Crunchy Chicken has a new Food Waste Reduction Challenge up on her blog, and it inspired me to get my blog out of the dustbin of my mind and into the blogosphere, whatever that means. The challenge starts today and runs for the month of February. It struck a chord with me, because we have made a lot of changes over the last year about grocery shopping, meal preparation, and food storage, but I feel like last year was a learning year.
I've gotten pretty good at not wasting food, but we are still spending too much on groceries. We started a new household budgeting system last month, and found that, even though I think I'm being frugal, I still had blown through all but $4 of the money budgeted for household expenses before the last week started (in our defense, we did have a birthday in there). Time for tough love. No money for household expenses (food, clothing, etc) for a week. Here's how it went down:
I went through our substantial food stores to find out what most urgently needed to be eaten. I actually keep a chronological list of what goes in the chest freezer and our dry storage, but there always seems to be too much in the fridge to even worry about anything else. True to form, there was a big old 5-lb block of organic cheddar cheese, bought because the bigger size was such a better deal, that was about to expire. We also had a jar-and-a-half of peanut butter that was about to expire (that stuff can turn rancid, so I try to pay attention to dates), and a kabocha squash still in storage from the summer CSA (winter squash can be good keepers, but acorns and kabochas don't keep as long as delicatas or butternuts). I also had leftover fresh salsa, a package of whole wheat tortillas, cilantro, leftover black bean soup, and leftover mashed potatoes. So I planned meals around these.
Day 1: baked chicken chimichangas, mexican rice (with chicken from the freezer)
Day 2: leftover chimichangas, rice, and black bean soup
Day 3: Southern style mac and cheese, steamed broccoli - I think Southern style is code for really, really, fattening, but it was really, really good. I made it because it was dance day for my girls, and I don't have time or energy to cook anything after spending hours at the dance school. This was made in the Crock Pot. I made a double batch in my 5 qt Crock Pot, and really made a dent in that cheese. I actually bought the broccoli, along with milk and canned tuna. My eldest requested broccoli, which shows you that our veggie consumption has been a bit sub-par since the CSA ended. I also bought the tuna for her, because that's pretty much what she wants to pack for lunches - the rest of us eat leftovers for lunch. Milk we can't live without for a week, or at least my youngest can't.
Day 4: Salmon and potato cakes with honey mustard sauce, steamed broccoli - with canned salmon from the pantry, and those leftover mashed potatoes. These were so yummy!
Day 5: Ground beef quesadillas, leftover mexican rice, frozen peas - we bought 1/2 a grass-fed organic steer from a local rancher last summer, so we have lots of yummy beef in the freezer. However, after this meal, and after eating leftover mac and cheese for our lunches, some of us, including me, were beginning to feel cheesed out. Tummy not digesting all that cheese so well. Then I suddenly remembered something I had read in a magazine and then forgotten - you can freeze cheese! We were off the hook, at least temporarily. I grated up the rest of the cheese and put it in 5 quart size ziplock bags (used and washed ones, cuz that's how we roll) and tossed them in the freezer.
Day 6: Linguine with chicken and peanut sauce, frozen peas - luckily I had some fresh garlic in the garlic-keeper and some fresh ginger that I had stashed in the freezer
Day 7: Kabocha squash roasted with cumin salt, Brazilian cornbread, grilled steak, black beans and rice. And blackberry pie - We have a tradition of a big meal on Sundays, enough for lots of leftovers. I also try to make dessert that one day of the week. The cornbread was to use up some corn flour I bought when cooking for some friends with food allergies, but was not just taking up freezer space.
So, we ate pretty darn well (other than cheese overload), it just took some extra planning. Of course, if I didn't already have a stocked larder, it would have been a different story. The fridge is pretty darn empty now, but I am going grocery shopping today. I did use the same process in meal planning for this week (what do we have that needs to be eaten, how can I use it) but now I am allowing myself to buy some things to go with it. How to eat within our budget while still maintaining substantial food storage (for emergencies, and so that I can stock up when things are on sale) is what I will be focusing on for the next few months, I am sure.