How to end food waste and eat well at the same time

PHOTO: On the way to wasting less food we also can improve our own eating habits.  |  RYAN PAGELOW~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

As March begins, so does National Nutrition Month.

A lot of people, myself included, will be telling you what healthy eating looks like this month.

But I am also here to tell you that if you want to eat well — without wasting food and money  — keep your frig as sparsely filled as possible.

I know, I know, most of us think we have to keep our options plentiful if we’re going to eat well. I used to believe that, and I know it’s a habit I fell back on. especially when my son was younger and had a slew of activities.

But here’s what I finally came to realize. When I looked into that refrigerator and its freezer chock full of stuff, I couldn’t decide what we’d eat  — especially if I was really slammed for time. There were too many possibilities. If I hadn’t planned out already what dinner would be, I couldn’t piece the meal together. There were times I’d just order a pizza instead of figuring out our meal.

Does this sound familiar?

And the stuff I’d throw out. Oh, boy. Truly a waste. Not my problem alone, either. Americans throw out 35 million tons of year, according to a Washington Post story. The New York Times editorial board just wrote here about the massive food waste going on worldwide, and its implications for our environment.

So wasting less should be a priority for all of us. And it’s good for you as well as the environment. But to get to the optimal frig/freezer, you need to figure out what you really need to be able to make healthy dinners you and your family will eat.

I follow a low-carb diet, so my frig always has to have eggs, cheese, canned tuna, onions, garlic, salad greens and toppings, a couple veggies to roast or grill (depending on the season), a minimal amount of fruit. I make a big batch of some homemade dressing regularly, so that’s in there as are sour cream (full fat; I do not eat low-fat versions of anything) and butter. Protein, as in steak and/or lamb chops, a whole chicken show up. The freezer has some frozen veggies, burger patties and chicken breasts along with sausage. But this is what I need; you need to figure out what you and your family’s eating needs are. Just don’t overdo it when it comes to stocking up.

Whatever I cook on the weekend, I figure out how many other meals can come from that. I look at what else is in the frig to see how I can tweak the weekend’s meal with a new twist, so things don’t start to seem boring.

I don’t use my produce drawers to separate fruits from veggies anymore. Instead, one holds recent purchases and the other things that have been around. I pay attention to that second drawer so things don’t get too old and unusable. I also move items from the more recent (as their stay grows longer) to the second drawer. This really helps. If I see that spinach heading south (as I just did), I know that needs to be sauteed that night.

This also allows for a forced creativity. The other day on my way to roast Brussels sprouts, I noticed the remnants of an onion that looked like it needing eating, and fast. Sitting on the kitchen counter were cherry tomatoes nearing the end of their viability as well. So I tossed those in with the Brussels sprouts and onion and you know what? They tasted great and it won’t be the last time I team up those three veggies for roasting.


A great team: Brussels sprouts,

onions and cherry tomatoes

I’ve gotten better at this, but sometimes, especially after hosting a big dinner or party, things start piling up. Right now I am giving the freezer major scrutiny. I should have eaten that veggie soup in there, but didn’t, and since I can’t quite remember when it was made (I must start following that wise organizational tip: always date things before putting into the freezer), out it must go.

So, my advice as Nutrition Month kicks off is clean out that frig so you know what you got and work from there. You’ll be surprised by the creative meals you devise and should notice that less is ending up in the garbage.  A good deal for you and the environment as well.