A Turnip Saved is a Penny Earned: A Waste Not Challenge
I recently overheard a Millennial say she’d rather lose her wallet than her phone. I see her point. At upwards of $600 a pop, a Smartphone may be more valuable than a debit card. Whether your valuables are locked behind a passcode or snapped between folds of leather, losing them is a major violation. It’s also a huge waste of money.
It’s like the time I left our heat on full blast for a week in the dead of winter while on vacation. Our family of five could have stayed another night in a hotel for the same amount we spent on heating our empty house that week.
However it happens, there’s nothing worse than wasting money. So why do Americans keep tossing out perfectly good food?
According to a recent article, American households trash about $640 worth of food, on average, every year. Most of us are guilty of it at one time or another — because we’re trying to free up refrigerator space, or we don’t want to eat leftovers again, or because we have no idea what to do with the twenty pounds of kohlrabi and white turnips accumulated over the course of a winter CSA share (you know who you are…).
Maybe the problem is that we don’t realize we’re guilty of the crime. The game changer, for me, was one day when I watched my middle child take a single bite out of his apple and then throw the rest away because he wanted a banana instead. That exact same day, my daughter ate half of a BLT sandwich and dumped the rest because she wasn’t hungry anymore. I started to speak up, but as I gazed into the trashcan, I noticed I’d also thrown away a black-fleshed avocado and some slimy lettuce. We’d wasted ten dollars worth of food in just one hour!
These last few weeks, I’ve challenged myself to keep the trashcan off-limits for food. Instead, I’ve come up with some creative solutions to reduce waste, tailored to our family but easily adaptable:
I’ve started buying less than I think I’ll need for the week, eating lettuce and other highly perishable items first, and using FIFO or First In First Out, to monitor perishables more closely.
My kids always seem to leave food on their plates at the end of a meal. So, I’ve begun serving them smaller portions and encouraging them to go back for seconds if they’re still hungry. If we still have scraps, sometimes I feed them to the dog. No pets? Feed your compost pile or call one of the composting services in our community to come pick up your leftovers.
Speaking of leftovers… We usually have a hodgepodge lingering in our refrigerator toward the end of the week. I purposely keep meal plans flexible on Thursdays and Fridays so we can use them up. To facilitate, I try to keep the following pantry items on hand:
Active dry yeast and all-purpose flour — to make pizza or flatbread dough. The combinations are endless.
White or brown rice, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce — for savory stir-fries using leftover vegetables, meat, eggs, or tofu.
Tortillas — to wrap around sizzling meat and vegetable scraps, topped with cheese, salsa, and guacamole.
Vegetable or chicken stock, onions, celery, and carrots — these ingredients form the perfect base for just about any kind of soup.
Lentils or chickpeas, curry powder, coconut milk — throw these in with your leftover veggies, simmer, and serve over rice or quinoa for a quick and flavorful weeknight curry.
It’s admirable to belong to a CSA but some foods are a tough sell to the little ones. Here are some ideas for working with difficult produce:
Slice into matchsticks and serve it raw in a slaw with sliced cabbage, carrots, red onion, cilantro, and tangy, mayonnaise-based vinaigrette. Use this as a topping for anything from pulled pork to crispy fried fish tacos to a roasted turkey Rachel sandwich with melted Swiss.
Or, slice it thinly and use it in place of water chestnuts in your favorite stir-fry.
Simmer in milk and stock with peeled, chopped celery root and potatoes or cauliflower. Puree when soft, season with salt and stir in a pat of butter. Eat as a soup or a side with roasted meats or fish.
Thinly slice and turn into bread-and-butter radish pickles to scatter on top of sandwiches, ramen, rice bowls, or even burgers.
If we treat each bit of food wasted at our hands as dollars being lost from our wallets, like the Millennial’s Smartphone, these items become more difficult (and unfortunate) to part with. Take a stand against food waste today — you’ll be saving much more than just cash.