Recently I shared that we’ve been wasting far too much food around here. Groceries are my second-biggest monthly expense (after my mortgage). Therefore, avoiding food waste is one of the fastest ways a family can save money.
I sat my two oldest still-at-home kiddos (19 and 17) down and asked them to help me brainstorm some solutions. First, we had to figure out why this is happening.
Why are we wasting so much food?
A few reasons. One, my life is radically different than it was a year ago.
Good in some ways, but change is always hard because our brain needs time to configure the new reality. I’m tired a lot. I feel overwhelmed often. (A friend recently told me that I “needed more downtime”. While I appreciate the concern behind the sentiment, I got angry. “Who’s going to give it to me? I’m not in this situation because I wanted to be!“. Thankfully he’s a good enough friend that he didn’t take this personally. But really… instead of talking about how burdened single moms are, society needs to do more to help us.)
Not long ago, I was cooking for a husband and my second-oldest son. I hadn’t mentally made the adjustment to feeding fewer, smaller bodies.
My kids are now in public school.
We never waste “lunch stuff”. But they’re not eating leftovers for lunch anymore as they did when we were homeschooling. So I need to avoid cooking meals that will create leftovers, because they’re all getting tossed. It doesn’t help that I now have an apartment-sized fridge with no freezer space.
(Side note: I’m selling off all my remaining homeschooling supplies. If you have any interest, comment below and I’ll send you the Facebook Marketplace listing.)
My kids aren’t very picky, but there are a lot of them, making what I cook unappealing to at least one kid each meal, leading to: food waste.
My 19 year old eats mostly vegetarian, and the 17 year old often eats dinner at work. The three younger ones each have a normal level of kid pickiness that I’m not worried about.
A lot of variety is what my adult palate loves. I get bored or feel like a bad parent if I’m cooking repetitive meals. But this is a silly, unnecessary burden I can release. Kids don’t need or even want a lot of variety, and as long as the food is healthy, repetition isn’t an issue.
What I needed was to create a meal plan that included things everyone really loves.
So that’s what I did. It looks like this:
- Homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
- Pasta, salad and baguette
- Burrito bowls
- Homemade pizza and salad
- Potato soup and garlic toast
That’s it. The great thing about this list is that all 5 of these meals are my kids’ favorites. It also provides enough wiggle room for me to slip some variety in when I have time and energy (I rarely have both at the same time, but it could happen!).
So tomato soup night could mean minestrone if I have those veggies on hand. Or a tomato basil style soup versus a creamier version. Pasta could be spaghetti, or chicken alfredo (one of my 17 year old’s specialties. See what I did there?). Burrito bowls are a little different depending on what kind of beans or rice or toppings show up on the table. And potato soup could be our family’s classic recipe, or I could throw in leeks if I have them, make it a cheesy version, or add some sausage and kale.
And If we have company (as we are tonight), we can cook something new and different.
There’s freedom in limits.
This plan will eliminate decision fatigue, and I’m thankful to my girls for helping me create this simple menu that we’ll repeat until our lives change and we need to update.
I’ll report back after a month to share how this plan reduces my grocery spending.
Grocery prices are going up – how are you avoiding food waste? I’d love to see your tips in the comments. Here are a few more articles I’ve written about cutting grocery costs:
Lowering Food Costs (large family version)
Wendy Keys says
Great ideas! I’ve been experimenting with ways to decrease our wasted food as well. I like soups this time of year, so I’ve gotten creative with soup (leftover chicken becomes chicken and rice soup with whatever veggies I have on hand; leftover burgers become hamburger soup by cutting them up, adding broth and V8 juice + veggies). Leftover taco meat makes nachos for a snack or stuffed peppers. Stir fry can be made by tossing almost whatever in a wok and serving over rice with sauce.
And when I make something new that a few of my picky eaters dont like (like last night’s red lentil dish) they have leftovers as an alternative option. I also send leftovers for my husband’s and oldest kid’s lunch. I still have to toss things on occasion, but much less often. And sometimes I have to make a quick grocery trip for a needed ingredient to transform the leftovers into something new.
Thanks for sharing these Wendy!