So everyone wants to save money these days, right? I know I do.
Because I can, I’ve been cooking just about every single meal from breakfast to dinner at home. I make The Candyman his lunch to take to work. We rarely eat out – something that’s VERY different from when we first met. It saves us money. We go out on special occasions or if it’s a night where I simply cannot face the stove or The Candyman the potential dishes. This averages out to about once every 4-6 weeks for dinner, maybe once every 3-5 weeks for weekend brunch/lunch.
Something that chaps my ass when it comes to cooking at home is when we don’t eat something fast enough and it goes bad. I’ve been challenged (I suppose this is a personal one) to make sure I use up all of what I buy. It totally depresses me to throw out food and honestly, it totally makes me think about the starving children in Biafra.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away nearly 31.6 million tons of food every year. And a recent University of Arizona study found that the average family tosses 1.28 pounds of food a day, for a total of 470 pounds a year! That's like throwing away $600!
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I can avoid tossing out $600, I’m going to at least try.
So in our house, it’s the veggies that tend to find their way into the trash can, squishy and rotten after a week in the frig. Sometimes the fruit goes, but we are almost always able to gobble it up in time. However, I think I’ve FINALLY figured out a way to make the most of our food-investment on the regular. It takes a bit of prepping, but I’ve found it’s totally worth it. It saves us money and time in the long run.
First, word on the internet-street is that you should store your fruits and veggies separately. This is true. There’s a reason why they have those drawers labeled as such in your frig. Some sort of gas builds up when you store them together, causing them to rot faster, so there’s your first step. Segregate your produce.
The internet powers-that-be also say that you should perforate plastic storage bags you keep your veggies in. They say you should store lots of things unwashed and in a single layer. OK, fine. I hear you. But who the hell has the time lay out all your blueberries in a SINGLE LAYER? I also find that if I perforate the bags, they may not rot as fast, but they still go soft. Celery and asparagus lose their crisp and who wants bendy celery? Gross.
So what’s the trick? Paper towels. Check out the tutorial below.
Here’s what my countertop looks like when I get home from the grocery:
Items are semi-damp from those weird misting machines. I could shove it all in the frig and just deal with it as it comes about, but I get lazy during the week. I don’t feel like washing a head of lettuce to make a sandwich for The Candyman at 6am. I don’t feel like rinsing and snapping asparagus for dinner. If the prep work is already done, I’m more inclined to just shove said asparagus under the broiler and be done with it.
Here’s what you need:
It helps to have more than one strainer. When I do all this, I do it in bulk and have them all rinsing and straining at the same time.
The collapsible over-the-sink strainer is the bomb diggity (red/white one on the bottom). I got mine at Bed, Bathy & Beyond.
You should also invest in a salad spinner. It speeds drying time along quite nicely and works wonders with things like lettuce, parley, cilantro – anything leafy that you want to dry.
They cost about $30 and though you think you can live without, you totally can’t. THIS is a good registry item.
So get to rinsing and prepping. Chop the bottoms off your lettuces to get all the leaves separated. Rinse and spin. Do the same for your kale, cilantro, parsley…leafy stuff. Once it’s all semi-dry, lay out a good length of paper towels (maybe 3 sheets or so) and lay your roughage out on them.
Next, start at one end and roll it up, like a sushi roll.
It’s a lettuce wrap!! Har-dee-har-har.
Sorry. That was bad.
So do this with everything. Wash and snap asparagus, rinse green onions and whack off the bottoms and wilty tops, rinse broccoli and chop off the gnarly stems. Whatever your veggie, this will work. Then put it in a Ziploc bag, squeeze out the air and seal. Write on the bag with a Sharpie so you know what’s in it.
I went through some stuff that was in my frig already. I came across 1o day old parsley. Instead of having the whole thing go bad, just this little part had.
I pulled out the spoiled pieces, got some new paper towels and rolled it all back up again. I’ll be able to use the parsley for another week, at least. I keep it in the same labeled bag, just make sure that it’s still clean and dry. If it’s not, just wipe it out. I also wash and reuse the gallon sized plastic bags since they can be expensive. That may be a little too frugal-obsessive for some of you, but I’ve got the time to do it, so I do.
Fruits can be managed the same way. Rinse your berries and grapes and let them dry just a little. Also, if they came in one of those plastic clam shell things, rinse and dry that too. Line it with a paper towel and put the berries back in.
When it’s all said and done, my food is prepped and ready to cook/eat.
OK, so maybe you work 12 hours a day and you don’t buy fresh produce. Let’s say you buy the bagged lettuce, bagged broccoli heads – stuff that’s pre-washed and ready to go. Ever notice how that stuff tends to rot overnight? The quick and dirty version if you go that route (no judgment, I used to when I was working the corporate life), once you open that bag? Simply shove a paper towel in and around the bottom of the bag.
The paper towel thing? It absorbs the moisture and keeps it fresher longer. It makes it easy to grab and go.
A few exceptions:
- Carrots, mini or other wise: These take forever to go bad, so I don’t worry about them. At all.
- Mushrooms: I do the paper towel thing with them for moisture control, but since you’re supposed to wipe mushrooms clean versus rinsing them, I bag/towel them after I’ve opened them.
- Cabbage: It’s too dense to do this with.
- I also use plastic storage containers versus plastic bags sometimes. I just line them with paper towels.
And one last Frugalista Tip? If your bananas start to go bad? If they are spotting and brown and you know they are too mushy to eat? Stick them in the freezer. Once you’ve accumulated 3 or 4, use them to make banana baked goods. The skins will turn black when you freeze them. THIS IS OK! Occasionally, the insides will turn a light brown when you thaw them. THIS IS OK! The only thing it will do is make your bread or muffins or whatever a little darker in color. It doesn’t affect the taste AT ALL. The consistency will be a little strange when you thaw them too, but THIS IS OK. The occasional person may ask you why you keep rotten bananas in your freezer, but I’m here to tell you they aren’t rotten, just waiting to become yummy muffins.
What’s one of YOUR Frugalista tips? Do tell!