My deepest, darkest food secret? My cupboard contained 12 different kinds of sweeteners. I am a health professional, and sugar is not by any means healthy, so how on earth did I end up with 12 different kinds?!
Of course, doing this exercise also helps re-focus what we need to be utilizing. I was fortunate enough to only have to throw away 3 items; a package of seaweed from 2008, an old bottle of molasses, and a can of fancy salt. The last one upset me to throw away, as salt is one item that keeps indefinitely, but somehow, the can lid had some rust on it that had flaked down into the salt. Luckily for me, I have 5 other different salts to use!
Okay, I'm sure you're wondering by now if I have 12 different sweeteners, and 6 kinds of salt (not very healthy, either), what else is lurking in my pantry?
- 10 starches, including pasta, dried beans, and 4 kinds of rice
- Oils- 6 different olive oils, 5 'other' oils, such as avocado, sesame, and chili
- Vinegars- 13 different flavors
- 10 each different kinds of nuts and dried fruits
- 8 various chocolates for baking
- Random items, such as canned gourmet mushrooms, dried gourmet mushrooms, gelatine, pectin, canned pumpkin, coconut milk, and various jellies and chutneys.
- Staples include chicken broth and canned tomatoes. Soups, chili, and pasta sauce are made often at our house as they are quick, easy, tasty, hearty and nutritious.
I was very glad that of all that, only three items landed in the trash can. Food waste is such a problem in America. So many people buy more than they can use before the item goes bad or expires. I've been witness to and even (gasp) contributed to the throwing away of food that, had it been used just a couple days previously, would have been perfectly okay. We have so many people going hungry, so it's really upsetting to learn that we waste 33 million tons of food in America alone. Reducing food waste by just 15% could feed 25 million Americans per year.
What can you do to reduce or avoid food waste?
First and foremost, use what you buy. Seems like simple advice, but how often have you bought more than you really needed because it was a good deal, like buy one get one or bulk purchases, only to throw half of it away. Guess what? When you throw half that good deal away, you just cost yourself more money. If something like a melon was $3.50 for one, or two for $5, and you bought two, but then threw one away, you just spent $5 on one melon, instead of $3.50. Tricky! Buy only what you're going to use, and use it! Some people swear by using a list to keep them focused on buying only what they're going to use, whereas others say it helps to shop the deals and then come up with a menu. Either way, keeping pantry staples on hand is also a good idea. Pantry staples are those food items that you and your family use often, such as rice, pasta, salsa, bread crumbs, etc.
Of course the second tip to reducing food waste is to keep an eye on your pantry staples. As shown above, it's very easy to let your pantry get out of control. Make sure to keep stock on what you have in your pantry, and especially watch those expiration dates. My husband and I will plan meals around what has been sitting in our pantry or freezer for too long, in order to maintain a good rotation of foods.
Third, leftovers are your friend. Don't let something go to waste just because there is such a small amount of it. I'm very fond of throwing a small amount of leftovers in an omelet. You can also save small amounts of protein or vegetables and throw them in a soup. Bits of vegetables that you normally wouldn't eat, like the trimmings from carrots, celery and onion can be simmered in water to make a broth. I'll even save rinds from some cheeses in a bag in the freezer, and then toss a rind or two into a simmering soup or pasta sauce. You remove the rind before serving, but it will have imparted a nice touch of flavor.
So, give this pantry exercise a shot! You may be surprised at what you find, and maybe even inspired to cook something up tonight based on what you already have!