don’t make it a one time thing, or always look only for redemption. Minimizing food wastage should be a sustainable effort!