Perhaps the greatest joy of summer are the long, wild weekends spent exploring, connecting with friends, disconnecting from the daily tangle of the interwebs, celebrating birthdays and weddings, and visiting with my ever-growing (taller) and every-expanding (#5 arriving in September!) pack of nieces and nephews.
Sure, we come home each Sunday night with clothes covered in dust and reeking of campfire. And somehow miscellaneous sticky substances always end up caught in Bodhi's fur. And lord knows the transition back to work on Monday morning isn’t always easy.
But the hardest thing about these weekends away is that we tend to waste food. Sometimes a lot of it.
All seasons require transitions: from what we wear to what we eat to the time of our pup’s sunset walk. While I’ve gotten much more accustomed to enjoying seasonal food, I struggle with the requirement of the summer season: having just enough in our fridge to last the 4 or so days between our adventures.
I've tried to pack up the whole fridge's contents into our cooler if we’re driving and have learned a number of lessons (mostly involving smashed, spoiled, or "freezer burned" produce from packing, moving, and direct contact with melting ice:).
I felt a twinge of guilt when we returned home from our first long trip in May and had to remove a bunch of produce from our stinky fridge. But then I'd shrug my shoulders and reassure myself, It's ok, we will do better next time. At least we compost!
But this stinky fridge/food waste has happened now several times. It seems to a habit we (and by we, I mean I) struggle with breaking: buying too much yummy food and the leaving it to go bad.
If it's a priority, you can make the time.
I learned from my wise little sister a trick that has had a profound impact on me: don't ever say "I'm too busy." We all have the same amount of time each day and the truth is that the things that are most important to us somehow always get done. So instead of giving the excuse "I'm too busy" try out stating this more honest reason something didn't get done, "It's not a priority."
If that feels fine to say, then voila! You can cut out that commitment/habit/obligation/activity without guilt. Such sweet clarity!
However, if that feels icky, this act of saying that something isn’t a priority, then you know you need to make a change.
The truth is that not being wasteful is a priority for me. A very big one.
I can't even get out the phrase "Not wasting food isn't a priority for me" without my palms getting sweaty and my anxiety spiking as I picture tossing out my local farmer's precious tended to crops (and wasting all the energy used to grow, transport, purchase, clean, and store it).
So it's clear what has to happen: I have to stop wasting food asap. I'm a few weeks into my waste-free experiment and I wanted to share what has worked for me so far.
My 4 tricks for a (food) waste-free summer:
1) Meal plan.
As with most things in life, having a plan reduces all kinds of waste. If we know we're home for only 4-5 days, Cam and I now plan out and shop for 3 dinners as well as basics for breakfast and lunch. We find that three meals can often leave us with leftover ingredients or meal leftovers, both of which make excellent lunches or dinners for that week. For breakfast Cam and I each always have the same thing—omelette for him, green smoothie for me—and we know exactly what 4-5 days of each require ingredient wise. Precisely that (plus a bag of salty snacks and a sweet desert) is now all that ends up on our list.
2) Get creative/be flexible.
Many artists will tell you that working with a restricted palette helps to expand their creativity. The same rule holds true for cooking with a limited amount of ingredients—you'd be surprised how much fun and how delicious experimental meals can be! Yes, you might end up eating goofy combos (asian stir fry and quesadillas anyone?) or having breakfast for dinner, but some rules were simply meant to be broken.
3) Find adaptable recipes.
Some types dishes are simply more forgiving than others. Think of the thousands of ways you can eat pasta or breadth of items that can be savored in a salad—these types of meals are your best friend the night before you head out of town. Personally, I find that a base of quinoa with some salad greens goes well with just about anything that might be lurking in my produce drawers: fried eggs, teriyaki tofu, roasted or fermented veggies, all kinds of fruit. You can't go wrong.
4) Keep a few crucial staples on hand...
There are a few items with longer shelf lives that I always keep around: garlic and onion, a grain or two (rice, quinoa, pasta), a few cans of tomatoes, and dried or canned beans. A very simple meal couple be made out of just these items and the very dredges of your fridge.
5)... And a frozen meal for when times get desperate.
We also always keep a couple of Amy's frozen meals or burritos in the freezer. These guys come can be lifesavers when we're busy packing or arrive home late and have an empty fridge (success!).