Recently, I shared my goal for my family to focus on easy changes in our home to be more eco-friendly. While we will continue to make behavioral changes to include those things in our every day life, one area I’ve really been wanting to focus my efforts is food waste.
Originally, this idea started as a self serving one. I’m constantly looking at our spending (unless I’m consciously ignoring it, like I did all December, LOL) and looking for ways to cut back. My family’s food budget is astronomical, or at least I think so, and I’ve never been able to find a way to reduce it. We spend roughly $800 on groceries for a family of 4 each month. We also spend roughly $500 dining out or ordering take out. It drives me so crazy that we spend so much on food, and it drives me even crazier when a meal plan falls through or the leftovers don’t get eaten and I end up throwing that food away.
My Approach to Food & Grocery Shopping
Our approach to food and nutrition is whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. I firmly believe in the 80/20 rule for everything in life. 80% of the time we eat like this, and about 20% of the time we eat junk. #balance But, all of these convictions get tricky when the rubber meats the road. Dragging kids to the grocery store, long exhausting days that leave you with no energy to prepare a meal, night time extra curriculars, all the dishes…these real life things can make it hard to eat the way I want to all the time. Then add in picky kids, and it’s easy to throw up the white flag.
In a perfect world, we would eat organic, local and seasonal produce year round- including some we’d grow ourselves. We would buy meat directly from the farmer or butcher and know exactly how it is raised. Any other pantry staples would be organically sourced and be bought in bulk in our reusable containers. Processed things like tortillas and crackers would be made from scratch (You guys, I really did this before we had kids. Gah, to have that kind of time again!!!) and all of our meals would be cooked at home using whole food ingredients. Are you exhausted reading that, because I am.
In reality, what happens is I buy the bulk of our produce at Costco, because my kids would eat a flat of berries in one sitting if you let them. Actually, I buy the bulk of everything at Costco. They have a pretty extensive organic food section, which is great for the things we go through quickly like milk, eggs and, of course, fruit. However, I question how sustainable it is to buy these foods there knowing how far it must have traveled and how much packaging everything comes in. But, I also have a budget, and that usually has the final say.
The rest of our grocery shopping has been done at Trader Joe’s and anything we couldn’t get there was picked up at a “regular” grocery store. But, I have been shopping at Trader Joe’s more infrequently. For one, it’s not conveniently located for me and I’m rarely on that side of town. For another, a lot of the “specialty” things I once bought there have become more main stream and are available at other places. I’m actually in between grocery stores, which is the lamest, most adult thing I’ve ever said in my life. But, if you’re still reading this, you can probably identify with this dilemma!
Cooking happens I’d say an average of 3-4 nights a week. It can definitely skew higher or lower depending on my mood and events that are happening. It’s definitely not every night! But, I do think that this is one thing we are doing well. When I am actually cooking, it’s quality meals with quality ingredients. It takes up a good amount of time and stresses me out, but it’s important to me.
As far as nutrition, my current focus is on counting macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein). We have done Paleo, Whole 30, zero processed foods and dairy free diets in the past. I don’t like to think of the word diet in terms of losing weight, but in terms of the things we are eating. My diet consists of eating foods that contain macronutrients in a balanced way because this limits my processed sugar, encourages more whole foods and I feel better overall when I eat this way. While losing weight is a nice side effect, I am very conscious that I have two children watching how I eat and I never make weight loss my focus. While I do measure my foods for calculating purposes, I also make an effort to not make how much food anyone in our family is eating. They also see me enjoying plenty of treats and junk, so I think my balanced approach is working!
Feeding the Kids
There are a lot of “extras” in our cart as well. I think of them as extras because AJ and I don’t eat them. I’m talking about all the crap I have to buy for the kids to keep the peace. Back before I had kids and I was a perfect parent, I was never going to make my kids a special meal. Then, I didn’t sleep for 4 years straight and I said eff it and melted cheese on the carb of their choice (they tend to cycle between macaroni, tortilla and bread) to make the crying stop. And, of course, there is all the prepackaged snacks crap that I hate. I do buy it sparingly, or try to buy the “healthy” alternative. It’s a hard line to walk between limiting their junk food and creating an unhealthy food relationship. Moderation is not a language my kids speak.
Why Food Waste?
So now that you know our food values, how our family eats, and how I shop for food, let’s talk about the flaws in our system. Hands down, the biggest issue is waste.
The waste comes from unused ingredients because I was too tired to cook or didn’t get the crockpot set up in time. It comes from ambitiously buying broccoli, for example, in bulk at Costco because I didn’t have it in me to make one more stop with two cranky kids or because it was cheaper (But is it really worth the cost savings if we don’t even use it? I always wonder if its better to just buy what we need, even if it isn’t cost effective. This is so hard!!) It comes from the kids not finishing their plates, even though they said they wanted it. It comes from cooking a new meal when we probably should have just eaten the leftovers.
This has been a big issue that I have been avoiding for a long time. I have been continually frustrated with how much money we are spending on food, but I haven’t had the energy to do anything about it. It’s a hard pace to maintain to be constantly planning and prepping. I can usually do it for about 6 weeks at a time and then I rebel against my own system and we fall back into eating out and being lax on cooking. I think this is because meal prep and planning is a constant source of stress for me. Thinking of what to cook is especially draining, then add in making sure it fits our nutritional goals and the actual execution of it all.
It usually ends up with me in a fit about how I carry the mental load of the family because I’m the only one that meal plans, preps and cooks. It’s a lot of work, and it’s made even harder by kids who complain about what you’re serving or throwing away uneaten leftovers.
At first I was thinking food waste and meal planning was too fluffy of a topic to tackle. Mostly, I was just looking for an excuse get out of it because it (ridiculously) is such a contentious point for me. But, the more research I did, the more I realized I can’t ignore it anymore. If Food Waste were a country, it would be the third biggest contributor of green house emissions, behind China and the U.S. It accounts for 6% of total emissions and agriculture accounts for for 20%. That was absolutely bananas to me and solidified that this is a valiant place to begin this green journey.
So, below I’m sharing my goals, in no particular order, to reduce my family’s food waste. I’m sharing them with you to hold myself accountable, but to also give you some ideas of where you can start.
My Goals for Reducing Food Waste and Trimming Our Budget
- Group similar ingredients in my weekly meal plan. So many things I make require small amounts of a certain ingredient. I’ll use 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese in something, then the rest doesn’t get used, it gets pushed to the back of the fridge until I finally reach for it again and it has a nice layer of mold growing on it. Sound familiar? By planning meals that will use the entire contents of an ingredient within a week or two will reduce the cost of what I’m spending on that ingredient, as well as cut back on wasting the energy spent to create, package and ship that ingredient.
- Make a compost bin. AJ has been talking about this for a while, but it seemed like one more thing to manage and I just have not had the patience to even think about it. But, throwing away wilted lettuce or a moldy orange for the millionth time got me on board. I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to do this, or what we will do with the finished product, but it feels better than just dumping it in the trash.
- Sharing my meal plans with you all. So many of you have mentioned that you want to see how we feed our families. I am by no means an expert. In terms of “green” eating, we are no where near perfect, but I think this is another one of those things that snowballs and gets easier once you flex the muscle. Plus, sharing will also keep me accountable!
- Back to basics. I get really bored eating the same things over and over. But, I also think this is what’s contributing to my burn out. Instead of having exotic, complicated menus, they are going to look very similar. Not only will this help with nutritional goals (it will be so much easier to enter into My Fitness Pal and there will be so much less macro calculating!), but it will reduce that amount of rare ingredients I’m buying and remove a lot of the struggle out of meal planning.
I know that was a long, rambling post that touched on a lot of different themes, and if you lasted through all of that, thank you. Food is a complicated topic. Everything from how it’s sourced, how you shop, how you feed your children or your views on nutrition can be subjective, complicated and incite an emotional debate. My intention is to share what my family is doing, not to be an expert telling you what yours should be doing.
For me, all of these eco-friendly behaviors are about being more intentional and leading a slower life. This is my small start to leading a life that is more about conscious choices that benefit not only my family, but the environment and one less about convenience to save me time to do things I probably don’t really even want to do in the first place. I feel like this is how our society has programmed us to think, and I want to lead a better example for my kids.
I will be sharing my meal plans, wins and losses on Instagram stories, so make sure you’re following along there if you want to keep up! And if you have any tips to avoiding food waste and/or making meal planning easier, I’d love to hear it!