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Tips and recipes to reduce food waste?

 
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There's a significant trend right now in the French-speaking community towards "cuisine zéro-gaspi", or zero-waste cooking.

Not zero-waste in the "reduce packaging" sense necessarily (although people often try both) but more about making sure every little bit of the food gets eaten, including scraps, and nothing goes to waste through good fridge and pantry management. In Quebec, this is being led by Florence Léa Siry, a thrifty caterer turned author.

I haven't been able to find a proper English equivalent to "cuisine zéro-gaspi", which makes me wonder if it's really a local trend... Improvisational cooking is a close cousin, and of course any self-respecting grandma has always cooked that way. But I wonder how to call it in English...

In any case, I'm sure everyone on this forum is convinced that it makes no sense, ecologically, economically or just plain ethically (because we know how much work goes into producing food) to waste food of any kind. That doesn't make it easy either, so I think we can all share our tips.

Tip #1: Keep a running list on the fridge of food that really needs to go soon. I've gotten into the habit of making a quick "fridge audit" at least twice a week, making sure I am ruthless with unlabelled containers of mystery food. Then, as I plan my meals, I'll have a look at the list and try to be creative about that. For instance, right now I know that I have a wrinkled rutabaga, some basil, an already zested lemon and some rice cakes that need to be used up urgently. I also have older condiments that will still be good for a while, but not forever (preserved lemons, homemade kimchi and some fondue dipping sauces). It's like Iron Chef but with an extra challenge

Tip #2: Take note of what you commonly throw away. We all have our weak spots, and instead of feeling guilty about a package of cilantro that is beyond any hope of saving, I can identify that as a food that needs closer scrutiny, more deliberate purchasing or better storage.

Tip #3: Freeze everything and LABEL IT! I always have a running container of veggies scraps and bones for stock, and a running container of bits of fruit for smoothies, compotes or fruit crisps. And honestly, I'm not too skeemish about scraps. If my kid takes a bite out of a carrot and leaves the rest to wilt in their lunchbox, that carrot will go in the stock pot. It's going to be boiled to death anyway and I can reassure you that there are kid-spit pathogens everywhere else in my house anyway.

Tip #4: Learn some recipe canvases that can use up almost anything. In French, we call those "Touski" recipes (a contraction of "tout ce qui..." meaning "all that is..."  as in "all that is left in the fridge/pantry")

- The muffin recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, for instance, is a staple at my house. I'll use anything I have as add-ins, either from the fridge, freezer or pantry, replace the oil with apple sauce or any fruit puree, use up old kefir, use remnants of specialty flours or small lentil leftovers...

- I also make "Two ingredient cookies" (essentially any pureed fruit + oatmeal + add-ins) every week. You can also add egg white or egg yolk to the base recipe (Separated eggs are among the things I waste unless I have a plan) I swear my kids are half-horse given the amount of oats they're being fed (it's cheap, it's healthy, it keeps one regular )

- Crackers can be made with any pureed vegetable instead of water, and pretty much any kind of flour for at least half the amount (I use the base recipe from Kitchn)

- Soup can be made from almost anything, especially if you're going to blend it.

Tip #5: Have your husband volunteer to pick up leftovers from local food stores and bring those to soup kitchens. Oh, and he can do the dishes too. I'm half-kidding, but getting involved in food saving initiatives at the community level can also be very rewarding. And it's good for one marriage to have both people involved in a common goal through their own ways (I feed the people, he provides the heavy lifting. And the dish washing )

What are your tips for avoiding food waste?
 
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Very helpful ideas Kena! One more that I use is for salads. Leftover salad can be pretty disappointing but when the flavors are special, I hate to throw it into the compost. A friend clued me in that she saves her leftover salad overnight in the fridge. The next day she zips it in the blender then seasons to taste. This is the "new" dressing for the next day's salad. This really works well for me too!
 
Kena Landry
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Oh, another tip for meatloaf and meat balls.

- Pretty much any root vegetable is great when grated (or blended raw in small bits) into meatloaf or meat balls. Perfect for radishes that have gone soft, or half a turnip left to dry and wrinkle.  

- Breadcrumbs or torn stale bread can also bulk up meatloaf/balls and give a lovely texture.

- They are also perfect vehicles for any herbs that need using up.
 
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Amy Gardener wrote: Leftover salad can be pretty disappointing but when the flavors are special, I hate to throw it into the compost. A friend clued me in that she saves her leftover salad overnight in the fridge. The next day she zips it in the blender then seasons to taste. This is the "new" dressing for the next day's salad.



Amy, I found that if I don't add the dressing to the salad instead I let everyone add the dressing to their salad that the salad keeps fairly well overnight in the fridge.  

Kena, this is a great idea, great tips and this is something that I do.

When I cook cabbage I use the whole cabbage including the core.

When I fix spaghetti squash I cook it like I would acorn squash and I eat the rind.

This is a quote from a post I made about Eating unusual parts of plants

Many people don't realize that most parts of plants are edible.

When I am cooking something like a stew or a soup, I try to use as much of the plant as I can.

I even keep a jar in the freezer to add bits and pieces of things to save them until I am making a stew.

Leaves, flowers, and roots almost always can be used.

It might require some research on edibility to be on the safe side. Or maybe use the "taste test", first and when adding to a meal only use a small amount at first to get the body used to the item being added.

Or course, by adding most of the plant a person doesn't have much left to put in the compost pile.



Another interesting thread is this one about Plants where all of it is edible

My neighbor told me about a show he watches where this 80-year-old chef shows how to use almost all of the vegetables when he cooks.  I thought he said it was Paul Prudhomme which makes sense since he is a Cajan and I like to think Cajun food makes use of a lot of foods that might be considered leftovers by some.  Unfortunately, I have not found the show he was talking about.
 
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I like your approach, Kena- here we also have a big trend of zero-waste cooking but it usually involves things like eating your banana peels or pineapple skins-- I have animals that want to eat most of those things, and anything they don't eat makes compost, so I see those efforts as wasted.
For me it's all just an extension of that big Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Refuse is the big one, and the rest just follows. Meal planning, and a very strong leftover culture, are important!
At least one meal per week is what we call "leftover fest" - either Iron Chef leftovers or make something that pulls them all together.
But if you're planning/stacking meals, it might not even be that often, especially in this house where we have 3 people who need lunches and we only cook one meal a day.
 
Anne Miller
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Tereza, what are?

either Iron Chef leftovers



I ask Mr. Google who said which one? Iron Chef Japanese or Alton Brown's "Iron Chef America"
 
Kena Landry
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Tereza Okava wrote:At least one meal per week is what we call "leftover fest" - either Iron Chef leftovers or make something that pulls them all together.



Complete meal leftovers or ready-to-eat things rarely get wasted at our place either.

It's more the random in-between ingredients that are our weak point: the half cup of extra cooked grains, half a tomato, the specialty ingredient bought for a single exotic recipe, the herbs (although having an indoor garden helped a lot with reducing that), the lone slice of ham because someone was careless and opened a new pack without finishing the first one, and all the spreads and dips that we love but too often get pushed to the back of the fridge and left to mold out of sight.

For a while, I thought an organized fridge could be the solution to that. But let's be honest: with two kids aged 9 and 10 (and not especially disciplined adults either), things are just going to get shoved wherever and the least often used containers will end in the back. I'm just happy if the milk is not left on the countertop and the door is not left ajar So for us, a written list works best to make sure things do not get forgotten even when out of sight.
 
Kena Landry
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Anne Miller wrote:Tereza, what are?

either Iron Chef leftovers



Iron Chef, as I understand it, is a tv show where contestants have to make gourmet meals out of prescribed (and often weird) ingredients (under a lot of time pressure). More entertainment than education

But learning to substitute or add ingredients based on what is in your fridge or available seasonally is a skill a lot of people simply do not have, sadly (hence the popularity of those insanely expensive meal kits...)
 
Anne Miller
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Kena said, "But learning to substitute or add ingredients based on what is in your fridge or available seasonally is a skill a lot of people simply do not have, sadly



I love watching the Cooking shows and am amazed when the judges can pick out a specific ingredient as being there or not being there ...

Those contestants, especially the kids amaze me also when they have to add fish to a cake or some other weird thing.
 
Tereza Okava
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I am not a TV person so I can't tell you which Iron Chef is better, but for us it's a verb- to Iron Chef means to make something out of what you've got. I get to go shopping once a week, if I want to keep my sanity, so generally if it ain't in the pantry or in the garden, it's not going to be on the table to eat!

Kena, bless your heart, it sounds like you're way ahead of the game compared to when my daughter was that age!! She moved back from college due to the current situation and has become so much more conscientious--- it's not like it was before, where I would wash the dishes and then the sink would stay empty all day (I know that may be hard to imagine), but it certainly isn't the chaos we saw when she was in high school or earlier.....

Another thing to add-- meal planning is a game changer, and it doesn't have to be burdensome. I do the aforementioned inventory (freezer/fridge/pantry) each Sunday, to determine what I need to buy when I shop on Tuesday (sale day at the market) and what I'm going to make for dinner (and I take off Friday and usually cook one complicated meal on the weekend). It takes me 5 min and saves me from having to come up with meal ideas on Wednesday night as I'm on the way home from physical therapy at 6, for example. I can plan what to defrost, what to soak, what to sprout, etc. Worth gold!
 
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We have 2 adults, a spoiled cat, and a bunch of chickens so it is pretty easy to keep the food waste to a minimum.  

My cooking tends to lean toward what my brother calls healthy comfort food that can be made in large batches and frozen.  If it is a meal that does not freeze well I only make enough for one meal.

We grow the vast majority of the vegetables, herbs, and fruit we eat.   Most of condiments are made from our garden and that reduces a huge amount of packaging waste.  Many of these can be used to make meals out of leftovers.  Home made hot sauce, salsa,  and pesto  are fantastic for making meals out of leftovers.

I also cook from a  stocked pantry so I have very few ingredients that are used for just one recipe.   I will not consider even trying a new recipe if it contains a bunch of ingredients we don't already have.   This style of cooking is largely due to my dietary restrictions and allergies but the side benefit is has simplified pantry and freezer management and reduces waste.  

I buy whole spices and grow my own cooking herbs.  I make my own seasoning blends as needed because so many of the ingredients overlap.  I means I can buy organic spices in bulk and save money and cabinet space.    

Left overs that can handle freezing are all frozen in meal sized containers and labeled with permanent marker.   Labeling them is important.  Rubbing alcohol removes the marker when the container is empty.  Using containers that seal well and handle freezing make a world of difference when you find the left overs 3 months later and they just fine.  

I save all the pork, beef, lamb, and poultry from our various meals and freeze them till I have a large enough batch of appropriate bones to make bone broth.   I pressure can the broth to make it shelf stable.  The over cooked bones (other than poultry) and other bits go to the chickens.  

I prefer brown basmati rice over white rice in large part because it  makes better leftovers.  We I cook rice the left overs are portioned into single meal portions and frozen.  If there is an option that freezes well that is what we go with.  

Small amounts of leftover meat and veggies get cooked into scrambled eggs or added to a soup.    Pork chops and steak are favorites to add to eggs.  

Excess eggs in the spring and summer are pickled to be eaten in the winter.

Table scraps go to the chickens.   We mentor a high school level robotics team and when we have an event where we have food served we bring a bucket with a gamma lid and have everyone toss the food waste into it.  The chickens love it!  My nieces are happy to run around my garden picking over ripe berries and bolted salad greens to feed the chickens.  I get happy kids, happy chickens and I have a cleaner garden.  

With our short growing season and long cold winter winter veggies are processed for storage.  Squashes and those root crops that store well in basements are grown in quantities to get us through the winter.  We check them frequently and the few slightly off veggies go to the chickens.  

We ferment as many jars of various veggies that as will fit on a designated shelf in our refrigerator.  

Herbs are dehydrated or made into pesto that is frozen to be used over the winter.

I dehydrate the fall veggies that get used in soups,  chili, and stew.  These slow cooked meals do really well with dehydrated veggies and they make it really easy to pull a meal together when you are busy or not feeling well. This frees up a lot of room in my refrigerator and dehydrated veggies easily store 18 to 24 months in glass jars.  

leafy greens and fresh herbs get left on the plant till they are needed.  I always  plant far more than we can consume to feed to the chickens.  During the winter I use my seedling growing shelving unit with lights to grow baby greens and basil so I am only harvesting when I need it.  








 
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Kena Landry wrote:What are your tips for avoiding food waste?



I don't have any food waste because I don't buy packaged foods. So basically I harvest what I'm going to eat right before I eat it. I cook everything from scratch.

If I have too much soup or roast or turkey leftovers, I freeze them. Right after I make a big turkey, I turn all the carcass and most of the red meat into 7 quarts of broth + 7 quarts of turkey with broth and pressure can it to use all year.

I tend to eat parts of plants that most people don't eat by using them in broths, soups or stews. What I don't eat the ducks typically will. What they won't eat goes in the compost and back into the garden.

After I make the broth and turkey the bones are soft (some completely dissolve). I feed those to my dogs either fresh or frozen to keep longer.

So everything is either leftovers for me or food for my dogs or ducks or horses or eventually becomes compost to go back into the garden.

Also, I cook large batches even though it is only me. Boiling potatoes once = hot buttered chunks + mashed potatoes + potato pancakes. I also reheat mashed potatoes covered in turkey gravy and sometimes turkey in the toaster oven.

I put a whole chicken in the big crock pot, surround with veggies, season with onion, garlic, peppers, Italian seasoning, fresh herbs. Slice the white meat and eat with those veggies.

Then, add more water and cook the chicken bones down into the broth. Add different vegetables: butternut squash or sweet potatoes for example. Season with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

Still some broth left? Add water + lentils + rice + curry powder. Meals all week from 1 chicken but with 3 totally different flavors.

Do the same using a beef or bison roast or shanks or stew meat. If you get tired of it, freeze the leftovers. (I prefer not to freeze potatoes as they get mushy.)

Cook pinto beans or mixed field peas. Eat plain, then add chili powder and ground beef or bison to make chili. Cook once, but have 2 different tastes. Freeze if you get tired of it.


 
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My tips.
Don't keep a stuffed fridge, there's no way you'll remember everything jammed in the back, make sure by shopping day the fridge contains only a few condiments, butter and maybe a piece of cheese if you're lucky.

The same with cupboards jammed full you won't find everything at the back before it develops it's own sentience and leaves.

Freeze herbs, I buy coriander at one of the ethnic shops, it's cheap and comes in huge bunches. I couldn't use anywhere near that in the couple of days life it has so I bung the entire bunch in the freezer as soon as I get home, once it's frozen I scrunch it up into pieces and then use it like that.

Have a dedicated area in your freezer and storage cupboard for things that need using. so when you're trying to work out what to cook you take something from there first.

I don't make vegetable stock, I can't see the point it just tastes like dirty dishwater for me, and you still throw the bits out afterwards anyway. Here all peel etc goes in the compost where it does more good than wasting fuel boiling it and then pouring down the drain.
 
Kena Landry
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Gail Gardner wrote:
I don't have any food waste because I don't buy packaged foods. So basically I harvest what I'm going to eat right before I eat it. I cook everything from scratch.  



Strangely enough, we have food waste *because* we cook so much from scratch, and our  homemade stuff has a shorter shelf life than storebought.

For a long time, there was a running gag in our house that I had a chicken stock curse. All my stocks ended up down the drain because I'd forget about them at some point in the process: I'd either let the pot run dry, forget the stock as it was cooling, put it in the fridge and then forget about it, or the jar would break in the freezer. I've gotten better about stocks by putting timers for every step of the process and paying more attention to freezing conditions, so I guess I managed to turn the curse back.

But the same fate often happens to things that are made in batches but eaten in small amounts like herb sauces and pestos, bean dips and hummus, even fermented foods which still have a non-eternal shelf life. (I'm currently finding creative ways to go through a large batch of kimchi that has gotten... full of attitude. It's too harsh to eat as a side dish, but I've found out yesterday that it makes awesome crackers. )

Obviously we compost everything, but growing, raising or buying something to have it end up in the compost pile is still a waste.

Oh, another perhaps obvious tip, but serving meals family-style with all plates on the table reduced our food waste significantly. Our daughters can help themselves to small portions, knowing that they can have seconds if need be. They're not always perfect about evaluating their appetites, but they're getting better.
 
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This is a very mini tip, but it's been amazing for me: with my keto recipies, I often have to use organic heavy whipping cream. I constantly had a little left in the bottom of the carton, which was sad, and I didn't know what to do with it. I found a recommendation to mix some in to our scrambled eggs and WOW they are fluffy now!
 
Skandi Rogers
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Rachel Lindsay wrote:This is a very mini tip, but it's been amazing for me: with my keto recipies, I often have to use organic heavy whipping cream. I constantly had a little left in the bottom of the carton, which was sad, and I didn't know what to do with it. I found a recommendation to mix some in to our scrambled eggs and WOW they are fluffy now!



You can also freeze it and use for sauces etc later, just remember you put it in the freezer!
 
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Small containers for the "leftovers" of sauces, herbs, tomato paste, trimmings, etc... to freeze for later use. (definitely needs labelling, and managing) Like Skandi says, freeze it right away, while it is still fresh.

Just two tablespoons of pasta sauce, and you can make a pizza on a bagel. You'd never open a new jar to do that... you also might not think to do make that bagel pizza, (or have a bagel that also needs to get eaten, when you also have a tiny bit of sauce hiding in the back of the fridge.

An ice-cube tray of herbs in water, or tomato paste, can make recipe additions easy, since few recipes use an entire bunch of cilantro/coriander or a whole can of tomato paste.
Ice cubes of chicken/beef/vegetable broth can be used as an addition to a soup to cool it down for eating without watering it down, or for a sauce or gravy, and save the remainder of a can/box/pot of broth in a measured fashion.

Rather than think and purchase for "one recipe", think about "leftover X" becomes "ingredient Y" or that "ingredient X" is in "recipes A,B,C," so you can either use it all up, or be flexible if you are missing something for "recipe A" you could make "recipe C".
Flexible recipes like soups, salads, pizza, casseroles are good.
 
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I have some friends that save all the leftover bits for perpetual soup, which keeps getting boiled so it never seems to go bad.

I clean out the vegetable drawer and make green thai curry, with a store bought paste (some are vegan and some have shrimp paste) and a can of coconut milk. Almost anything works other than lettuce, but other greens (spinach, kale, gailan, bok choy, etc) are great. I can make fresh curry paste, but the store bought is easier. I often add a bunch of cilantro in the blender with the coconut milk to add a fresher taste and better color.

I agree that the best way for us to reduce waste is to not over buy.
 
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I keep a quart jar in the freezer to which I add any extra tomato product, like paste, sauce or puree. When I make spaghetti sauce that gets added to it.

I have large silicone ice cube trays, each cube is 1/2 cup. I fill these up with all kinds of little extras like buttermilk, cream, stocks, sauces, pestos, etc. When frozen they are transferred to ziploc bags. Makes using them super easy, premeasured and all that. The ziploc bags get reused as well, when they are empty I store them in the freezer for refilling with the same product. No washing or storing cream in an old onion bag.
 
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I have to admit this is tricky for me with produce. I have five kids and so we buy a lot of groceries every week especially during the winter. They usually eat things pretty quickly but because we buy large quantities, sometimes things get pushed to the back of the pantry or fridge and forgotten. Also I encourage my kids to be independent and prepare their own lunches and snacks but it's a learning process and the younger ones sometimes make too much,or sometimes they get distracted and I'll find a half eaten apple rotting under a couch a week later. I get some comfort from the fact that it goes into my compost so it's not filling up a landfill.

My long-term goal is to produce more and more of our own food each year. I'm also working on growing more things year round because I find that if I can just pick fresh what we need for that meal, I don't have to worry about extra that goes bad. During the summer we have very little waste and much smaller grocery bills as we often eat fruit and veggies for breakfast and lunch straight from the garden.
 
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Since I buy produce especially in winter months, I bought some mesh bags that I bring into the store with me. I can avoid single use plastic bags and these breathable bags make the produce in the refrigerator last about three times as long. They are washable when needed.
 
Kena Landry
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Stacy Witscher wrote:I keep a quart jar in the freezer to which I add any extra tomato product, like paste, sauce or puree. When I make spaghetti sauce that gets added to it.



This is a genius idea. Tomato products are among the frequent waste culprits. Freezing everything together in a "running jar" makes a lot of sense - I'm certainly adopting this one.

I'm also trying to pre-freeze large containers of specialty sauces in smaller portions *before* they get to that "nearly moldy, forgotten at the back of the fridge" stage (for instance, we have an opened jar of turkish bell pepper paste right now. We just opened it and it's yummy, but there's now way we will consume over two cups of bell pepper paste in the next few days. ).
 
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Kena Landry wrote:
I'm also trying to pre-freeze large containers of specialty sauces in smaller portions *before* they get to that "nearly moldy, forgotten at the back of the fridge" stage (for instance, we have an opened jar of turkish bell pepper paste right now. We just opened it and it's yummy, but there's now way we will consume over two cups of bell pepper paste in the next few days. ).


I keep a few "weird" ice cubes tray specifically for this purpose- they make cubes that are oddly shaped so nobody decides to make ice in the one I use for my bell pepper paste, for example. Then the cubes go in small baggies in the freezer.
Great for tomato paste (which I usually use in quantities of about 2T), pepper paste, and ginger juice (when I make pickled ginger in the spring i juice all the peels, freeze that, and it goes in various things all year round). It's SO much better to just take out one cube than to try to slice a frozen block.
 
Kena Landry
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Jenny Wright wrote: Also I encourage my kids to be independent and prepare their own lunches and snacks but it's a learning process and the younger ones sometimes make too much,or sometimes they get distracted and I'll find a half eaten apple rotting under a couch a week later. I get some comfort from the fact that it goes into my compost so it's not filling up a landfill.  



I'm with you on this. I figure there's value in teaching my kids to handle food responsibly, and mistakes are part of every learning opportunity. My girls are getting better at being good stewarts of their lunches (for instance, they will bring back compostable peels and they participate somehow in baking their snacks) but I figure they're allowed imperfection through their journey (and so does everyone else). We call those mistakes "sacrifices to the god of compost".

When my eldest was in kindergarden, she would lie about having a snack in order to get some packaged sugary thing from the school's stash - I found a whole collection of composted fruit cups in her cubby when I volunteered one day :) But she got a lot better over time, and she's shaping her own view of ecology and waste.

One thing that helped my girls is simply teaching them to recognize fresh versus shelf-stable foods and nudging them towards the fresh stuff first (their reflex being to eat the snack bars first, and then decide if a carrot still seems like a good idea). A 6 year old doesn't know that the cookie will stay fresh for days, but the dairy will be unsalvageable. It's win-win because a yogurt or a piece of cut fruit tastes really better in the morning than after a whole day in the lunchbox. And after a while, they realize that the cookie will be there tomorrow if they don't eat it today, so there's no sense of privation and fear of missing out.
 
Rachel Lindsay
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Related to food waste:

To clean my organic fruits and veggies, I soak them for 10 minutes in two parts water, one part vinegar.

After doing so, I put the vinegar water in the dishwasher to boost the cleaning power of the (natural) detergent.
 
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