Patricia Chuey grew up with Prairie farmer parents who remember clearly the days of food rationing during the Second World War As a result, food does not go to waste in the Vancouver-based dietitian’s home.
“They don’t take food for granted anytime, ever,” says Chuey, the People’s Dietitian, of her folks. “They raised their four daughters with steady reminders that ‘there are starving children in Africa.’ Leftovers from meals either went into soups or casseroles or into the next day’s lunch.”
Despite individual efforts across the country, food waste remains a big problem. As much as 40 per cent of all food is wasted in Canada— mostly in households. That’s equivalent to $27.7 billion annually, according to a report released last year by the Centre for Food in Canada.
Images of so many squandered groceries are captured in Just Eat It, a documentary now screening across Canada by Peg Leg Films in partnership with B.C.’s Knowledge Network.
While more people are beginning to understand products that have reached their expiration date don’t necessarily need to be tossed, there are all kinds of ways to reduce or eliminate food waste in your own kitchen — which is good for your conscience and your wallet.
We asked Chuey to share her top tips.
“Freezer space is a big key to minimizing food waste in our home,” Chuey says.
All overripe fruit (not just bananas) get chopped and put in the freezer for use in muffins, loaves, or smoothies.
Celery and carrot sticks that are a bit limp get chopped and frozen for quick addition when making a mirepoix or soup base. “I love the time-savings this represents when cooking soup,” Chuey says.
Dry bread can be ground into breadcrumbs and kept in the freezer for coating meat or fish later. “The same can be done with crackers and even cereals like Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes,”Chuey says.
Leftover rice can be turned into a new meal the next day, in dishes like chicken fried rice or wraps. It can also be frozen for a quick side dish another day or made into rice pudding.
Small amounts of leftover raw or cooked fish and shellfish can be frozen. “When there is enough of an interesting assortment left, its seafood-chowder time,” Chuey says. “Same goes for leftover bits of chicken, beef, or pork that end up in soups or stews.”
Home-baked muffins, cookies, or loaves that are not eaten in about two days can be individually wrapped and frozen, then added quickly to school or work lunches.
Bagels and pita bread can also be individually frozen for later use.
“When mini yogurts or big containers of yogurt are just at their due date and we won’t use it in time, they also get frozen, usually in individual portions, mixed in a small zip-seal bag with any overripe fruit for later use in smoothies,” Chuey says.
- Any extra cheese can be grated and frozen then used in pizzas or Mexican dishes.
Parmesan rinds can be frozen and then dropped into a simmering tomato sauce or soup stock as a secret, delicious ingredient.
Ripe tomatoes can be chopped and frozen to easily add to a sauce or soup later. (Before that, they’re best stored on the counter, not in the fridge.)
Leftover homemade burger patties (including vegetarian ones) or meatloaf can be frozen for use in pasta sauces, tacos, or soup.
Make a list and stick to it.
Buy non-perishable items (such as canned salmon, chick peas, and tomatoes) when it`s on sale, but pick small jars of other condiments over large ones so that there’s less chance of having to throw out things like ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and sauces.
Take any canned goods or pantry items you don’t plan on using to the Food Bank a few times a year, not just at Christmas.
If you find yourself throwing out unused fresh vegetables often, consider buying more frozen versions. “Some are better than others; we find peas, corn, Brussels sprouts, and green beans fine in frozen format,” Chuey says.
“I almost always make double the food our family needs for one meal so we purposely have a second meal the next day or supplies for lunches,” Chuey says. “Working from home as my base, having leftover dinner on hand for lunch most days is a big time saver and means I eat more vegetables than if left to make a sandwich.”
Avoid cooking too much pasta at one time. “Leftover pasta isn’t a great ingredient,” Chuey says. “For some people, pasta eaten a day or two after it’s made isn’t digested well.
Use plain yogurt as a base for dips and salad dressings, adding dried herbs or a small amount of bottled dressing (like ranch) to add flavour. “Buy less salad dressing and make it last longer this way,” Chuey says. “We primarily do oil-vinegar vinaigrettes. Oils and vinegars are shelf stable.”