One of the things I focus on when it comes to aiming towards a more minimal lifestyle is reducing food waste. Having worked in professional kitchens for more than a few years, I have a certain amount of instinctive habits that I naturally transfer to my home kitchen. It is ferociously etched into my brain to use up ingredients before they arrive at the horrific point of inconsolable waste. These are probably actions that may or may not be new to people who have been on the path towards zero waste for awhile, but I think it’s important to put ideas out there and share techniques to encourage easy practical changes. Here are my top three culprits when it comes to food waste and a few different ways I address the issues.
One of my favorite and most frequent would be waste item is stale bread. My favorite remedy is making croutons. I’m vegetarian. I eat a lot of salad and I love some crunchy herbed croutes on a beautiful seasonal veggie plate. Breadcrumbs are also an easy use for stale bread. And Panzanella never disappoints.
Another thing that seems to be a common problem is keeping greens fresh. Nobody likes opening their spring mix to find slimy, wilted leaves. I like to buy more greens at a time because it is so much more cost effective to purchase a larger volume. But it’s not cost effective if you end up having to discard said greens because you can’t eat them fast enough. A solution that works for me is laying a linen towel on the counter and spreading the greens evenly over the towel. Then I loosely roll/bunch the towel so that it fits in an airtight container. Linen has an excellent absorbent quality that helps keep leaves dry. This helps for about a week.
The last thing is actually not a problem for me at the moment because my 2-year-old loves smoothies made with milk, but occasionally milk just doesn’t get used before the threat of expiration looms. I have a few tactics to avoid this. The first is to make yogurt, which would then be good for an additional two weeks. Making your own yogurt is a mindless and inexpensive route to enjoying yogurt. I figured out that for me, the basic cost savings comes to at least $25 per month based on the average price of the yogurt that I normally buy, the milk that I buy, and consumption of about one quart per week. Along these same lines, you could make paneer or ricotta. Another option is just to freeze milk in trays like ice cubes. Once frozen you can keep the milk cubes in their own bucket for use in smoothies, iced coffee, or certain mixed drinks that lend themselves to a creamy flavor. My last resort, depending on the season, is to concoct a delicious soup with a milk base. (If you’ve made yogurt or cheese, you can also use the whey as a soup base.)
When you really must throw food away, it is almost always ideal to compost rather than produce more garbage. If, for whatever reason, composting is not a choice for you at a given point in time, I hope you find ways to repurpose scraps. We can all reduce waste as much as possible through creative and resourceful cooking solutions. What are your common would-be waste items? And how do you avoid chucking remnants in the dumpster?