As the old saying goes, “Waste not, want not.”
The new year is the time to make resolutions. Most often there are to eat better, drink less, spend less or exercise more. This year, consider a resolution that can make a difference in your pocketbook, as well as for the Earth. The goal is to have a “zero waste” kitchen.
While having a zero waste kitchen is not attainable for most, everyone can make steps to be less wasteful.
So how can you make a difference in your kitchen?
First steps to be less wasteful
A simple first step is to start by eliminating plastic bags.
When headed to the grocery store, take reusable bags. A trick to not forget to put them back in the car is to put them with your car keys when you finish unpacking. Keeping them in the front seat rather than the trunk will help you remember to take them into the store with you.
Instead of plastic resealable bags, use glass storage containers to store your food. Most brands are inexpensive and can be used in the fridge, freezer and microwave.
Plan your menus for the week
David Todd, executive chef of Interim Restaurant & Bar, suggests planning your menu and shopping list like chefs do.
“When writing a menu, I make sure I can use an ingredient in different ways. For example, tomatoes can be served fresh sliced on a salad but also oven-roasted for a sandwich,” he said. “Make sure your ingredients can go in multiple directions rather than being used in just one dish.”
Todd also plans his meals, doing meal prep on the weekend for his week’s meals. He takes advantages of weekly sales, often buying in bulk.
“I try to eat as healthy as possible,” he said. “I will buy several chicken breasts for example and then cook them all off at once. I then portion what I am not eating that day and put it in the freezer. It is much easier to thaw and reheat a dish on a busy night than start from scratch.”
He added that while dishes won’t last forever in the freezer, you do get a longer shelf life on the item.
“This way I really take advantage of whatever the deal was, rather than letting it spoil,” he said.
Ways to use scraps and leftovers
Like many chefs, Todd uses vegetable scraps to make stock. It’s a trick that a home cook can do as well.
Ends of carrots, mushroom stems and even onion peels can be saved to make a stock. If not making stock daily like restaurants do, store those ingredients in your freezer until you are ready to cook.
Don’t throw that away! 10 ways to turn kitchen scraps into delicious dishes
Daniel Gamboa, chef de cuisine at South of Beale, also tries to use his ingredients to the max.
At the restaurant, they use bread scraps like the ends of baguettes to make bread pudding, one of their most popular desserts. Many say stale bread is best for making a bread pudding because the dry bread absorbs the custard better than fresh bread.
Gamboa also suggests buying just what you need.
“We have little storage here at the restaurant, so we often buy produce by the piece,” he said. “This helps ensure we only buy what we need.”
You can do that at home. If you only need one stalk of celery or one carrot for a recipe, consider picking up that item at the salad bar.
Composting is another way to make sure that every scrap gets repurposed. If an item can’t be used in a dish, Gamboa composts it. It’s a habit he does both at the restaurant and at home.
“I have a compost pile in my backyard,” Gamboa said. “As I am cooking, I put scraps in a Tupperware container. Part of cleaning up includes going to the backyard to add it to the compost heap.”
Compost can be used to add nutrients to your garden, eliminating the need to buy fertilizer.
Michelle Campbell of Fork it Over Catering regularly uses leftover vegetables, canned or fresh, to make vegetable soup.
“If a recipe calls for only half a can of corn, I save the other half in the fridge to make soup later in the week,” she said.
Teresa Dickerson, Kroger Delta Division corporate affairs manager, shared a thoughtful tip that not only eliminates waste, but spreads joy in the process.
“In the South, we equate food with love and so we make big meals,” she said. “Keep disposable to-go containers on hand to send leftovers home with your guests for lunch the next day. Or make a plate to bring to a friend or neighbor. They will be thrilled to get a call saying, ‘Can I bring you dinner?'”
Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining Reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.
The statistics on food waste
“Food waste is a huge issue,” said Janet Boscarino, executive director of Clean Memphis. “As a county, we produce 1.7 billion tons of waste annually with only 3.1 percent of this being recycled and 5.7 percent composted. Organics make up 31 percent of materials sent to landfills resulting in loss of valuable materials and an increase in methane gas production.”
Clean Memphis operates Project Green Fork, a nonprofit that assists restaurants in being more “green.” Eliminating Styrofoam and using recyclable to-go containers is one small change for a restaurant that makes a big difference for landfills. Project Green Fork restaurants also recycle everything from cardboard boxes to their fryer oil.
Food waste also impacts those in the community.
“There’s a fundamental absurdity in the U.S. food system,” said Teresa Dickerson, Kroger Delta Division corporate affairs manager. “Today, 40 percent of the food produced is thrown away, yet one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.”
With their Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan, Kroger has a made commitment to end hunger in the communities it serves as well as eliminate waste across the company by 2025.
One way it is achieving this goal is by donating food to the Mid-South Food Bank. Kroger donates produce and meat that may not be up to customer standards but are still fine to eat. These are items like ripe bananas, bruised apples and meats and dried goods that are approaching their expiration dates. The food bank gives the food items to nonprofits in the city to use in their soup kitchens.