Last week I managed to cut down our food waste by a surprising amount just by planning ahead. To make sure I can sustain this I have come up with a system of organizing my recipes into groups which use similar ingredients, this way when I am meal planning I can quickly grab two recipes from one grouping and know that I will be able to use all or at least most of the ingredients we buy. As I play with this system I am hoping to make it even easier by creating several pre-written super efficient shopping lists that accompany specific meal plans. All of these lists can then be cycled around to give us variety while still being easy. Pretty brilliant no?
As I unpacked my groceries from this week I was feeling pretty good about all this. Each item has a purpose and very little of it will go to waste. (Except of course the stuff the toddler will inevitably throw to the ground. Perhaps we need a dog.) But it also reminded me of the other kind of food waste we have around here: All that packaging!
This week the challenge is to find some way (small or large) to reduce the amount of food packaging you throw away.
BYOB: Bring your own bags. I suck at this one. For some reason I have no trouble remembering my reusable bags if I am just zipping out for something small, but when it comes to our big shop every week we forget every time. This last week after I packed away all of our food and was storing the plastic bags to reuse later (They almost never get reused, the bag of bags is always full!) I finally said no more and took our stash of reusable bags down to my husband’s car. Hopefully this will help. I’ll let you know.
Also keep in mind that the bags you tote your food home in aren’t the only bags that can be avoided. This week I am going to be on the look-out for a good DIY produce bag so that those little plastic sacks for carrying produce and bulk items in can stay on the roll and not around my food. (Fair warning, I may opt to buy these instead but I’ll still try to find and post a DIY tutorial for anyone feeling a bit more ambitious this week!)
Eat fresh food as much as possible: This is not only a healthy option for you but also for the planet. The more processed a food item is the more packaging it requires. Processed food also carries other concerns for both the planet and your health including synthetic ingredients and fillers, energy intensive preparation, preservation, and/or transportation, questionably farmed ingredients, and so on.
Of course processed and prepackaged food has the allure of being ‘convenient’, but eating fresher food doesn’t have to be hard or even time consuming. Grabbing an apple on your way to work is just as easy as grabbing a packaged granola bar, and with a little planning and preparation on weekends or some clever swapping or ‘meal pooling’ with friends or neighbours, popping a home prepared casserole into the oven, after work is just as easy as popping in a pre-packaged frozen lasagna.
Sometimes I buy those packaged frozen vegetable mixes so that we have the option to throw together a quick stir-fry if we’re not feeling like cooking much some evening. I got the brilliant idea to pre-chop fresh ingredients and make a good sauce then freeze them into several individual meals. Genius right? I’ll let you know how it works out.
Ditch the take-out. This one is pretty self explanatory, burger wrappers and Styrofoam cups, greasy boxes and foil containers. These are all on a one way trip from the take out counter to your garbage can.
My family is getting a lot better about this one, since our son started eating solid foods we have limited our take-out quite a bit to set a good example and save money but we still occasionally indulge. Writing this is a good reminder for me to keep working to eliminate it even more. All the meal planning and organizing I am doing is really helping to keep us on track the last few weeks, and I hope we can keep it up.
Pack a litter-less lunch: Before my at-home-mom career I spent a ridiculous percentage of my monthly food budget on lunches. I worked within walking distance of about a million different fast and easy restaurants that were like little mini vacations from my workplace. I totally get the awesome of going out for lunch when you’re at work. The problem is that it gets really expensive really fast and it creates a huge amount of trash. Try your hand at preparing a lunch at home using reusable containers to make it totally litter free. It takes a bit of planning but it can be just as good as eating lunch out, and there’s nothing that says you have to eat your bag lunch in the break room. Go outside and/or find a quiet spot somewhere nearby!
I am going to try this the next time I am on call for doula work. I usually throw a box of packaged granola bars into my go-bag to sustain myself while at a birth but I am perfectly capable of making my own, I make them every few weeks for my son so why not put the same effort forward for myself?
Another option is to simply go home for lunch if you can, I know not many do anymore but if you live close to your office you may as well. My husband does this as he only works a couple blocks away from home and we love getting to spend that half hour with him in the middle of a long day.
When you can’t avoid, recycle: The great thing about modern day grocery stores is that they have a lot of options for you to choose from. If you are contemplating an item that needs to be packaged, like eggs for example, try to choose packaging that can be easily recycled like cardboard instead of Styrofoam, paper instead of plastic, or glass containers you could reuse over cheap bags or tubs (We recently started making our own stocks and old pickle jars are proving very useful!)
Sip a home brew: Those in-store coffee shops popping up in most grocery chains will be the death of me. My son, being at the media sponge age every marketer loves, recognizes the logo of a certain coffee shop and associates it with delicious ginger molasses cookies and a mother who is always so much nicer with a caffeine fix in her hand. I, of course, encourage this behaviour by being horribly addicted to fancy caffeinated beverages. I don’t treat myself to much but when I do that’s usually it, so I say ‘yes’ way more then I say ‘no’ when my son points out the coffee counter. That paper cup and that paper cookie bag get tossed right into the trash on our way out of the store. Next week I plan to try bringing my own coffee or tea in a travel mug and a home made snack for my little guy to munch on as we shop. (This may develop into its very own challenge later in the year because there is a whole lot more to this coffee issue.)
Grow your own:This will also become its own challenge at a later date, but seriously, think about it. Even in a small space or with limited resources it is really easy to grow even one small staple item in your diet. From the plant to your belly, no packaging or travel required.
I am sure there are about a million other ways to reduce the amount of food packaging in your cart that I simply haven’t thought of. Please share your ideas with the group and let us know what your goals are for this challenge!