Sometimes Mondays
Ready-Aim-Fire: An Unraveled Post

Inspired by My Refrigerator

Earlier this summer, the inside of my refrigerator reached The Danger Zone.  No longer functioning as an efficient storage place for cold foods, my fridge had become home to partially-used jars, uneaten leftovers, and god-knows-what lurking in the far corners.

Something had to give!

I spent a couple of summer afternoons pulling everything out of the fridge, assessing, dumping, recycling, cleaning, and reorganizing.  (It's a shame I took no photos, because the task was Herculean - and would have looked very impressive.)

In the end, I dumped a whole lot of uneaten, wasted food.  Much of it came in partially-used jars.  Things I bought to make a specific recipe.  You know how it goes . . . you need half a jar of some exotic ingredient and a couple of teaspoons of some specialty mustard and almost - but not quite - a whole jar of some sort of marinara sauce.  Anyway.  Being frugal, I always save the leftover stuff -- because I'll just use it next time I make the recipe! 

What always happens, though?  Well ... by the time I make that recipe again, I forget I have the stuff in the back of the fridge.  Or it's been in there so long it's now a Petri dish.  Or I remember I have it . . . but don't have enough, so start the cycle all over again!

So.  There was a lot of wasted food in jars.

There were also quite a few leftovers of uncertain origin squirrelled away in the depths of my refrigerator.  Now, Tom and I have gotten much better at regularly building leftovers into our weekly dinner menus, so this situation has improved quite a bit over the last year or so.  But, still.  Leftover waste -- and plenty of it!

I'm happy to report that my refrigerator is clean, organized, and functional once again!

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But.

I remain disgusted by my own food waste -- and I am all the more determined to buy only what we need, use everything I buy, and eat leftovers!

One thing I've stopped doing is weekly grocery shopping.  I used to have a system where I planned out all of our meals for the week in advance (based on what our schedule looked like for the week).  I made a big list based on that meal plan, and I shopped on Sunday afternoon.  Filled the pantry and the fridge every week.  This system worked quite well when the kids lived at home because our schedules were busy and predictable.  Back then, I was working and needed to be super organized.  (Besides . . . I had growing kids always looking for more to eat.)

When it became just Tom and I at home, though, everything changed!  Our schedules were much more apt to include spontaneous dinners out.  We had more leftovers.  We tried more exotic recipes that required more exotic ingredients.  Our lives and eating habits had changed -- but my old system of weekly shopping excursions had not!

To discourage food waste here at home, we changed two things:  First, I let go of the weekly shopping and now make several quick runs to the grocery store to just pick up what we need for dinner.  Second, we've made a commitment to eating our leftovers.

It's been working . . . but there is still food waste.  Mostly from partially-unused jars of ingredients -- so that's my next target!  I'm trying to be more discriminating about recipes I make -- really considering if I need to make something that requires me to buy several exotic ingredients that I wouldn't normally store in my pantry.  This is harder than expected -- because I really like trying new recipes, and the "exotic" always appeals to me.  But I'm working on it.

I decided to try one of the online healthy meal delivery services, too.  (Here's a quick run-down of some of the services out there.)  After doing some research, I signed up with Blue Apron.  Three meals per week.  Fresh ingredients.  Original recipes.  Perfectly proportioned meals -- so no waste.  

Our first box arrived last week.

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I was totally impressed to find . . . real, fresh ingredients packed into my box of three-meals-for-two-people.  Everything was pre-measured and packed (when packed) in recyclable materials . . . right down to a single farm-fresh egg!

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The recipes are clear and easy to read, and include photos, cook prep/timing details, and step-by-step instructions.  Because everything is pre-measured and included in your box, all you need to do is . . . cook.  (The only things I've needed to grab from my own cupboards are olive oil, salt, and pepper.)

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So far, I've prepared two of the three meals - steak and fish, each with a fresh vegetable side dish and some sort of potato. Both have been excellent -- really tasty.

But.  I would also say that both meals have been a bit more . . . fussy and involved. . . than I would normally prepare for a weeknight meal.  Lots of pots and pans and bowls.  Lots of overlapping steps.  Prepping one thing while cooking another.  Yes . . . everything was THERE and available -- but there was still prep and staging and managing to be done.

I actually found it to be a bit stressful -- and I'm an experienced cook!  (I was considering giving a Blue Apron subscription to Erin and Keith -- but decided against it because it would just be too overwhelming for them at this stage of their cooking lives.)

I'm going to give it another try -- now that I know I need to plan my own prep-steps -- because the quality was great.  The ingredients were fresh, the recipes were interesting, and the meals were really good.  I also really like having just enough to prepare a meal for Tom and I.  We have plenty to eat -- and no leftovers.  It really is perfectly proportioned.  And . . . it's super convenient to know exactly what you're going to cook for dinner --AND that you have everything you need to cook it.

How about you?  Have you ever tried one of the meal delivery services?  Do you have any suggestions for avoiding food waste?

Because I want to keep my refrigerator looking like that. 

 

 

 

Comments

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AsKatKnits

Well done! We did a bit of that clean out of our fridge this weekend too. A bit... not quite as impressive as your task! You are inspiring.

Yes, we have considered a "meal service" but not one of them works well with food allergies (Steve is deathly allergic to mushrooms) So, we have passed at this point. But, they look so interesting!

Bonny

Your refrigerator is pristine! I read an article last year that said Americans throw away 40% of the food they purchase, and that was so appalling to me, I started to make a better effort. We've always eaten leftovers, and now with just two of us here, we probably do that at least two-three nights/week. John loves the "smorgasbord" aspect of eating a little of this and a little of that, and I like that I don't have to cook every night. Sometimes the leftovers are in their original form (ziti, meatloaf, etc.); sometimes I try to transform them into something different, like using leftover chicken for tortillas or making a frittata with whatever needs to be used up. Dinner tonight is reubens (with leftover corned beef), three bean salad (with string beans a bit past their prime), and tomatoes (because we always have tomatoes). Like you, I shop when I absolutely need to instead of on a schedule. I go through the refrigerator routinely and make soup or maybe roasted tomato sauce if I've got vegetables to use up. I do the same thing with my pantry shelves and donate things to the food pantry (like the 3 cans of tuna fish, artichoke hearts, and giant bottle of olive oil that I ended up with). I joined Costco this year but will not be renewing; I just can't use up the giant sizes they sell. It's been a big adjustment going from feeding 4 people to 2, but mainly buying less and making a real effort to use up what we have has made a difference here.

Jo

What a great concept--cook just as much as you will use. I have been trying to pare down the list of ingredients in my fridge and cupboards (unless it's something really special). Love that you share your processes/successes and failures--thanks!

Geri

Like you I shop several times during the week, buying for one or two meals in advance. This works well in the summer when we are back and forth to Maine and there are spontaneous dinners out. Come fall and winter I do get a bit annoyed at having to stop a the grocery store after being home working on a project or busy volunteering. I need to work on this!
Never tried a meal delivery system though my daughter loves Blue Apron. She gets it for the weekends when she has more time to prep.

Carole

I still do the weekly food shopping thing even though there are only 2 of us now because I work full time and running to the grocery store multiple times a week is just too time consuming. Plus, if I go more frequently I will spend more money! I do try to just buy what we need and I rely on my freezer a lot and leftovers are great for me to take for lunch - but I know we waste a lot of food as well. Those meal subscription services have always looked too expensive and too involved for me but it does sound like fun.

Patty

I've also considered Blue Apron but Doug is just too picky an eater so it's a no-go. I also still shop every week (and hate it hence the Grossery shopping term) but have found that we jut don't need that much. Time to reconsider that plan. I work in between two grocery stores...I really could just pick up what we need! Excellent job on that fridge Kym!

margene

You've written about many of the conclusions I've come to in regards to refrigerator waste and weekly shopping. We've decided to shop only on days we're eating at home. The waste is considerably less. Cheryl tried several meal delivery services and came to the same conclusion you did. Just too fussy and time consuming to be worth it. Your clean refrigerator is a work of art!

Vera

Your frig is shaming me! LOL. I have a ton of half-jars of this or that...or old salad dressings. I need to clean it out and really scrub it. We still shop weekly (together). But, I do TRY to plan out meals a bit. This week we bought no meat because we had plenty of meat in the freezer and other protein (meat-less) meals to make. I tend to make large meals even though it is just two of us, but then freeze some of the leftovers and the rest are used (usually) during the week for lunches. I am trying to cut down on what we buy because 1) we spend way too much money on food and 2) we do waste a lot.

Our son & his girlfriend did the Blue Apron thing for about a month or two and really, really liked the meals. They are both excellent cooks and enjoy cooking but in the end decided they could shop for everything on their own and make stuff for less money. They may go back to Blue Apron here and there for a month or two, but would not do it as an ongoing thing.

Juliann

I have fallen off my meal planning game but I want to revive it because it gave me dinner and a lunch and I take my own lunch to work 5 days a week. I also hate food waste and have worked very hard to keep it down. I have not tried a meal service but my daughter and son in law got a few after the baby was born and really liked it. Can't remember which services but they seemed pleased to be able to make some meals without having to go to the store. I actually enjoy the grocery store part almost as much as the cooking.

kmkat

I reached the same conclusion about Blue Apron. Excellent ingredients, perfectly proportioned, healthy... but such a lot of fussing for a single meal. It did get me interested in cooking again, though. Smokey has done most of the meal prep for the past couple-few years because I was so busy with various volunteer activities. He is mainly a short-order cook, though; lots of hamburgers and brats and spaghetti and mac&cheese, thus lots of fat and salt. We are pretty good at eating leftovers, although there are always one or two things fermenting in the back of the fridge.

Honore´

Here, Norman does mostly all the shopping - he enjoys going to the grocery store and would go everyday, were it left up to him...he also cooks most meals. I am a soup and salad person, basically so that makes meal fixin' easy. I dislike going to the grocery store but I do like a clean frig...
Thanks for the Blue Apron review...I may try a similar service just to see.
Cheers~

Chloe

This post has certainly produced a floodgate, Kym! Amen to all of the above. After literally years of empty nesting, I am letting go (at least partially) of the well-balanced gourmet meal and look for simple recipes with commonly stocked ingredients. It is hard though because I love eating a variety of foods and our good health into our seventies bears witness to the wisdom of a well-rounded meal (along with daily walks, etc.). But also now being in our seventies we find we need less food to feel full and as long as we have a robust salad every night we can tone down the rest of the fixin's. Of course fresh salads mean frequent shopping, chopping, peeling....it never ends, does it? Regarding food services: not for us, but we do have friends living in a semi-rural, grocery store-free area who love it.

Vicki

I have tried a few meal services and they're all a little bit different in terms of their "flavors," and how they package their items. I have cooked at least a few meals from each service I've tried and they are not ALL quite so "involved," but oh have I BEEN THERE! I also have to say that I generally make more of a mess in the kitchen whenever I cook something new, whether it's from a service or a cookbook (and I think sometimes the little packets and bottles from some of those service recipes add to the disarray & mess). Quite a few of the recipes I've received via a service are now in regular rotation, faithful stand-bys, or by-request favorites. Anyway, I almost always stop at the store on the way home from work these days. The only time I grab a "big cart" now is when I'm shopping for the holidays!

P.S. Plated is my hands-down favorite. I can send you a link for a free trial/free meals if you'd like to try it! I have a few invitations to share if anyone else is interested.

karen

I needed this inspiration! My fridge is out of control. I was doing really well for a few months - trying to cut back on waste and really trying to make sure everything fresh was used and leftovers were eaten. But work stress took over this summer and things became haphazard. On my to-do list for this weekend is to purge the fridge. A friend recently gifted me a week of Blue Apron. So far I made two of the three meals. Both were very easy to make and at least one provided dinner and enough for a lunch the next day. I like that you had just enough of the ingredients with no waste - so no buying a bottle of sesame oil when you only need a tablespoon and the rest goes rancid. I don't think I would subscribe as I don't like to come home after work and cook after a 12 hour day. I tend to cook two meals on the weekend that we can eat twice during the week. but I want to be more thoughtful about recipes that include an ingredient I may never use again. right now I have red thai curry paste in my fridge that I've only used once....

Valerie

Long time lurker, but I don't think I've commented. In a similar situation to you: empty nest...we are both "retired" ...which really just means that one or both of us is often here for lunch. And we have a cabin up north where we try to spend 1/4 of our time....Michigan!!

The thing that has saved me on food waste is an app called Paprika. Over time I have migrated just about every recipe I use...and then some...on to this app. In most cases, my favorite recipes are online somewhere and all you have to do is link it to the app and the recipe is in there.

Here are the things I love about it:
1. you can search your entire recipe library by ingredient. So when wondering what recipe needed Pomegranate Molasses, it is easy to find. (Just did that last night to use up a half packet of soba noodles in the cupboard)
2. you can create shopping lists...useful for when you need a shopping list. But also, when we are heading up to the cabin it also becomes a sort of food packing list.
3. your recipes are always on your phone.....so out running errands and something sounds good for dinner? Just pull it up on your phone and see what you need.
4. since I already mentioned the cabin....the recipes are on the phone, don't need wifi, and I can cook what I like with this app.
5. it's also possible to rate recipes, write notes or modifications, and it will multiply and reduce the ingredients if you want to change the number of servings.

Can you tell that I LOVE this app? There are occassional glitches in getting recipes onto it from the browser....but other than that, it makes my life so much simpler.
As far as left overs.....lunch. Someone is always here for lunch. Or cut that 4 serving recipe down to 2 or 3.
By the way, Pomegranate Molasses can be used to make a pretty good salad dressing if you don't feel like making that chicken recipe again ;D

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