What a Waste! – Teaching Kids Not to be Wasteful

I’d like to think that I was raised in a good and wholesome household. My parents were well educated and taught me ethics, beliefs, and the importance of being a good person for society. I learned a lot growing up from my parents as well as my siblings and I only hope that I’m able to teach my son the important lessons that I’ve learned from them. Parenting can truly be the hardest job we ever have and sometimes it”s thankful, sometimes you’re lucky you get a nod. We are constantly growing and learning and hopefully changing the world to be a better place. We may not be able to make our Earth a true “Heaven” so to speak, but we can teach our children and they can teach their children and so forth, that we only have one planet to live on and we must all try to take care of it.

While I was reading the newest issue of Whole Living, I came across an article about waste and how the US is the single most wasteful country in the world. It’s not hard to believe since the US is currently the most desirable country to live in – what with easy access to food, stores at every 100 paces, and the latest electronic gadgets sold every few seconds – we really live in a country envied by most other countries. But we are also part of the destruction of our fragile planet that we ALL live on. It’s easy to say we can make a change to improve our planet, but it’s even harder to actually do something about it. But a good place to start is within our own homes and in our minds.

In the aptly titled article, “Spoil Alert”, in the November issue of Whole Living magazine, the article vividly describes the astounding amount of food that is wasted in the US on a regular basis. The article states that in 1980, food waste made up of 9.5 percent (by weight) of municple landfills. And by 2010, it more than doubled to 20.5 percent. The Natural Resources Defense Council had released a report in August that Americans waste around 40 percent of all edible food. The Environmental Protection Agency equates that to be about 33 millions tons of wasted food in a year. That’s an incredible amount of wasted food in my opinion and most of it are not even necessary waste. When I mean unnecessary waste, I’m referring to Americans buying too much food and then either forgetting they were bought or not eating and saving any leftovers. It’s a common mistake and there are times when I’ve looked into my fridge and found old vegetables or cheese that were long forgotten.

With so many hungry people in the world and with our planet slowly deteriorating, it makes me wonder if we can ever make Earth a better place. Although it may sound idealistic, but I believe that any small step towards a change of good is possible. And the first step is within ourselves and then to teach our children to do the same. So let’s start first with what we buy at the grocery stores. I like to always make a shopping list first and I usually try to stick with it. Then, within that shopping list, I have to calculate what I’m making with the food I’m going to buy. Some people decide on food for the week beforehand and that’s perfectly fine, but it’s always good to have a shopping list or a mental list so that you don’t overbuy or impulse buy (which is the biggest culprit to wasting food and your health!). Next, I determine the quantity of products. Say, if I’m making minestrone soup for 3 people and to last at least 3 days, then I know I’ll need to buy 2 carrots, 1 celery, 2 potatoes, 2 cans of tomatoes (or 3 fresh tomatoes), either water or vegetable stock, pasta, and any other vegetable I feel like throwing in there. Now that’s a typical grocery list for just soup but if I’m accounting for food for the rest of the week, then I really have to plan even further. And then the hard part is – telling my son to resist impulse buying because a kid will most likely always want something they see at the checkout counter or as you’re walking through the aisles.

So, after you’ve diligently made an accurate shopping list and sticking to your guns, then the next step in not wasting food is when you’re eating out. That may be the hardest thing to do unless you’re going to one of those trendy European restaurant where the amount of food on your plate greatly under weighs the amount you pay for it. We usually like to pick a restaurant where we know there will be leftovers and where of course the food is really good. Taking home doggy bags are an important step in not wasting food but the next important step is to actually eat your leftover food. Otherwise, if you know you’re not going to eat it, then don’t bother bringing it home. It’ll just stay in your fridge making you feel guilty if you end up having to throw it away. If you’re not hungry when you eat out, then try sharing a plate or ordering a half plate. Most restaurants will let you do that. We love going to Asian restaurants because you get a great amount of food for a decent price and you’ll most likely end up with food to take home. And then what about those leftover food that is no longer appetizing? Sometimes I like to stretch that meal out by adding more ingredients to it. If it’s pasta, then I’ll throw in more pasta sauce, a bit more veggies, and more noodles if necessary. Then it’s another complete meal. Leftovers may not always be tasty, but if you can change it up a bit, then you’re creating a new plate and new palate. And, you’re saving money as well, because you’re stretching the meals throughout the week.

The other most important trick to not wasting food is using up those bothersome extras that are stuck in your jam jars or leaves off greens that don’t necessarily make the cut but you don’t want to throw them away either. In the article, there is a great little section with suggestions on what to do with certain leftovers. They got ideas from famous chefs, cookbook writers, and other culinary experts. Here are some ideas:

BOTTOM-OF-THE-JAR JAM – Make a jam-based vinaigrette. Add equal parts vinegar, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some pepper. Shake up the jar and you’ve got a great new dressing.

DAY-OLD-BAGELS – Make bagel pudding. Use the same technique as in bread pudding but substitute with old, dry bagels.

BRUISED FRUIT – Make ice cream topping. This one is my favorite and I often do this too. Just cook the bruised berries with a bit of sugar and balsamic vinegar and add some zest from juiced-out lemons or oranges.

FISH HEADS – Fertalizer for your plants. Bury the fish head and as the fish head slowly decomposes, it is also feeding the plant. Haven’t tried this yet and I probably wouldn’t suggest using this in fruit plants (can’t imagine the taste of fish strawberries!)

GREEN, LEAFY THINGS – Use up any remnants of your veggies such as celery leaves, leftover lettuce, etc. They can go into soup to make stock, into stir-fries, pasta sauces, etc.

So you see, there really isn’t a good excuse to waste food. As long as we remember to buy only food that we’ll actually eat and eat the food we’ve already bought, then that’s a good start. And then if you set good examples with your children and friends, then maybe they’ll learn those techniques too.

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