By Anthony Summa, a Lovin’ Spoonfuls Food Rescue Coordinator in Boston’s MetroWest region
Reducing food waste at home has always been a priority for me, but now with a toddler and another baby on the way, the task has added challenges. Notoriously picky toddlers and pregnancy cravings can throw off even the most well-intentioned meal plans. I am by no means an expert in kids, nutrition, or any combination of the two, but I wanted to share some techniques that have worked at our house to limit our food waste.
Meal planning is key
In my opinion, the most important part of reducing household food waste, regardless of how many people are involved, is meal planning. Before our son was born, my wife and I made a meal plan for the entire week and bought ingredients we could use across multiple meals. This cut down on waste and the amount of time I needed to spend in the kitchen throughout the week. For example, doing a lot of the prep work on Sunday saved the number of dishes needing to be cleaned after work (my least favorite chore). By choosing meals with common ingredients, we could use more fresh herbs and vegetables and use them in their entirety. Too many times, without meal planning, I’ve made a dish with a little bit of cilantro or parsley and then not had any idea what I wanted to use the remaining bunch of herbs for.
With a little one and another one the way, I have altered the meal planning process at our house to combat the more picky and inconsistent taste buds. Now we cut the meal plan down to three or four-day segments to adjust more easily if a sudden craving arises or if my son doesn’t seem to like a days’ options. At the end of one period, we will look at what leftovers we have already made, the ingredients left in the fridge, and start over using what we have as a base. Luckily for me, I love fusion foods and combining our favorite aspects of different cuisines. Making new meals is a fun challenge for me.
Befriending my freezer
The second part of successfully reducing our food waste at home comes down to realizing the freezer is our friend. When my wife just no longer wants to eat the ingredients we have leftover during meal planning, we look to see how we can prep and freeze them for a later date. Our son and I love popsicles and my wife, smoothies, so often leftover fruits and veggies get chopped up, blended, and frozen in freezer bags or popsicle molds for easy snacks down the road. If our son showed no interest in or didn’t handle an ingredient it can be frozen and left for a second attempt on another day.
In the same vein as meal prep saving time, we sometimes will make bulk items to throw in the freezer for easy meals and snacks during the week or whenever I don’t feel like cooking an entire meal. We will often make a big batch of pasta sauce, pancakes, zucchini fritters, etc., and enjoy a portion or two fresh and freeze the rest. The cleanup and preparation are roughly the same amount of time whether we are making a few portions or many, so it is a great time saver for those lazy weeknights. When making bulk items for the freezer, I tend to keep the seasoning pretty basic because some days, our son (and my wife) really likes a given spice combination, while other days, not so much. By leaving some seasoning out, we can figure out what is working on that day and add the seasoning to individual portions rather than toss in large amounts.
Prioritizing portion size
Portion size is the next item we pay more attention to these days. We are always giving our son small portions and encouraging him to ask for more if he wants it. This leads to less manhandled food needing to be thrown out. Besides small portions, we also offer a variety of different foods so if he does not want something on a given morning he could have something else and go back to it later in the day.
Along with the size of portions, we also are strategic on the order we bring out food for our son. We tend to save the best for last at our house, with the tried and true favorites being what gets served last. To start we give our son items he has never had before or we know he isn’t the biggest fan of. This doesn’t always work, but sometimes he will eat his peas if we give them to him while he is hungriest but just push/throw them around after he has eaten some of his favorite foods. But the smaller portion sizes are not just for the kids, my wife and I also start with small plates. If we don’t have luck getting our son to eat any particular item, we still have an appetite to finish it for him.
Lastly, I have one piece of advice which, on a personal level, is the most important to me: eat together whenever possible. My favorite meals are always ones I shared with family and loved ones, so I can’t overstate the quality of time. But from a food waste perspective, we’ve found our son loves to eat whatever we are eating. This is great because if he doesn’t eat all of his dinners, I can get seconds off his plate. Sometimes our son can’t quite eat everything in a dish yet, but there are usually components of a dish he likes that we can share. Recently I made one of my wife’s favorite dishes, Pork Marsala, and our son didn’t like the pasta that day, but he loved the mushrooms and pork, so we were still able to eat the meal together. I stole the last couple bites he didn’t want, and we didn’t have to worry about odd flavor combinations because it was all the same meal.
So, in short, commit to some amount of meal planning, the freezer is your friend, prioritize portion size (and a variety of food options), and eat together as much as possible. These techniques help us go a long way to reducing our food waste, and when all else fails, we have two dogs at home who always happily accept scraps!