June 19, 2009

Food Waste Friday: A bad week

A really terrible week!

This is the worst we've done since I've started paying attention to food waste. And I have to say being vigilant about this is really hard. It's also hard to walk that tightrope between having healthy food on hand and throwing stuff out.

Really, I can explain all of this. Maybe it will make me feel better. It was mostly a result of cooking too much food.

The 50s era round orange Tupperware (my favorite, inherited from my mother-in-law) contains the last bits of a whole chicken I made in the crockpot. I've NEVER made an entire chicken in my life, and I was looking forward to all the leftovers we'd have to use up. So we ate chicken, and chicken burritos, and chicken quesadillas, and chicken sandwiches... And there was still more chicken left! We couldn't finish it, and after four or five days we didn't want anymore. Plus it might not have been safe to eat at that point. The small container on top of the chicken is the chicken juice.

Then there's the other large container, which is the rest of the rice pudding I made in the crockpot. Do you see a pattern emerging? Cooking a crockpot full of food might be too much for a family of two, unless you freeze some of it right away. And I don't know if you can freeze rice pudding. It didn't come out very well, it was very mushy. My husband is a champ and still ate all but 1 or 2 servings. Plus I know what I'd do differently next time, so then I'd eat it too. Have I mentioned how much better my husband is about eating less-than-appetizing food than I am?

The goat cheese went bad very quickly this time. We almost never have a problem using up any type of cheese. And those flowerlike things are squash flowers that came with our CSA and I didn't know what to do with them. I had left them out and they were supposed to be refrigerated right away.

I did do one thing right: I didn't like the homemade yogurt I made, so instead of throwing it away I gave it to our neighbor. He ate it and said it was fine, so I guess I'm just picky about my yogurt. I might try it one more time, but I have to realize that it took me all this time to actually find a plain yogurt I love, so I might not end up loving what I make at home.

Overall, the main problem this week was TOO MUCH FOOD. I've found that the best way to avoid waste is to have less food. And there's almost no danger of not having anything to eat if you keep the freezer and pantry stocked. The lesson I learned was that when I'm cooking in bulk, I have to have a plan for how it will all be used. Because even though we like leftovers, even we can't eat them more than 4 or 5 times.

Which brings me to my promised research on the NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF LEFTOVERS. The long and short of it is this: the biggest problem with food losing its nutrients is in cooking the food in the first place. It loses roughly half of the vitamins and minerals and other things our body needs when it's cooked in any fashion. This is why the raw food diet movement is taking off. It really is good for your body. I don't know too much about it, and anyway that would be another whole post.

The point is that it's cooking food that causes it to lose its nutrients, not letting it sit in the fridge. It loses another 10% or so of its nutrients every time you reheat it though, so when my husband and I reheat something, we'll try to do it one serving at a time, which we usually do. Because theoretically, if you cooked something and then reheated it several times, it could lose all its nutritional value at some point.

This article shows a detailed chart of the nutritional effects on food of cooking, drying, reheating, and other kinds of processing. Check it out, it has a lot of good information. Also, please note that I'm talking about the nutritional value of leftovers, not its safety. You should follow public health standards, and if you're not sure about something, toss it. In general, don't eat food that has been sitting out and don't eat food after more than 4 days in the refrigerator.

Please leave your thoughts and questions about food waste and leftovers in the Comments section.


Michele said...

I have a cookbook that specializes in crockpot cooking for two, so maybe you could do an internet search for some smaller recipies.

RE: The Chicken. Chicken freezes very well, so don't be afraid to cook another whole bird. Just remove it from the bone (easier when warm) and put it into single meal portions to freeze. I do this ALL the time.
I do this with other meats, too, so whenever I need a quick meal I have plenty to choose from.

Ellen said...

another idea for the chicken juice is to use it to make a flavorful stock, then freeze the stock in ice cube trays. Once the trays have frozen, put the cubes in another container, and you'll always be able to add just the amount you need to whatever you're making.

I always have problems with too much leftovers, as I'm cooking for ONE. I have just learned to freeze a large portion of whatever I make right off the top.

WilliamB said...

Oh, man. I both feel for you and wince a bit at the lost opportunity.

I feel for you because last week was my terrible week. See www.thefrugalgirl.com for details. My advice is, don't do a big shopping the day before you get sick for two weeks.

The wince is that some of what went bad would have been easy to save. My suggestion for next time is, don't hope you'll eat that chicken, really. Instead, after a few days strip the meat from the bones - it takes about 5 minutes if you don't mind getting your hands messy, longer if you use tools. Then freeze the boneless chicken. You can put it on salads, into soup, into beans, make chicken salad. And a hundred other things but I they're more work and I don't have the impression that would work for you.

Same thing for the chicken juice. Unless there's something unusual about it - is it really salty? - freeze it (or simmer it down and freeze it, to save freezer space) and use it in place of chicken stock.

Don't forget to label!

Squash flowers are most commonly breaded and fried, or stuffed. IOW, cooking wi9th them takes effort. Pretend your CSA gave you a bouquet that you enjoyed then tossed.

Jinger said...

We cleaned out our fridge for supper tonight, making pasta salad from some leftover noodles I had frozen,mixed with diced carrots, pecans, cherry tomatoes from my tomato plant, and parmesan cheese with a pesto/mayo dressing. I did have to compost a bag of baby greens that turned to mush, but now the fridge is empty awaiting grocery shopping tomorrow. I try to buy just what we need to avoid waste.

Alea said...

Great effort! It takes us 3 dinners plus a lunch or two to finish a whole chicken and we are a family of 5. I think we tend to eat smaller meat portions than average, so other families might be able to consume a chicken faster.

Thanks for the research and link. I try to only reheat the portion that we are going to consume rather than all of the leftovers. Plus we eat lots of fresh, raw vegetables and fruits each day, so hopefully that offsets what is lost when cooking the other items.

mrs green said...

What a great post. It really sucks when you have a bad food week, but it forces us to reflect on why and you've come up with some really insightful stuff about yourself.

Some food just tends to grow - like cooked chicken LOL! Fortunately we have a cat who helps out, but I always have good intentions to use the chicken stock and never get around to it. It seems to make a really greasy, oily gravy which is vile.

I'm really interested in the link you posted; Mr Green goes high raw throughout the summer, so I'll be having a good read of this. This week I've been 'recycling my water' LOL! Nah, don't worry - when I cook greens, such as broccoli, I've been draining off the water and using that to cook rice or lentils in - so hopefully some of the nutrients comes back to me...

Have a great week and thanks for a fab post.

Julie said...

that picture brought back memories for me, as my mom has a very similar Tupperware (like the orange one) in her kitchen.
We are also a small family (2 adults and 1 kid who lives mostly on boxed mac and cheese, sigh {at least it's the healthy kind of boxed}) so I often have too much food when I use the crock pot. So I only make freezable stuff.
Keep trying! You're doing better than 99% of Americans!

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

Mrs. Green, I often water my plants with the water leftover from cooking broccoli and beans and such. Well, after I let it cool of, that is!

Angela, thanks for the info on nutrition and leftovers. We tend to eat the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables in their raw form, so that's good. Usually the leftovers that get reheated are things like chicken. Although, in the summertime we eat a lot of cold meals which don't need to be reheated.

stephanie said...

hey ang,
if you get squash blossoms, again - one of my favorite things to see on a restaurant menu is fried squash blossoms, often stuffed with....duhn Duhn DUHN : GOAT CHEESE!!
they are always very lightly fried and really delicious!

Angela said...

Michele- yes, I think I'll be making half recipes, at the least. we have two favorites that we always end up eating, so I guess I was overly optimistic. And yes, I definitely should have frozen some right away, I just didn't think it was too much to eat in 4 days.

Ellen- I should have used the chicken to make a stock, but it actually was kind of greasy, so I didn't really want to.

William and Stephanie- Honestly, I don't understand those squash flowers at all. Maybe if I'd seen them stuffed at a restaurant, I could visualize it. But the things I got were just like small flowers, and I couldn't picture stuffing them. I like the idea of enjoying them as a bouquet and then tossing them. But next time I'll know...

Jinger- your pasta sounds yummy, and that's a great way to avoid waste. Yes, the best advice is to buy only enough food to eat. That's where I went wrong this week.

Alea- yes, I think all the fresh non-cooked items will balance the cooking, at least that's the way I figure it. Sure, it might be healthier to eat raw, but I'm not ready to make the lifestyle change that would involve (especially eating out, going to people's homes, etc.) But if we eat at least 2/3 of our meals "raw"- breakfast of cereals and toast and fruit and yogurt, and lunches of salads and sandwiches, and even a few cold dinners, then I feel like we're doing pretty well. Especially because we eat a lot of produce.

Mrs. Green- Thanks for the compliment. I do feel like I'm learning a lot and have been quite unconscious about how much food we waste before this year. And I'm very interested in that link to the chart about what methods of cooking do to the nutritional value of food- I hope you enjoy it.

Julie- thanks! and yes, that orange tupperware is my favorite and always elicits nostalgic sighs when I bring it in to work with cookies or something I've baked.

Kristen- yes, I have a feeling we're healthier in the summer because of all the fresh fruit and eating a lot of food cold. I think it's a good chart, and I was relieved to find that eating leftovers doesn't remove ALL of the nutrients. My Buddhist friend doesn't believe in it, but I think it's a best-case-scenario thing, and that's just not realistic for me. I can't avoid leftovers entirely, and don't want to throw them out.

Thanks everyone for your comments and participation in the ongoing discussion!