Amid figuring out our new normal with COVID-19 challenges, I was inspired by this sprouting red onion I found in the back of my produce drawer. Agriculture is the second highest emitter of GHG’s after energy, and one third of food globally is wasted costing America alone $218 billion per year. As grocery store shelves are near empty, this is an opportune time to establish better habits at home to reduce food waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and save money.
Do you know what all you have in your refrigerator or freezer, not to mention what is pushed to the back of your pantry? The first step in reducing food waste at home is to take stock of what you have and use items that are close to expiration. A good start might be to clean and organize what you have. As I am writing, I know there is a head of broccoli in my refrigerator that is starting to get golden buds so I will be steaming broccoli as part of dinner. Yesterday the bottom of my spinach went to mush (how does that happen so fast?) so I fed it to the neighbors’ chickens. Don’t let leftovers get pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten. I have heard so many people say they do not like to eat leftovers and my response is the same every time, then don’t make so much. My husband used to make a whole box of pasta just because that is how much comes in the box, I would encourage you to think about how much you are actually going to eat and save the rest for another day. Meat is a huge one, it breaks my heart to see meat thrown away because it was not used in time. When unloading your groceries, use a sharpie to write the expiration dates on cheese and meats so that it is easier to see. Some items expire after 7 days (or so) from opening, write it on the container when you open it.
Being in the food industry for many years I learned a few tricks for making produce last longer. Celery and carrots are best when washed and cut into to sticks and submerged in water for storage. If they still don’t get used before getting soft, dice them up for soup. A couple of years ago I discovered how delicious celery leaves are. If you are tossing the heart and leaves of a celery stalk, STOP! After you trim the sticks for storage give the rest a quick dice and use on salads or in soup. Vegetables like asparagus and kale can be stored upright with the bottoms in water (I generally use a wide mouth mason jar) they will suck up the water and stay fresh, longer. Some produce lasts longer if kept at room temperature including squash, root vegetables, tomatoes, citrus, apples, stone fruits and more. Wait to wash berries, mushrooms, and greens until you are ready to eat them for maximum freshness.
Do you have bananas that are too brown to eat or berries that are getting a bit too mushy? Oranges that are going dry or grapes looking just plain sad? There’s a lot you can do to extend the life of fruit including baking, dehydrating, and my favorite, smoothies. Peal or otherwise prepare the fruit, that is close to or has passed its date to be eaten, and place flat on a cooking sheet or storage dish. It is important that food is not stacked, or you will have a frozen block that is near impossible to use. I have a bowl in my freezer which I toss the last pieces of apples and oranges in that my daughter does not finish from her lunch. After it is frozen, throw it in the blender with juice or yogurt and you have a smoothie. For the littles, blend and pour into a popsicle mold! Avocados are tricky, it is so satisfying to slice open a perfectly green avocado. Last year they were on sale and, I am not kidding, I bought 20 of them. I learned this trick by trial and success. I mashed them and put a scoop per zip-top bag, squeezed out all the air and froze flat. They thawed perfectly for avocado toast, guac, or salad topping.
You can get a second life from your vegetable scraps too including carrot peels, potato peels, onion skins, the list goes on and on. As you prune your vegetables toss the remnants into a bag in your freezer. Once you get a gallon or so of scraps toss them in a pot of water and let simmer. When you get the taste you are looking for, strain the broth and throw the mash into the compost.
The onion starts above came from a red onion that sprouted in my produce drawer. I sat it in the window for a week and let it keep sprouting. Then I peeled away the layers until I got to the bulbs in the center, most onions have three. They are now planted in my oh so modest garden and will turn that one onion into many more.
Potatoes are also easy to regrow. If potatoes get eyes or buds growing on them, cut them into a couple of pieces each with an eye. Let them set out to dry for a few days then plant under a couple inches of soil. I use an old metal trash bin with holes drilled through the bottom to plant potatoes in every year. As the green stalks grow keep covering them with soil and the leaves will produce more potatoes. One year I had such a great harvest I just brought the whole bin inside and dug through it for fresh potatoes all winter long. To avoid the risk of rot however, it is best to harvest your load and store in a cool, dry place.
Green onions can be trimmed above the bulb and placed in a small glass of water in your windowsill, continuously re-growing its stems so you can garnish with fresh green onion regularly. Organic romaine and other produce with the base still attached will re-grow similarly adding green to your kitchen and your wallet.
Make the most of your groceries and have fun doing it. Leave a comment to share how you are reducing food waste. I would love to learn something new!