Go Further with Food is this year’s theme for National Nutrition Month. The slogan raises the awareness of food waste in America. This timely topic has been mentioned by Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian on a recent edition of The Kitchen, as well as in The Costco Connection, among others. The USDA estimates that 30-40% of the food supply is wasted. In 2011 this corresponded roughly to 133 billion pounds of food worth $162 billion. Talk about a budget buster! And less food waste means a healthier planet.
One suggestion to decrease food waste is to take a moment and go through your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what’s on hand before going to the store to buy more food. Chances are you can find enough ingredients to make a meal. We have all had the experience of finding jars and cans of tasty specialty items forgotten and pushed to the back of the cupboard. You can add some variety to your life and keep money in your pocket by utilizing those miscellaneous food items instead of eventually throwing them away. If you need some help or inspiration you can turn to Supercook (for example), a recipe search engine, and look for recipes that use what you have on hand. Also, I suggest stocking your kitchen with a few favorite food items, with a long shelf life, that can quickly be used in a pinch. As soon as you use the items buy a replacement. For example, if you have canned chickpeas, pasta, frozen broccoli, and diced tomatoes on hand you could have a great meal in a short amount of time.
Another way to Go Further with Food is to get in the habit of utilizing leftovers. Our grandmothers knew how to use leftover meat and vegetables for a meal the next day. They would add a starch, like noodles, rice or potatoes, to make dinner, hence the creation of casseroles, soups, stews, and salads. I like to have a hot meal one night and utilize what we didn’t eat a cold salad the next day. A favorite of ours is chicken salad. Just dice up the uneaten chicken from the night before and add celery, onion, walnuts or pecans, and grapes or other dried fruit. Mix with mayo or plain Greek yogurt for a tasty salad. Ramen is currently very popular. Recently I added leftover vegetables, pulled pork, scallions, and miso to gluten-free, brown rice Ramen for a quick and tasty meal.
Freezing is another way to Go Further with Food. We like a home cooked meal for dinner but sometimes there isn’t much time. One way to eat home cooking without having to cook from scratch every night is to make enough for another night. I like to cook from scratch about three or four times per week. What we eat on Monday we have again on Wednesday, what we eat on Tuesday we have again on Thursday and so forth, always rotating to prevent boredom. Or I might cook up a big batch of something, like chili, and freeze it in dinner-sized units. Freezing fruit before it goes bad can make for a refreshing snack. Grapes are great frozen. Frozen bananas in a blender make for instant “ice cream” and frozen berries can be put in smoothies.
Since many of us shop at big box stores, it is essential to stay on top of expiration dates. It is easy to just throw some food away because we paid less for it. Not only is this wasteful but raises the price per unit that we paid for the food. I teach clients how to make a shopping list that syncs up with the meals they are serving for the week. We’ve all spent $100 on food, gotten home from the grocery store, and had nothing to eat! Food shopping without a list can be disastrous. Planning for no/low waste and staying on budget are great habits to cultivate.
Anyone who has a garden struggles with how to manage the bounty. One year we had hundreds of plums in a one month span! It was overwhelming. We still have some frozen in our outside freezer. We gave them away, traded for peaches with a neighbor, searched for, and cooked, as many plum recipes as possible, and froze them.
There are other ways to interpret the message Go Further with Food. I had the privilege of consulting for the Long Beach Stingrays of the (now defunct) American Basketball League several years ago. When they came back from halftime it didn’t take long for their performance to plummet. After switching their halftime food from candy to more energy-sustaining foods, they improved their performance and went to the championship – talk about Go(ing) Further with Food!
Eating an anti-aging diet, eating for a healthy pregnancy, eating for disease prevention and eating for mental health are also examples of Go(ing) Further with Food. Some of these topics will be discussed in future blogs.
To celebrate National Nutrition Month I invite you to take a pause, look around your kitchen, think of a creative meal to put together, add a pinch of love and gratitude, and enjoy!
Lisa Licavoli, RD, CCN