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Published: Sunday, 9/16/2012

Better planning would mean we could reduce food waste

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST

Who gets out the calculator to figure the cost of the half loaf of moldy bread or the bunch of withered celery with black leaves that went into the garbage?

Anyone who answers yes to that question should put the brakes on food waste right now. But the rest of us just keep on with the sloppy habit of over-buying and over-cooking until national statistics from people who figure such things knock our socks off.

That came to light a couple of weeks ago in a Blade article about food waste in America. The annual total for the average family of four was reported as $2,275.

Think about what we could do with the money that goes down the garbage disposal or into a landfill. To me, it equates as a healthy financial boost to upgrade my car model or take a dream trip. For families, it could mean home improvements or savings for that rainy day that inevitably comes when least expected. Or, we could use the money to help the poor. While many of us are wasting food, one in six Americans is said to be hungry. I am guilty of food waste.

Reducing the number of mystery items in the refrigerator that were once edible and are now unidentifiable takes one four-letter word: Plan.

Plan to shop more often. Plan to buy only what is needed. Plan to cook only what will be eaten. Plan menus.

Shopping more than once a week to avoid impulse and excessive buying is a hurdle. Rare is the food shopper who finds the trip to the supermarket so much fun he or she can't wait to return. Still that's what the experts say we should do.

The next rule -- to buy only what is needed -- is made easier by adhering to a shopping list and not being detracted from it just because the nice demo lady gave you a cookie.

Consumers who rush into the store on their way home from work usually don't have a list and can easily get caught up filling the cart with unnecessary products. How often have you dashed into the store for a quart of milk and left with two filled bags?

With thousands of products on the shelves and hundreds of lush produce on display it's no wonder that we overbuy. It's always tempting, but even more so before mealtime.

If you don't plan in advance chances are you end up pitching food, as I recently did.

The large carrots that I much prefer over the minis were on sale. I long for the carrot soup in Ireland and thought sure I would make a big batch, with some to freeze. About two days later a bunch of beautiful slim asparagus spears called me into the produce department.

As they say, the rest is history.

Carrots keep a long time, but these grew thick beards. The asparagus? After a week some spears were still edible, but I lacked the patience to sort through them, so the whole bunch bit the dust.

Just as shopping often requires time, so do menu plans and preparing produce once it is home.

The 7-Day Menu Planner for Dummies is a complete meal guide for 52 weeks with nutrition information and recipes. Author, dietitian, and syndicated columnist Susan Nicholson stresses that most of her menus can be prepared in 30 minutes. The recipes use common ingredients and are claimed to contain an average of 30 percent of calories from fat. Dummies.com includes videos and step-by-step examples.

More leftovers could be salvaged if they were stored in see-through containers. Better yet, freeze and label leftovers. My mother's mashed potato patties, made from last night's potatoes, were wonderful and if any patties were left, I could expect creamed salmon on them the next day. The icebox wasn't as reliable as today's refrigerators and freezers.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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