Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story

My high school friend, Kristin, texted me after she watched the documentary Just Eat It:  A Food Waste Story because of the meal planning ideas brought up by the film.  The film centers around a couple who agree to live on food waste (e.g., food culled from shelves, imperfect goods, etc.) for 6 months.  Below are Kristin's thoughts on the topic of food waste and meal planning. Who should see the film?

Anyone who eats food, so really anyone can find value from watching it.

For whom do you plan meals? 

I plan meals for my family of four - husband and two kids aged 5 and 7. IMG953238

Please talk about your meal planning.  I usually plan about 5 days out.  I tried 7 days for a while but found it very overwhelming to come up with that many meals.  Sometimes certain ingredients can't be purchased 7 days out and still be good.  We look at our schedule for the week and plan an appropriate meal for each day.  For example, if my daughter has a softball game at 5:30, I know I will not have time to cook a good meal.  Our go to meal on a day like that is baked potatoes.  I put the potatoes in the oven before we leave and set the oven to turn on at a pre-set time and be on for an hour.  We come home to hot potatoes and get out the butter, sour cream and cheese.  I often microwave frozen broccoli to be mixed in with the potatoes.  An easy meal!

I also usually have one leftover meal day because we tend not to finish all the food at each sitting.  Sometimes the meals I prepare make very large batches, so I pull half of it aside and put it in the large chest freezer we have in the garage.  This makes for an easy meal in the future that just needs to be re-heated.  The key is remembering the food is there and pulling it out.  I have had those meals sit in the freezer for a year, yikes!  

I try once every 2-3 months to go through all our food, especially in the freezer and make a list of some things that have been there a while.  These then need to be eaten in the next few weeks.  This helps avoid the " I forgot I had it" problem.

What organizational tips did you take away from the film? How did the film change the way you live / plan meals / think?

I already did meal planning, so it didn't change too much about the way I currently plan out our food.  The film did make me more aware of finishing the food that I buy though.  We are pretty good about using the food for the planned meal, but sometimes the leftovers don't get finished.  I make sure if I don't think I can eat the leftovers for lunch or dinners, that I make sure my husband takes them in his lunch.  He will never think to do that himself, but if reminded he will bring the leftover container.

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I also went through my pantry and refrigerator and pulled out any expired food items (mostly condiments) and threw them away.  I think often people are so overwhelmed by how much stuff they have, they have trouble seeing each one individually.  This is true for our "food stuff", our "toy stuff" and all the other "stuff" in life.  Our fridge and pantry are not as full now and it doesn't seem so overwhelming when I open them.

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I make sure items I buy I will actually eat and I don't overbuy thinking I will eat it one day.  An example, I decided three salad dressings is all we need - ranch for my daughter and two Italian/vinaigrettes for me and my husband.  This gives us a little variety but makes sure there are not 10 different bottles of salad dressing when we open the fridge.

How much time does it take you to meal plan? 

It usually takes about 5 minutes to think up the meals and another 5 minutes to make the grocery list.  I always make my husband be a part of this!  It's hard to always think up the meals, so I don't want it all on me.  I try to encourage the kids for ideas too, but I tend to only hear spaghetti as a response.  My husband will often look through the fridge for the ingredients I say we need and I add it to the list if we don't have it.  We are pescaterians (fish is the only meat we eat), so I have to work hard to make fun and interesting meals.  Also many of the meal ideas I find online have meat in them, so I either have to edit or it just limits us.  Each week we have fish one night with a fresh vegetable and a pasta dinner.  This makes planning easier because two of the meals are set and we mix it up with different types of fish and different types of pasta.

I try to do a new recipe each week.  I have a great vegan cookbook and pin a lot of recipes on Pinterest.  The remaining meals are the tried and true ones we've made before.  I refuse to make my kids a separate meal.  We eat a LOT of vegetables and I'm finding my kids are slowly warming up to them.  I make sure there is something at each meal they will like, usually a starch of some kind - whole wheat rolls, brown rice, and fruit.  They will fill up a bit more on those but they still have to try everything that is prepared.  The kids know trying everything is a requirement, so we don't hear as many complaints.  My daughter has even mastered the art of saying, "Mom, I don't care for this food" versus my son who still says "this is gross".

How does money play into your meal planning?  

I am willing to pay more for good quality food (fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains), but I've shopped around a lot to understand the best place to buy the food.  I love Costco and probably buy 80% of our food there.  It has great fruits, veggies and fish.  If you buy at Costco, meal planning is definitely a must or you will waste so much of the large container of food.  I know which fruits go bad the fastest.  We eat up the strawberries and blueberries first and then go into melon or apples that can last longer.  For the fish, we eat half and freeze half.  I always make sure I have a plan in my head for how we can consume the large containers of food that I buy at Costco.  And of course, only buy what is on your list!!

Anyone seen the film?  What are your thoughts?