So last month I did a grocery shopping challenge, tracking every cent I spent, and breaking it down into different categories, and seeing how much we were spending in each area. After that, I challenged myself to do the same this month, only this time, to try to lower our bill by about 100 dollars, to get it down to $340 dollars from last month's $433.
Only... this month of keeping track started on the 17th, its only 10 days into the 30 day month, and we already spent nearly 275 dollars, bringing me way too close for comfort to that $340 goal, and making me concerned that we'll be spending more than last month's $433... I mean, this is partially because we stocked up on meat and chicken we found on sale, and bought a ton of produce, that should last us at least another week, if not more.... But still, it's more than I wanted to have spent only 1/3 of the way into the month.
Mike and I decided to do as little shopping as humanly possible for the next while. To just live off what is in our pantry and freezer and fridge. And while that is totally doable when it comes to carbs and proteins (we are very well stocked there), with produce, it's just that much more of a challenge... Because how long can we stretch a fridge worth of produce anyhow?
One of the things that I noticed tends to cause us to spend more on produce than necessary is that, despite my trying to not waste any food, to try to use up things before they go bad, I do tend to throw out too much produce. This tends to be cucumbers and tomatoes and greens most often- as they have a tendency to spoil quickly, but it's not only that. I often discover shriveled up and neglected produce at the back of my fridge that is so far gone that it is unusable... And sometimes it's some leftover veggie dish that is prepared (either salad or a cooked side dish).
And on top of that, despite my having written before about cooking with veggie scraps, I don't often actually do so. Pure laziness, pretty much. (Though not always. When I buy reduced rack veggies, sometimes the scraps like peels, etc... come already nasty- like brown/black and maybe moldy, or just ucky looking parts that I cut off. I will not reuse those scraps.) And when you don't use the scraps, you end up throwing out a lot of usable food.
So to try to keep my grocery bills down this month, and to avoid shopping as much as physically possible, I am going super duper frugal and smart with my veggies, trying to avoid waste as much as humanly possible.
The first thing I did was save every single veggie scrap that I got, from onion ends and peels to zucchini tips and carrot peels and pumpkin peels and cabbage cores. I don't save cucumber scraps, because I find they tend to taste bitter and icky when cooked... I also saved all my fruit scraps, other than citrus peels (which I should be collecting, for citrus peel vinegar... now that I remind myself) which I will write about in a separate post. Froze the veggie scraps and fruit scraps in separate containers in the freezer, and kept on adding to the container as I accumulated more and more scraps. (Ok- truth here- I actually kept the produce scraps in little plastic bags in the freezer, not actually containers. I know this isn't the healthiest, but it is most space efficient, and right now, my freezers are fortunately so filled with meat that I need to make sure not to take up any more room than necessary in there.)
Oh- one more note- because I knew I'd be saving the scraps, before peeling the veggies, etc... I scrubbed them well with a sponge, so the peels would be clean.
Additionally, I took cucumbers and made a bunch into vinegar pickles, which extends their life far beyond their usual, and didn't buy so many cucumbers to begin with. When I saw greens and tomatoes were nearing spoilage, I popped them in the freezer for later use.
We went on a trip and I brought along carrot sticks to munch on. Most of them were eaten, but the next day, I discovered a bag of carrot sticks that had been left out overnight. That, too, went in the freezer. And when a kid didn't finish all the chicken on his plate, that, too, went in the freezer.
I also saved all chicken bones that were left over after the family ate roasted chicken, as well as keeping the juices that dripped down into the roasting pan. Froze those as well. (Separately.)
Tonight, with all my zero waste, I made chicken veggie soup that was practically free.
First, I took the bags of veggie scraps and chicken bones from the freezer and piled them into my crockpot...
...and then filled it to the top with water, and a lot of salt.
I cooked it on low for many hours, and then strained it, and separated the broth for soup. Because the crock pot was filled to the brim with scraps, the broth was very concentrated.
I wasn't done with those scraps- I poured them back into the crock pot with more water and salt to cook for many more hours. This will make a less strongly flavored broth, but still good.
I watered down my broth, then added the frozen carrot sticks and frozen tomatoes to it, as well as an onion and the few small bits of leftover chicken I had in my freezer. I found about a third cup of cooked chickpeas in my fridge that would probably be spoiled tomorrow if I didn't do something with them now, and added them in.
To give it a little extra oomph, I added some of the chicken drippings I had in my freezer.
Voila- practically free soup. Tastes yummy! The only non salvaged items in that soup was salt, water, and an onion...
To prevent food waste in other areas- whenever I see that I have some leftovers that aren't getting eaten (maybe because the family isn't too thrilled with how it tastes, or for whatever other reason), I freeze it to repurpose later. A bean dish, for example, can be added in small amounts, to minestrone soup- tomato based veggie soup with or without added legumes. Minestrone soup is actually my answer to leftover stuff in general- add enough tomato paste and Italian spices, and you can get away with adding most leftovers to such a soup...
Here's to hoping we can last at least a week or more without stepping foot into the grocery store!
What do you do to eliminate food waste in your home? What do you do with veggie scraps? What's the longest you've gone without grocery shopping? Any tricks you learned as to how to manage best?