The point of no return happened one morning as I was getting snacks together for my son’s football team. I had bought a small snack and then was looking in our pantry to get snacks for my other kids to eat and all I saw were boxes of food that no one wanted to eat. While I was in the mindset of getting rid of things that my kids didn’t like, I’m sure the kids on his team were excited because they were getting more than 4 things in the their snack bags. Most of the time, I’m a one and done snack mom, but this time I “upped my game” to clean out my pantry.
Other changes started gradually happening from there. I noticed that I was buying things off the shelves without even knowing if we really needed it. Our snack cabinet supply was never really dwindling and I was throwing food away because I wasn’t planning correctly and things were going bad. Now mind you, throwing old food out is not something new in our house. I’m a inconsistent (re: bad) meal planner and I’m pretty much the only person that will eat leftovers.
I was continuing to buy things that my family didn’t like and it was piling up in a bad way. Our basement freezer is stocked with tons of frozen snacks, meat to defrost and frozen vegetables, so creating a meal is completely possible with what we have. The problem is I forget that we have some of it and it doesn’t always get eaten.
A couple weeks ago, I stopped buying snacks at the store and it’s not that I was trying to say no more snacks but instead, it was more along the lines of eat the food we have and when that is gone I will buy more. We had plenty to choose from and since I didn’t really say anything to anyone about this slight change no one noticed.
Hmm, well, if that’s the case then this might work all the way around. The thing that kills me is throwing away produce. Again, my kids love fruit (vegetables are touch and go), but I buy a ton of it and an item or two always goes bad. I buy it because I would rather have more than have to go back to the store later in the week. Neither the fruit nor I is winning in this situation.
As a family of six, now is the time to nip this in the bud. I have 3 boys and a girl and at some point the boys are really going to start eating a lot more. They don’t need an endless supply of snacks to choose from because that can get pretty overwhelming.
Have you ever stood in front of a pantry naming off all your snacks to a four year old who wants something now? It’s not fun for either party.
Instead, I am able to give them one or two choices, and I start with the healthy options but can easily get sucked into giving a pantry item. Although, having just several things to choose from is much better than our former situation. I am done being our own grocery store because It’s the waste that pains me week after week.
Here’s how I rectified the situation: I went to my tribe and asked them what they do to have less waste in their kitchen. The response I got was overwhelming and completely varied from person to person. I tended to lean more towards what the bigger families did because it mirrors our current situation but these examples can be used for any sized family.
- Have the children help with meal planning for the week – This one was by far my favorite because the worst part about meal planning is having to create the meals. So once I gave my older two children AND my husband a choice, I was down to choosing only two meals for our week. We cook 5 meals a week, usually order pizza one night and do leftovers someday mid week and I knew I could pick two meals a week. Then you can get to the fun part and create a weekly meal schedule for the family. Putting this upfront and on your command center means that there won’t be surprises to what is going to be served for dinner at any given time. If you are like my one friend, her kids made her cook what was listed for that day even though she wasn’t really feeling it because it was on the board. Kids like predictability.
- Let the snacks run out – I was totally over buying on snacks. I thought that maybe my pantry was too small but one day the amount of snacks we had was overwhelming to even more when I started rattling off what we had for my four year old to choose from. That’s when I decided to let the snacks run out and it’s funny because we still haven’t gotten to the point where they have run out. Even if I buy one snack at the store each week, we still have plenty to choose from and less overwhelming the kids with too many choices.
- Cook smaller quantities of food – It’s the whole making ten times more pasta noodles than one family needs idea. I was always making six servings of food when in all actuality, I needed about 4, maybe 3. We have two small children that pick at their food like birds. The older two children share one portion and then my husband and I each have our own. I was way over cooking for my family, yes, the ones who hate leftovers, especially reheated chicken.
- Make things that can be frozen for later – Now this I can get behind. I will make a big batch of soup, chili, pulled pork or some Crock Pot concoction and save the rest for another meal in our deep freezer. The soups and chilis are great option for me at lunch and the pork, I can usually transform it into something else by throwing it into a taco, soup or salad.
- Get creative with what you have – As a family, take an inventory of what you have midweek and create a meal together with the items that are remaining and need to be eaten soon. Not only is it fun to be imaginative, but then you aren’t throwing away perfectly good food. It also can become one of your new go-to meals for another time.
- Buying meat in bulk – What’s not to love about this? For some people this is a saving grace. But for me, not so much. I bought into the whole stocking up on ground meat and chicken for cheap and I think it’s a great way to get a lot of meat at a cheaper price. What I found with this is I rarely planned my meals around what I had or even at all. I did know what meat I had in the freezer but would forget to pull it out until an hour before dinner needed to be served. Meaning, I had to scrounge around for something else to feed the family.
- Leftovers – There are several people in our house that love a good leftover. I’m one of those people, but that’s mainly because it’s an easy lunch item and then I don’t have to throw it away when it goes bad. My oldest son is like me, he’s lazy when it comes to choosing what he wants to pack in his lunch for school but will gladly throw last night’s dinner into his box and be good to go. Another way to use up leftovers is to find recipes that use them up like frittatas, soups or make a taco or salad. I’m all about throwing items into a tortilla shell for my kids and calling it a taco or doing the same with myself by throwing whatever I’ve got on top of lettuce. (Yes, this is the second time I’ve mentioned this)
- Composting –Let’s be honest, our trash is out of control for a family of six. However, I am proud to say that our recycling container is more full than our trash each week, but the idea of composting was brought up by one of my friends. As a small child, I remember my grandparents have this big compost pile in the back yard. All I knew is my grandma took her coffee grounds and egg shells out there every morning. I didn’t know what it was doing or why she carried them out there, but after doing some research and asking questions, t makes a lot of sense in reducing waste. I would be curious to see what would happen to the size of our trash if I composted all the food that goes to waste. I would have the best soil around.
This is a list that I compiled to get a jump start on reducing the waste we have with food for our family of six. I would love to hear how your family plans their week, how you budget, meal planning, using any of these strategies above or share your own!
I also picked up Waste Free Kitchen at the library and am excited to see what other ideas gleamed from those pages.
*Since writing this article, my family has stuck to many of the suggestions given by my friends and I have seen a decrease in our week grocery bill and am throwing away less food that might go bad. We still have a long way to go but we are learning!