We get it. The eco-fever taking over Instagram and the Internet at large can be pretty overwhelming. You’re being told to do something - and DO IT NOW - complete with shouty capitals and heart-wrenching photos of choking sea turtles and the burning Amazon.
While we’re all for the die-hard greenies who spend the average day snorkeling for litter on the side of the road, we also know that it is not realistic for us to ask you to drop everything and change your lifestyle in the name of Eco.
So, in light of this rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma, we’ve come up with an idiot-proof 7 Step No-Food-Waste Challenge that you can start RIGHT NOW (or tomorrow - whatever) without losing sleep.
And the beauty of this challenge? You don’t really have to change your lifestyle at all. These steps are simply a re-imagining of the average Jane’s regular schedule when it comes to food and meal prep.
Step One: Meal Planning
This one can be daunting as it’s a little too close to math for our liking.
To keep it simple, follow this general road-map for portioning out your meal plan:
Seven Days x Three Meals x 1 Portion Each x 1 Person
= 21 Portions of Veggies
21 Portions of Fruit
21 Portions of Carbs
21 Portions of Protein
What’s a portion? Well, that can depend on the type of food! Check out How Much Is One Serving? for more information.
On average, a portion is the equivalent of your closed fist.
Note: This list of portions does not include snacks, though a bag of nuts can go a long way… hint hint.
Note 2: This is a very rudimentary portion road-map and is based on an average diet and might not account for the calorie intake required for your particular diet.
Obviously, your meal plan will depend on your particular dietary restrictions.
If you’re a vegan, check out this 7-Day Vegan Meal Plan: 1, 200 Calories by EatingWell Magazine. It has some gorgeous vegan recipes and a plan for how and when to prepare your food for the week.
If you’re on the keto diet, check out 30+ Tasty Keto Meal Prep Recipes for a Stress-Free Week Ahead to save yourself some headaches.
Note: Keto is low-carb, so you can go ahead and discount the 21 Portions of Carbs mentioned above.
If you’re vegetarian, visit EatingWell’s article 7-Day Vegetarian Meal Plan: 1, 500 Calories.
Pro Tip: Include a “grace period” in your meal plan. Many folks will plan out a seven-day meal plan including breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then, suddenly, have plans to go out for one or more of those meals. When cooking, leave one meal’s set of portions out.
For example: if you tend to go out for dinner once a week, you’ll be left with 20 portions per week of protein, carb and veggie/fruit rather than 21 of each. Pretty simple, right?
A great way to include a “grace period” in your meal plan is to plan one evening’s meals with a non-perishable item (canned tuna, canned chilli, canned lentils, etc). This way, if you end up not going out that week after all, you aren’t wasting a perishable item!
Step 2: Inventory
This one is daunting for entirely different reasons. There is literally nothing more depressing than looking through your fridge at all the evidence of food that you bought but haven’t eaten. Just brutal.
However, this step is necessary, because there is probably quite a few items of worth in your fridge, right now, that could supplement some if not most of your meal plan from Step 1.
1. Take a photo of the inside of your fridge. If it’s fairly dirty or crowded so that you can’t see everything you have, you might want to consider cleaning out your fridge prior to taking stock of your food.
1. List everything you see in the photo/you have in the fridge, including the number of portions of each item. Just by eyeballing it, how many meals or parts of a meal can you offer your meal plan?
Step 3: The List
When making your list, stick very close to your existing Inventory of food. If you need to buy more of something you already have (eggs, for example), think carefully: can you get by with what you have? Do you absolutely NEED to buy more?
Include numbers in your list. For example, if you’re planning to make mashed potatoes one night, with leftovers for your lunch the next day, consider how many potatoes it takes for one serving of mashed potatoes. Then, multiply that by the number of people who will be eating the ‘taters.
For a family of two people, you would then put “4 potatoes” on your list. Exact numbers will help you avoid bulk-buying out of confusion, and limits the risk of having a 2 pound bag of tuberous potatoes molding under your sink for the next month and a half.
List by supermarket category. If you’re above 25, you probably already have a favorite supermarket. (It’s okay. We all get there in the end, old boy.)
A common mistake when shopping is to go through whatever aisle you happen to be closest to when walking through the store. It should make sense, but it actually doesn’t. Most supermarkets put their produce and perishables at the front of the store, and these are some of the last items you should place in your cart.
Well, if you’re adding crushable produce to a bag or cart first, then everything else - like canned or bottled food - will have to be added on top of that. This might damage and/or crush what you’ve just spent time selecting, and speed up the perishability of your carefully chosen produce due to exterior damage.
Step 4: Shopping Smart
BRING YOUR LIST. We can’t stress this enough. If you do not have a clear idea in your head (or written in pen on your hand, like I do), then you are going to a) forget something or b) overbuy. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Stay on track. It’s tempting to just follow your heart when you’re up against brightly colored Sale signs, but if it isn’t on your List, then you probably - almost definitely - don’t need it.
Bring reusable bags and, if you’re not doing a big haul, use them instead of the baskets. This helps you control the actual volume of what you’re buying, and will dissuade you from over-buying, or impulse shopping. Because nothing hurts like a strap digging into your neck while you’re evaluating the choice of avocados.
When shopping produce, visit the discounted section first. Ugly fruit and veg need love too, and there’s rarely anything actually wrong with these slightly battered or bruised items. Not to mention, they’re waaayy cheaper than the rest of the produce.
Note: What if it’s discounted but not on your list? Well, if you really want to buy the discounted items, you have two options: buy it anyway and add it to your portion count in Step One or replace an item on your list with the discounted item. Just be sure to cross it off if you do the latter so you’re not overbuying.
Step 5: Storage
Produce should go in the crisper. This may seem simplistic, but it makes a huge difference in veggie and fruit preservation. You’ll thank us later.
Store flours, rice and nuts in glass jars with sealed lids. If you’re a re-user of mason jars, this is your time to shine.
Bread can go in the fridge, or in a cool dry place. If you know you’re going to eat the entire loaf by the end of the week, you’re probably safe putting the bread in a pantry or even on the counter. If you don’t eat much bread (kudos), then you might want to consider putting the loaf in the fridge, or even freezing it between toasts.
When preparing food, do your best to use the entire vegetable/fruit at one time. We know it’s tempting to leave that one square inch of cucumber for next day’s lunch, but the odds of you actually eating it when you say you’re going to eat it are slim to none. Just eat the dang thing and get it over with.
When storing items in your fridge, do your best to place them in order of perishability. If your meal plan is properly put together with perishability at the forefront, you can store your food according to when you’re planning on cooking/eating it.
Do not wash fruit and vegetables (this applies most to non-Organic produce) until you’re ready to eat them. The coating on most produce is meant to preserve them and, as unappealing as pesticides are, there is no real reason to remove them until you’re ready to chow down.
For an amazing diagram on where to store your foods for the ultimate shelf life, check out Greatist’s How To Organize Your Fridge to Keep Food Fresher, Longer (and Cut Your Energy Bill).
Step 6: Cooking Up A Storm
Yay, the fun part!
A common complaint when meal prepping is that folks tend to over-prepare the food that they then go on to under-eat. What if you’re not craving what you’ve planned for that evening? What if the fish you prepped four days ago is already starting to smell a little off?
Visit Food Saftey’s Cold Storage Food Chart for an incredibly detailed chart (a downloadable PDF version is also available) on what foods can be stored for how long.
On average, though, a good rule of thumb is: “Four Day, Throwaway”. After four days, leftovers and most raw meats are nearing the icky-mark and should be approached with caution.
With this in mind, how does one proceed with food prepping in a safe, yet convenient way?
Note: check out this resource for freezing foods that will save you time and headspace when storing and cooking your meals!
Depending on your work schedule, most people prefer to meal prep on their day(s) off. If you’re not into spending hours in the kitchen multiple nights a week, stay tuned for our upcoming blog post on meal prepping!
Did You Know? Cooking your food is actually a huge source of food waste, even if you end up eating everything you’ve cooked. These “untouchables” include stems, peels, skins and bones that you remove from the edible elements of your food.
The best plan for these items is to, of course, set them aside for composting.
But what if you don’t have space for a compost pile? We gotchu. Scroll down for the final step!
Step 7: Recycling Food Scraps
If you have the time & space: compost!
If you don’t, or you’re concerned about non-vegetable waste, such as meat, dairy and/or bones, you might want to consider an electric composter, which will save you time, space and headache.
For other food waste recycling ideas, stay tuned for our next blog post to read some nifty, thrifty no-food-waste tips!