According to a 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans waste approximately $165 billion worth of food annually, averaging about $2,275 for a family of four. And though frugal parents are often trying to find the best prices on their children’s favorite foods, perhaps it’s time to focus on saving money (and the environment) by wasting less and learning how to make better use of food that is already in the home. This is a challenge that I’ve taken upon myself in recent months, as I grew fed up with the amount of rotten fruit that was going in the garbage, and the leftover chicken that I’d made that the kids refused to eat, simply because they’d just had it a few days before. Below are just a few of the easy ways I’ve found to repurpose older food into new meals, a practice that can prevent waste while protecting your wallet. As an added plus, making new meals out of things in your fridge (or pantry) will make your shopping needs less frequent, and may also cut down on meal preparation time if some of the core ingredients are already cooked.
- Turn old fruit into something fabulous. Fruit is one type of food that tends to spoil quicker than most, especially sensitive fruits such as berries and summer fruit like peaches and plums. There are several ways to transform soft or partially rotted fruit into something delicious. One is to cut off the parts that are still good and to throw it into a blender with some yogurt, sugar or honey and milk or fruit juice. Voila! An instant smoothie which will be delicious and healthy for the kids, and will allow you to use fruit that would otherwise seem unsavory. Another great use for old fruit is to create a pie or tart that will use mushy fruits. In the photo below, you can see how I’ve taken a mix of overripe peaches and plums and created a tart that the kids gobbled up as a weekend treat. Of course, fruit compote or fruit soup is another great way to use old fruits, and it can be made either as a blend of raw fruits, or boiled into a soup which can be frozen for the future.
- Make use of old meat. Meat and chicken are among the most expensive items in the refrigerator, so when they get chucked it the trash, it’s not only wasteful, but also financially painful. Fortunately, there are thousands of recipes that make use of day old (or even week old) meat. Some of our favorite recipes include stir fry with bottled General Tsao’s sauce over fresh rice or noodles, marinated steak or chicken in a fresh wrap or pita or tacos with shredded beef or chicken.
- Create your own cookies and cream ice cream. Have cookies that are slightly stale? Instead of chucking them, crush them up and use them for a base for homemade cookies ‘n cream ice cream, or as a topping for store-bought ice cream.
- Revive day-old rice. Old rice has a tendency to be dry and slightly unappealing, but you can change that by transforming it into a creamy rice pudding. A more savory alternative would be to throw the rice into a skillet with some sauce and sautéed vegetables and to throw some eggs on top for an updated version of the Chinese classic moo shoo.
- Perfect your leftover pasta. Your pasta may have been fabulous the first time around, but chances are that it won’t be quite as appetizing the second or third time it shows up on the table. Instead of presenting the same dish repeatedly, consider mixing the noodles with some tuna and onion soup mix for a quick casserole, or creating pasta fritters which are true kid-pleasers as they can be eaten comfortably without silverware.
With a little bit of creativity you’ll be able to find excellent ways to reuse old food so that you waste less and enjoy more of what you’ve already paid for. Why wait to get started?
Sari Holtz is the VP Marketing at PearlClasp.com, a website that sells fashionable necklace clasps, pearl jewelry and custom pieces for all budgets. She is the mother of five children, ages 9-1, all of whom beg for different dinners every night…except for the baby, who doesn’t speak yet.