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How not to waste food, if living alone

Also for everyone, but I just made a very nice dish with some Chinese broccoli, baby bok choy, ginger, garlic and other veg, as well as a portion of pork shank off the bone which I had braised in dark beer with more or less a mirepoix. I froze most of the shank in little snaplock containers, and it is even better once gently thawed. Problem is, with all the nutritious vegetables, I think I have enough of this for all week. I really don't want to waste food; I'm wondering if there are sites with ideas so as not too, without compromising a plant-centred (but in my case, not vegetarian) diet.

I deliberately bought the Asian greens at a grocery that sells small portions of them; the ones closest to me have them in "family-style" bags. I only used half of each package in my (very yummy and nutritious) dish.

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  1. Well, for starters, cooking small portions (or freezing leftovers) is a pretty good method.

    1. Leftovers for lunch. What I did/do now is sunday's dinner becomes Tuesday's lunch. Monday become Wednesday's, etc. I like a day's break between a meal.

      Otherwise, like if our CSA goes a bit crazy with more veg than I can handle, I either cook down or IGF veggies for later. Not perfect, but good for soups or such later

      3 Replies
        1. re: meatn3

          I should have typed IQF for individual quick frozen. My home version is to put things spread out on a cookie sheet into the deep freeze.

      1. 1) Very helpful is my small one-quart-size crockpot. It makes enough for two dinners. 2) If I set up leftovers as a dinner ready to eat and freeze it immediately, I am more likely to use it. 3) Find a neighbor who appreciates your cooking---an isolated senior, a busy young person, a person for whom cooking is problematic, and share.

        1. I blanch and freeze what I cannot use in ziploc bags - not ideal but it works and there are times I am really happy that stuff is there when I did not have time to shop

          Also getting creative with repurposing leftovers or using the remainders so you dont get bored eating the same thing over and over - dishes like enchiladas, baked pastas, fried rice and pilafs can absorb odds and ends of assorted vegetables and transform them to something new. Fritattas are the ultimate catch all great for using up bits of stuff.

          1. Ask them if you can just buy half the bag. Or half a cabbage. I get sausages repacked into smaller packs and food cut down etc all the time. I hate throwing out food too

            1 Reply
            1. re: daislander

              Fortunately, at Jean-Talon Market nearby, I can get small cabbages. Even a small red cabbage makes a lot, braised with red onion, an apple and a leftover glass of wine!

              I always wind up giving some away to happy friends.

            2. You're halfway there by buying in small quantities. Buying only what you need and eating what you buy are two keys to not wasting food. As obvious as that sounds, I've seen many a crammed refrigerator which contents were destined for the trash heap.

              Another helpful way to avoid wasting food is to use a meal plan to guide your shopping. Planning out what you want to cook and eat permits you to easily create shopping lists, plan for leftovers, and more importantly, make a plan to eat those leftovers. Writing it down, glancing at it every day, and following it means our household wastes very little food. For a household of two, I only plan our dinners explicitly, since we pretty much have the same couple of things for breakfast and lunch and have never wasted those food items.

              Before I started using a plan, I found myself periodically doing a great shopping trip, buying all kinds of yummy food that I had every good intention of cooking, but a lot of that good food went in the dumpster when it spoiled, since while I had good intentions, I didn't make a plan and didn't follow through on those good intentions when other things came up.

              A written dinner plan allows me to carefully consider the factors that affect what I cook and what we eat: what's on sale this week, what's my energy level for a cooking project, is the weather good for cooking out or baking, what did we eat last week and the week before, what time constraints exist, what leftovers exist in the fridge or freezer, and so forth.

              Having a written plan and following it prevents those moments where you find yourself standing in front of the open fridge (or cupboard) wondering what you're going to cook or eat tonight, and resorting to take-out since nothing in your pantry looks appetizing enough. You plan tells you what's for dinner, no more guessing. Having been a project manager most of my career, plans come naturally to me, and make my life work better in all aspects. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, failure to plan is planning to fail.

              1. My strategies for avoiding waste as a single are: being flexible at the market and buying only what meats or poultry will serve me for one or two meals and that I will absolutely cook today or the next day; packing leftovers into see-through containers as soon as I've finished dinner; keeping all leftovers on the same shelf in the refrigerator, and repurposing all leftovers.

                Nearly every leftover can be made into either a soup, sandwich, stir-fry or frittata. As an example, I recently made chicken curry, and the next day I took the remains, added carrots, celery, more onion, some apple, chicken stock and cooked rice (also leftover from curry night), and enjoyed the resulting soup for two more meals.

                Google "cooking for one" - this will yield many sites with recipes and strategies, and the StillTasty website will guide you in how best to store foods to keep them fresh, and advise when it's time to trash something. This is especially important for your veggies. That StillTasty site is indispensable for strategies on storing them.

                My trash pick-up day is once a week: the night before I do a check of the fridge, toss what's gone off, and then the shelves are ready for the next shopping trip. The more open space you have in the fridge, the less likely something is to 'get lost' in the back and turn into foil-wrapped mystery.

                The only time I'll make a recipe that serves four or more and I'm not expecting company is if it's something I really enjoy and can freeze for later consumption. In that case, again, it's time for see-through containers, but now you'll need to label each with contents and date. Next time there's a storm, you're not feeling well, or just want a change, there'll be something in the freezer you can just heat and eat.

                1 Reply
                1. re: mcsheridan

                  I'm going to deliberately do otherwise this week, as a local shop I like has grain-fed chicken thighs for $1lb . I'm used to buying chicken and putting the rest in transparent snaplock containers. I also save the bones in the freezer compartment, to make stock. I may do the whole package of chicken in my small crockpot (original size, first model with a removable crockery), bone everything and use the chicken meat for sandwiches etc and also for my cat. Or bone a couple of thighs to make stir-fry dishes, and either slow-cook or roast the rest; same usage and procedure.

                  I don't eat much red meat, but I can buy a small steak or a couple of little lamb chops at a nearby butcher's (I live near Jean-Talon Market, a stellar public market, and there are a lot of food shops around it, mostly Italian, Maghrebi-Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian, as well as French of course). The only exception to that would be a braise or stew, and I'm also used to dividing that into portions for one or two people.

                  I'm fairly good at non-wasting, but I still waste some things, in particular vegetables (and yet, I like vegetables). I find I have to prep them in advance, even though that might mean a bit of vitamin loss. Hard to face a lot of chopping, mashing etc when one is hungry!

                2. Just buy enough veg in very small amounts to last a couple of days. I cook for my wife and I mainly. I started a thread here about how to stop throwing food out.
                  The photo shows I try to have on hand a variety of veg but in very small amounts on hand. Works for us.

                  1. I just buy enough and plan around how long that amount will last. Some things last longer than others so if I buy brussels sprouts or cabbage, I don't hurry to use it but if I know I bought a bunch of fresh asparagus then I plan to eat it for a few days. I actually buy family sized vegetable because it's cheaper that way and I just plan around the vegetables. Also most stores usually sell both smaller and large family-style bags. If I was in your situation with the remaining half of the package you'd bought I'd just use them in the next few day in a different dish.

                    I would Google both this site and in general. There are a ton of sites and previous threads on this topic.

                    1. I'd keep a steady supply of preserved foods on hand. They don't really go bad and can be combined with a few fresh ingredients into complete meals. You mention you have an Asian grocery near you, so if you enjoy Asian cooking you can stock up on things like miso paste, kimchi, and various fermented sauces. Dried stuff like seaweed, shiitakes, wood ear, day lily and tofu skin keeps indefinitely and requires only a quick soak before cooking.

                      So for an easy meal, just make a bowl of rice and kimchi and top with a runny egg. Stir some miso into hot broth with dried seaweed and scallions for a simplified miso soup and you've got a cheap, tasty meal hat uses a minimum of fresh ingredients.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: RealMenJulienne

                        I keep dried vegetables on hand, from places like Barry Farm (online). That allows me to make a pot of soup with fresh produce or meat that needs using up, without going shopping for supplemental ingredients. I grocery shop only once or twice a month so I choose both short-and-long-lasting fresh produce. With vegetables that I like but which won't last, I like to make slaws dressed with just vinegar, water, herbs/spices, and some sweetening. Without the vinegar, that cucumber would dissolve before I used it up.

                      2. When I was living on my own I never wasted food. I was also happy to make a "meal" and have that be my evening meal for the next four nights.

                        For example, I'd make a spinach lasagna with a carrot salad on the side. That was my meal for four subsequent nights and usually a lunch or two as well.

                        It really helps to sit down and plan exactly what you intend to cook and then you'll know exactly what you need to buy and in what quantities. Before planning your meals do root around the cupboards to see what you have and try to plan meals around existing ingredients.

                        On the rare occasions when I found myself with a surplus of vegetables, I'd simply make a vegetable soup. Quite simple, sauté onions, carrots and celery as the base, add chopped vegetables of your choice and sauté for bit to soak up the butter/oil, then add stock (canned/bullion was what I used) and bring to a slow simmer. I'd usually add a can of cannelloni beans or a diced potato or two, which adds starch and helps the soup develop a slightly creamy texture. Perfect for lunch.

                        The suggestion for making a frittata out of leftover vegetables is also an excellent one. I frequently make frittata with the leftover salad greens.

                        1. I know that a lot of people have told you to buy in small quantities, but that gets really expensive a lot of the time when a big package from a big box store is less expensive that a small package at the market. Throwing away money is as bad as throwing away food.

                          Keep your refrigerator COLD. Just above the point where stuff in the back and bottom get ice on them. Most fruit and vegetables will keep significantly longer that way.

                          Get a vacuum sealer. Portion out the firm vegetables, meats you don't want to freeze for whatever reason into useable portions and seal them.

                          Buy those produce bags. They really do work to keep leafy greens and things you can't seal fresher much longer.

                          Use your freezer. I like fresh food. As a single person who likes variety I can't have fresh food at every meal. Freezing is a very viable solution for a lot of what I eat.

                          Work with what you've got. If you have one meal that calls for swiss chard, and another that wants kale, and a third that calls for spinach, the chances are you can do a reasonable amount of substituting so that you only need to buy one of the three, maybe two. Or maybe something else like cabbage or Brussels sprouts will work as a substitute.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: KaimukiMan


                            I'll check out the produce bags. I do a lot of the other stuff.

                            I don't live near any big-box stores (I live near a splendid public market and there are at least three chain supermarkets (IGA-Sobeys, Metro and Loblaws) I can easily walk to, as well as many other independent groceries and shops. (I don't have a car, and never will, at this point).

                            Are vacuum sealers really more efficient than snaplock boxes, provided the latter are fully filled?

                            And of course, this has to be general, not just about "me, me, me"...

                            1. re: lagatta

                              I didn't think the vacuum sealers were any better, but I often share purchases from the big box with a friend, and her vacuum sealed do last significantly longer than my good old tupperware. But there are things that the vacuum sealers are not good for, as mentioned leafy greens for one.

                          2. I usually cook two or three meals on Sunday(s). For example: last weekend I made ground beef/veggie soup: swiss steak: and turkey meatloaf.

                            I interchange them all week, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Right now it is Wenesday afternoon and I have 1 serving of soup and two of swiss steak left.

                            I plan meals a week or two in advance as much as possible, use fresh fruits and veggies that I really will use (I just threw away a bag of apples and I felt terrible about it, but they just weren't any good) and supplement with frozen. I buy a big bag of Normandy veggies at Costco and saute w/fresh garlic and use regularly. Another example is a tri-tip that I will cook and slice and have with veggies for a few days.

                            I only have to cook for me, so I cook what I can eat and what I want.

                            1. I just nearly ran into this problem - the wasting of veggies, but as I've found most can be reused in some other way to avoid wasting them. I was planning stuffed peppers but I guess I've had them for a while so I found them shriveled and sad-looking and in no condition to be stuffed. Instead I roasted them and will package up for the freezer.

                              1. The Freezer!!!

                                I'm living alone, and cook recipes based on whatever makes a convenient amount to use as many things up as possible - so if I have to scale up or down to neatly use things up, I will. It normally ends up being 3-4 portions/cooking, and I'll eat one, refrigerate another for the next day, and the spare portions go in the freezer. I then have, and cycle through, a decent variety of different meals in the freezer - I aim to have 4-6 meals, of at least two types, in there all the time, and thus have a nice varied diet despite cooking several days worth of a given dish at any one go. In your case, I'd have defrosted and cooked with enough of the shank to use up all the vegetables, then frozen lots of portions so it wouldn't get too monotonous.

                                That said, for vegetables I do have a really good - and cheap - greengrocers on the way home from work, so it's less of a concern as I can pick up exactly what I need to match the meat. If I do end up with excess green veg, they get blanched and thrown in the freezer.

                                I dread to think what would happen if my freezer broke down, though...

                                1. I utilize 3 methods for not wasting food:
                                  1. Soup or Stew - with left overs, throw all your root veggies in a stock pot, sautee, add some herbs or spices. Depending on the roots you may choose to puree everything and make a thicker soup. Braise greens with garlic, and stock, pour over rice.

                                  2. Veggie stock - just make a hearty stock with all of your loose ends, then freeze the stock for use in soups, braising etc.

                                  3. Omelettes - I add anything and everything to omelettes or frittatas.

                                  Alot of hearty foods can be frozen before or after cooking to be used later (roots veggies, potatoes, etc.) greens like romaine do not freeze well but they braise well. Kale freezes well.

                                  1. In addition to some of the strategies others mentioned, If I have too many things in the fridge, I keep a list of ingredients that need to be used up somewhere where I can see it when I plan dinner/lunch so I don't forget about them.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: hala

                                      I do this all the time, I keep a running Google spreadsheet and highlight things that need to be used. I would have mentioned it but on another thread, I was told it was "anal." I find it helps.

                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                        Anything that works is fine! I chip in at an institutional kitchen (I'm at the place for another function) and this is necessary. Vegetarian and non-pork options are also part of the offering (though the place can't do vegan, or strictly kosher or halal).

                                    2. Some food items are hard to cook SMALL... soup, stew, lasagna, eggplant parm, etc. Made split pea soup last weekend and INTENTIONALLY made it less than I thought I want... instead of big soup pot, used good sized sauce pan. Ended up with enough for dinner, lunch next day, and a serving size container to freeze.

                                      I have a Foodsaver (found at a thrift store for less than $10) and LOVE it. When boneless/skinless chicken breasts or tenders are on sale, I will buy a few packages. Typical package of boneless/skinless breasts has 4 BIG things in it... WAY more than I need at one time. I repackage as individual serving and vac seal. From rock hard frozem, ready to do whatever with after about 220-25 minutes in room temp water.

                                      I make lasagna & eplant parm in single portions. Lasagna as a roll up & parm as a stick. WIll only make 2-3 portions. One to eat right away, one maybe for lunch the next day, and last one into freezer. From frozen, topped with a little more sauce and cheese - ready in about 35-40 minutes in oven - about same a prepared stuff but homemade.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: kseiverd

                                        I stewed at least that many chicken legs (I dislike the breasts, and the legs are cheaper), but the same applies to cooked, sauced meat, though it can't be kept as long. Today I made a pie with some of my saffron chicken) - a small pie, 2 or 3 portions.

                                        I don't find making a small lasagne problematic, but that is because my Italian pasta sheets are small. I cook that and most things in my countertop convection oven, so it isn't a big waste of energy to cook a relatively small dish.

                                        I so want a parm, but am not happy with the eggplant we get this time of year. The Sicilian eggplants at Marché Jean-Talon, in season, are a silky wonder.

                                      2. one thing I haven't seen mentioned.....find a GOOD (probably independent) produce market. I'm lucky enough to have one & the fruits & veggies I buy there are so fresh and last so much longer than anything I might buy at the supermarket or Whole Foods/Fresh Market. There's nothing fancy or chi-chi about my place - it's a veggie stand that grew up, but the produce is fresh and it keeps.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: nojunk

                                          I'm lucky to live close to the wonderful Jean-Talon market, though of course it is deeply out of season here for local Québec produce right now. The only problem with the market for a single person is that often they sell their produce by the basket, and there is too much. I try to go with a friend if it is possible to organise that.

                                          (Lucky my arse... that was one of the two reasons I moved to this area, the other being a direct métro line to Université de Montréal, where I was doing grad work).

                                          There are southeast Asian shops nearby, such as Marché Oriental, with good fresh (albeit imported) produce all year round. I buy a lot of fresh watercress there, and a small and useable bag of bean sprouts. They also have very fresh fish, as little or much as one wants to buy.

                                          Perhaps my favourite in terms of quality/price value is Supermarché PA, now a small chain (three shops) run by a Greek family. They have good buys and always decent produce. I go there several times a week in bicycle weather; will walk there today if I have time, also for exercise.