Avoiding Last Minute Food Waste

I just returned from another successful visit home! Since we didn’t go home for the holidays, we planned a trip back this month. It was a great visit, but as always it’s good to be back in the swing of things.

With all this traveling, our bank account and our refrigerator have been seriously struggling – one is too empty and the other is too full.

So how can I make sure to not waste the food I’ve worked hard to pay for? Not to mention save myself the anguish of having to throw away food when there are others in my own city that are going hungry.

Welcome to Food Saving 101: for the unprepared beginner.

Too much, too late

I often find myself in this predicament, despite adequate planning: I have too much fresh food and only a day or two to deal with it.

Sometimes I just throw it all into a smoothie and hope it works out. But there are better ways to handle it!

Here are my tips to saving your food before vacation or if you just can’t seem to eat it fast enough. Please note that I am not a food-prep expert, so these tips are just what have worked for me.

Plan

This is the best way to avoid a last-minute excess. Sit down and plan out every single meal and snack for the five days leading up to your trip. Think of recipes that allow for variables: smoothies, salads and pasta dishes can usually knock out a few stray veggies.

You may alter your meal plan to include more dry or frozen items in the week leading up to a trip so that you don’t have to worry about spoilage.

I’ll even add some frozen pizzas onto the shopping list so that I can fall back on those if I end up not getting enough.

Prepare

One or two days before you leave, evaluate your food situation. Still too much? Then it’s time to get smart with how to save it.

Freeze it whole

When bananas are on their way out, I toss them whole into the freezer. Same goes for any leafy greens that I want later for smoothies. I also toss jalapenos and ginger whole into the freezer.

For easy meal prep when you return, chop up peppers, squash or zucchini. Or whatever you find yourself in need of chopping later on.

Get saucy

My kitchen looked like a science lab a couple weeks ago: things were bubbling, beeping and it all smelled really odd. That’s because I was making sauces.

I cut up all my leftover apples that wouldn’t survive the ten days we were gone and tossed them with some cinnamon and water into the crock pot. Boom, applesauce.

I threw some spices, cilantro, onions, tomatoes and jalapenos into the blender. Boom, salsa.

I mashed up some avocados with our last bit of sour cream (and some cilantro, lime juice and spices) and boom, guacamole.

I tossed all of these into tupperware (I used a ziplock bag for the guacamole) and then into the freezer. I was so happy to have this all prepared when I returned this week.

I have no set process for this, but I did pull everything that was going to spoil out of the fridge. I took some time to look it all over and to think about how I would really use it when I returned ten days later.

Also, learn from my mistakes: label your food. For some reason, the applesauce and the salsa kind of ended up looking the same, so I accidentally made some really funky applesauce beans and rice this week.

Cook it down

If you have a little extra time, roast your veggies before tossing them into the freezer. Future busy-you will thank you for it. Same goes for soups! Just take them out a day or so before you need them and they’re a great leftover meal option.

I also had a ton of extra cooked beans (I buy them dry), and they stood up well in the freezer too.

Moral of the story, the freezer is your friend.

Keeping it all clean

At the end of all this prep, I recommend that you give your fridge a good cleaning.

Get rid of expired things, leftovers and just generally anything that is or could get gross. I see it as doing yourself a favor because there’s something almost as bad as having to waste food: having to clean up moldy food.

I know this isn’t as typical as my other posts, but I got a lot out of this process and I think it will help me avoid food waste in the future. So I decided to share!

What are your best tips for avoiding food waste?

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Six Doors to a Simpler Life

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It helps you see where someone’s values are and what motivates them.

You can read my simple-living origin story here, but here’s a quick recap for new readers:

After I graduated college, I was drowning in 22 years worth of clutter. I was chronically stressed and depressed. I moved four times that year, and the final move nearly broke me. I remember carrying 50-gallon trashbags full of clothes that I never wore downstairs to the moving truck and holding back tears under the literal and figurative weight of it all.

So when I began my life in a new city, I started to get rid of anything I didn’t need (which was no small feat). It started with clothes and slowly expanded into my other possessions and other areas of my life. So basically, my origin story is based on stuff, and lots of it.

But that’s not the only entry point into minimalism, so if you’ve been struggling with the “stuff” part of it all, there might be another way to start simplifying. What’s most important is that you do what feels right!

Other fascinating origin stories

There are others who have shared their origin stories. Some are similar to mine and some are very, very different.

Courtney Carver started with her diet after a medical diagnosis, then proceeded to simplify the rest of her belongings and her lifestyle. Joshua Becker started with his stuff after spending more time than he wanted to cleaning out his garage. Joshua Fields Millburn wasn’t a minimalist until life-changing events sparked him to approach the emotional weight of the stuff around him. Ryan Nicodemus, alongside Joshua Fields Millburn, decided to switch his pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of an intentional, good life.

The six doors to a simpler life.

Photo credit: Andrew Beeston

The Six Doors to Simplifying

I’ll go into each in more depth below, but here are the six entry points into simplifying and minimalism that I’ve observed throughout the years:

  1. Clutter
  2. Money
  3. Diet
  4. Schedule
  5. Relationships
  6. Digital distractions

Let’s dive in!

Clutter

This one is the most evident, and is the most obvious place to start. You can identify this as a problem when you start running out of places to put stuff, find yourself cleaning too often, or spend an inordinate amount of time on finding the perfect storage solution.

Starting with clutter is a great way to get the ball rolling and you will soon see the effects of simplifying your stuff in your life. A clear space is a clear mind.

However, it’s not always a comfortable place for everyone to start based on emotional ties to stuff or time or health constraints.

Money

I think we’re all trying to simplify this with varying degrees of success. This category is hard. Unexpected things pop up that make this area of our lives difficult to control completely.

However, starting here will give you more time for other areas of your life (because time is money and money is time). It can be as drastic as you want – you can aim for early retirement like Mr. Money Mustache or you can just cut out most extraneous expenses and get debt-free a little sooner.

Diet

There’s a pattern here – most of these entry points deal heavily with emotion, and this one is no exception. Your food choices are highly personal and the are the most directly connected to your actual human life.

Food determines our energy levels, our immunity and our overall health. This is one area that you can actually add to instead of taking away from – start by adding in an extra serving of veggies or an apple snack to remind your body what these nutrients can do for you. This is the change that you can make right now, while the other changes will take a little more time.

Schedule

Even though this one seems so impossible, trust me: there’s always room. Simplifying anything in your life means that you have to learn to say “no” to things, and what better way to get practice in?

We’re bombarded by invitations, requests and meaningless to-do’s, so start small. What is one thing that you can say no to today? Saying no to things that don’t add value to your life means that you can say yes to more things like spending time with loved ones, going on walks and taking care of yourself.

Relationships

This one is difficult – are there relationships in your life that do not bring joy or value? Are you surrounding yourself with people who motivate you or are you surrounded by people who bring you down?

Breaking off romantic relationships and friendships is complicated, but sometimes both need to be done.But by saying “no” to certain relationships, your truly meaningful relationships will have the space they deserve to flourish.

Digital distractions

If you have an internet connection, you probably have this problem. Notifications, requests and updates are constantly pinging on our desktops and our phones. Even though it takes up little physical space, these distractions take up a massive amount of emotional and mental space.

This category includes social media, files like word documents and photographs, email, and our cloud-based calendars. Start by removing push notifications from your phone as much as possible, then explore each space individually after that.

How to find which one is right for you

Take a moment to think about where most of your stress lies.

If you’re stressed about being busy, then look into your schedule. If there’s too much buzz in your mind and on your phone, start with digital distractions. Always frustrated about the clutter on your desk? Start with stuff.

If you can’t think of it right away, observe yourself for a couple of days. When and where do your stress levels spike, and when are they the lowest?

They’re all connected

If you’re worried that you just have to choose one, fear not. Once you start simplifying and streamlining one part of your life, you’ll start to see how it can be applied to other areas.

I felt like it was no stretch to change my eating habits after my closet was manageable. I began to value my time more after those two changes, so I then switched my focus to my digital life – particularly cutting down on Facebook.

Whatever you choose, know that your path to simplifying is entirely your own. Read others’ stories and take what you feel is relevant to yourself from them. If you try to copy someone exactly, you’ll end up in an unsustainable, frustrating and ultimately, complicated lifestyle.

Where did you start simplifying, or where do you think you’ll focus next?

Simple, Real Eating

This post is not about how to use fewer pots or less ingredients. This post is not about fast, easy ways to feed a family on the go.

This post is about taking back real food and re-learning the joy of cooking. It’s about taking simple ingredients and turning them into something healthy and magical. Yes, magical.

I just finished devouring a bowl of stir fry made from all fresh vegetables over rice. Broccoli, green onions, cauliflower, cabbage, red pepper, carrots all lightly cooked with some cashews tossed in – sounds complicated, right? Not at all. It was as easy as throwing all of those ingredients into my wok.

Simple Stir Fry

How minimalism has affected my diet

Since I began simplifying my life a couple of years ago, my diet has changed too.

I used to eat simply in a different way: spaghetti and marinara sauce was my go-to meal for most meals. I was always tired, always grumpy. But then I started learning more and watching food documentaries.

It started with buying only organic mac and cheese and whole wheat pasta. Then I discovered organic canned vegetables and how simple those could be. I discovered organic soy milk and ate that with organic cereal.

Those cans and boxes were technically simple, but they weren’t the basics. As I’ve explored going back to basics in many aspects of my life, my food choices are following the same pattern. By basic food, I mean I choose the groceries with the fewest ingredients (want an easy tip? Fruits and veggies are only one ingredient).

I’ve been hanging out in the produce section a lot more and can regularly be seen carrying my shopping bags with giant greens sticking out of them.

My diet has become more complex, but it’s because I tend to eat whole, simple/basic foods in new and endless combinations.

But I don’t like vegetables

There are hundreds of excuses to not eat right: I don’t have the time, I don’t know how to cook, I don’t have the right kitchen supplies…

But if you fuel up with frozen foods and sugary processed snacks, how can you perform your best? Treating your body right isn’t difficult, and it makes a huge impact on your life.

And what’s the harm in trying to cook and eat more vegetables?

Vegetables

Rules for simple, real eating

I am not a specialist or a professional when it comes to food, so take my advice into your consideration and do your own research until you find the diet that’s best for you.

That being said, here are my rules for cooking, eating and general nutrition:

  • If it has a package or a coupon, it’s probably not the best option. This rules out a lot of the food in a typical American grocery store. Packages are covered in terms like “organic” and “gluten free” and “all natural” and “no added preservatives” to make you think they’re healthy. None of those terms mean healthy. Seek veggie alternatives to your usual snacks – carrots and snow peas dipped in hummus, trail mix or roasted chickpeas are some of my favorites.
  • Always cook for four. If it’s just for one or two people, don’t try to cook just a single meal. I try to cook at least four servings of everything because healthy leftovers are a cheap, healthy lunch for the next day and help me avoid impulse food buys. Sometimes I cook for six or even eight, but that gets a little hairy if it’s a new meal we may not like. Committing to gross leftovers is bad, but food waste is worse.
  • Get to know your produce department. Spend some more time getting to know what your grocery store has available. This helps you open your mind to new ingredients, and when you try new recipes you’ll know where everything is at. Another tip is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store – all the healthiest whole foods tend to be on the edges aside from spices, beans, rice and pasta. The aisles are filled with tempting packaged food.
  • Spices are your friend. When we moved, we left all of our spices with family members. So we’ve been building back up! I consider spices an investment since we’ll always have what we need on hand and it opens up a lot more recipes. I like to keep things simple, but I have a lot of spices and wouldn’t change that for the world. Don’t be tricked by prepackaged seasonings like those for tacos and guacamole – with the proper seasonings on hand, you can make them yourself and they’ll taste better and have no preservatives.
  • Get the proper supplies. This doesn’t have to be expensive. First, know your eating habits and what you can see yourself actually doing. Don’t get caught up by this post and buy a blender, only to realize later on that you’ll never use it. But I do recommend a blender. Broccoli, kale, pears, bananas, cucumber, celery, avocados, almonds…all have found their way into my blender for intense and delicious smoothies. I also recommend a wok (and/or a large stockpot) and a good knife or two. I rarely use anything other than my 8″ chef’s knife and the wok or stockpot are awesome for cooking large batches of veggie-heavy foods.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. Browse Pinterest, search for new recipes with your favorite veggies, explore new spices. Just don’t get caught in a bland routine. If you don’t want to spend time and money cooking a specific new dish, order it at a restaurant. If you like it, get all the necessary ingredients and try to recreate it. I’ve learned that it’s so much more fun to stay in and cook than it is to go out to restaurants, so once you’ve got it down there’s no need to go out for it again.
  • And finally, vegetables. Eat vegetables. I’ve come a long way from canned tomatoes and green beans, and it’s so fun to learn new ways to cook veggies I’ve eaten for years.

Some resources to get you going

I’ve been poring over food books and documentaries for a couple of years, but here are some of my favorites.

  • Anything by Michael Pollan. Food Rules is a short and sweet guide to eating right and isn’t preachy or filled with data. If you like data like I do, I loved In Defense of Food. His motto? “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  • Forks Over Knives is a documentary that focuses on how the standard American diet affects disease. If you’re anti-vegetarian, this film is not for you since it emphasizes a no meat, no dairy diet.
  • I saw Fed Up at the Traverse City Film Festival and realized how much sugar is in everything. This film calls out processed foods and the sugar industry’s impact on the obesity epidemic.

You don’t have to be a nutrition fanatic or a chef to know what to eat and how to make it. Eating right takes patience, practice and a bit of research but it’s worth it.

You’ll lose the cravings for processed foods and you’ll notice little things like healthy fingernails that let you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Of course, occasional pizza and mac and cheese won’t hurt – remember what Emerson says about moderation?

Moderation in all things, especially moderation.

What does a simple diet mean to you?

Simple Eating: Stocking the Pantry

Some of you likely know me, and many of you know how much my eating habits resemble that of my rabbits. While not an official vegetarian, I eat mostly greens, beans, and rice. It sounds humble, but I’ve really grown to love my diet.https://i0.wp.com/25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m81yf4JCjO1r9accbo1_500.gif

So, I thought I’d share some of my shopping habits with you all to see how our staples compare to each other’s. I need to go shopping right now, so it’s a little more sparse than usual, but this is a fairly decent representation of what I have on hand at all times. Having these staples not only provides me with a good way to manage my nutrition, but also allows me to always have a go-to meal when I need it. I also love that I start from scratch on most things – it allows me to express some degree of creativity while I’m simply making dinner. Let’s start with the pantry!

Simple Pantry

What I Stock Up On

Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice is that my pantry looks BARE. This is because much of my food is fruits and veggies! And cheese. Unfortunately, more cheese than one human being should ever consume in a lifetime. Anyways, here are my staples:

  • Rice. I have tons of rice on hand at all times – I’m developing a huge fondness for this grain. I think I might even like it more than pasta at this point, as it’s less refined and not too much harder to make.
  • Oats. I love oatmeal in the morning! My breakfast of choice: toss 1/2-3/4 cups of rolled oats (not instant) into a bowl with ground flax seed, a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, cinnamon, and honey into a bowl and cover it with 1-1 1/2 cups of boiling water. I let it sit while I get ready, and then it’s good to go!
  • Peanut Butter. Worth it for the above mentioned use and random snack cravings. I try to get bulk – I’d love to get organic, but that’s quite a bit more than I’m willing to spend right now.
  • Vinegar and Oil. I love my apple cider vinegar (put a tablespoon or two of it in warm water with some honey and ginger and you’ve got a delicious beneficial drink), and I also use it as a salad dressing. Mixing vinegar, oil, pepper, and garlic powder is an AMAZING way to spice up kale. Plain white vinegar, too, is an essential I always have on hand for cleaning my hair, rinsing dishes, cleaning carpet, and getting the rabbit cage smelling like new again.
  • And of course, beans. I can’t get enough beans. I make refried beans in the crock pot at least once a week and eat them up like it’s my job. I add them to rice all the time for an extra protein boost (since I don’t eat a lot of meat). In fact, while I’m writing this post, I’m gobbling up some black bean brownies since I had a sweet tooth that wasn’t going away.

What I Avoid When Filling My Pantry

Things you won’t usually find in my pantry? Pretty much, if it’s in a box or bag, I try to avoid it. I really should have at least a few of these ready-meals for when I’m in a rush, but I’ve tried to avoid overbooking myself lately, so I don’t find as many occasions for those. Here’s what I steer clear of:

  • Pasta. Oh my goodness, I never ever thought I would put pasta on this list. Lord almighty, how I love my mac and cheese, and ziti with robust red sauce, and fettuccine alfredo. Oh fettuccine. However, I went through a phase in college where I almost exclusively ate spaghetti with plain marinara sauce, and I was constantly sluggish and moody. I’ve realized that by cutting back on pasta and adding in more diversity, I’ve been better off. I will occasionally have pasta on these shelves but I compensate by making my own sauces from scratch instead of buying jars of anything pre-made. I just know that once the pasta ball gets rolling, it’s nearly unstoppable, so this is definitely a personal choice.
  • Instant anything. I avoid anything “Hamburger Helper”-like and anything with “Instant” in the name. This includes instant oats and instant rice – I think it comforts me to know that my food isn’t somehow modified to encourage me to be a busier person. Again, a personal choice, but I feel like there are benefits to slowing down and connecting with your food. Weird? Yes. Working for me? Absolutely!
  • Sugar. This is going to sound crazy, but I haven’t had regular sugar in my apartment for about 4 months. I don’t put it in coffee, rarely bake, and when I do, I use what’s left of my absurd confectioner’s sugar stash. I avoid baking because there’s only two of us in the apartment, and we have a tendency to pig out on anything out of the ordinary in our sight. Hence why that third slice of black bean brownie is starting to look really good, and my fiance isn’t even here to stop me.

What are your staples, and what do you shy away from? Do you agree with my lists? Have at it in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Shop ’til you Drop

Freedigitalphotos.netI heard the most unsettling statistic shared by a radio DJ a while ago, and I thought I’d share what she had to say about it:

We burn, on average, 15,000 calories a year shopping. In fact, the heavier bags we carry, the more we burn! It looks like it’s not that I’m eating too much, it’s that I’m not shopping enough.

She laughed as she shared this. At what point is this not funny anymore? Will you choose to be like the DJ and continue to shop and eat more and more, hoping to see yourself skinnier? How can we be happy if we justify one gluttony with another?

In a country where average credit card debt lies over $15,000 per household, and the average person is 23 pounds overweight, I don’t see anything comical about this statement.

There are a couple questions to ask yourself that stem directly from this:

  • Do I shop only when necessary, or do I purchase to fill time or to amuse myself?
  • Do I justify things that I know are wrong with others that are hardly any better?