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No Meal Left Behind

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Childview's Homefront columnist offers creative ways to stop ditching leftovers


I called it—not very creatively—leftover pizza.

The dough was from the freezer, rolled up into a ball from a previous pizza night. I remembered it was there, lurking behind bags of frozen veggies and bananas condemned to my freezer’s frigid wasteland. The sauce was left over from spaghetti. The topping was shaved roast beef from two nights before. Yes, the cheese that topped my creation was making its premiere appearance, but the meal still felt like a victory in my war against wasting leftovers.

Ironically, it was the small compost bin tucked in a kitchen cupboard that had contributed to my lethargy about using leftovers. If I scraped scraps into that stinky, sticky container, I felt I was doing my bit. It’s not really throwing food out if you compost it, is it?

It is better than the landfi ll, acknowledges Cinda Chavich, Victoria-based food and travel writer and author of The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook: Save Food, Save Money, and Save the Planet (TouchWood Editions, 2015).

But it’s still not good enough.

Individual Canadians are responsible for wasting approximately $14.6 billion worth of food every year, about 47 per cent of the total wastage of $31 billion in Canada alone. A 2014 report from consulting firm Value Chain Management International says that the food waste by individuals is mostly items that Canadians buy thinking they will use but don’t, so off it goes into the garbage or the green bin.

Guilty as charged.

Another just-released report from Cornell University found that the top reasons for food waste in lower- to middle-class homes include buying too much, preparing in abundance, unwillingness to consume leftovers and improper food storage.

We have solutions. And it could change what you serve for dinner tonight!

Pretend you are on a cooking show. You know that suspenseful TV moment when chefs receive a box full of ingredients that don’t really seem to go together? That’s what Cinda Chavich suggests we do using our own strange combos from the belly of our fridge. “I have this clear bin. Every night I do what grocers do. I cull through my crisper and see if there are things that look like they have to be eaten,” says Chavich. “I put it in the bin and treat it like the black box on Chopped. I try and come up with an idea to make something. It’s really amazing.”

 
 

Know some “mother recipes” and techniques. This will make the challenge of the clear bin easier, says Chavich. A mother recipe is a classic dish that draws on a variety of potential ingredients. Think homemade soup; risottos and frittatas; an omelette with a twist! “If you know how to make those basics,” says Chavich,  “you can toss anything into them.” This is a form of “cooking backwards,” says Chavich.  Where you begin with what you have and create, instead of beginning with a recipe and going to buy what you don’t have—and maybe don’t really need.

But do plan more if you can. And then buy less. Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian from Toronto, sits down with her young family once a week and takes meal requests. She creates a menu plan—something all food waste reductionists recommend—and then checks to see what ingredients she has on hand. “Sometimes it really is just that we don’t make a list and shop and buy things we already have, and then throw it away,” says Rosenbloom.

Use serving bowls and smaller plates. Using serving bowls instead of plating the food for people reduces waste, as family members serve the amount they think they can eat, instead of what you think they should eat. “This is a really good way to reduce food waste,” says Rosenbloom.

Freeze leftovers into individual portions for lunches. Invest in some good-quality plastic or glassware, and divide leftovers directly into them and freeze them for lunches. “Grabbing your homemade meal from the freezer is a much healthier lunch alternative than going out to eat,” says Andrea D’Ambrosio, a dietitian and a national spokesperson for the Dietitians of Canada.

And of course, you can always make a smoothie. “I make smoothies every morning,” says Chavich. “It’s apples, bananas, kale, spinach, ginger. Those are the basics. And soy for milk.” Smoothies made in a high-powered blender can whirl wilting lettuce and bruised berries into a delicious and nutritious meal.


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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Childview.​

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