It’s Week 5 already! I hope the first four parts of this Zero Waste Kitchen series have been helpful. Now that we’ve covered switching to glass and cloth, composting organic material, and segregating waste, let’s attack the primary source of kitchen waste: the food! Learn to plan meals for a zero waste kitchen.
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard (American cookbook author)
Everyone loves food. It’s a source of joy and health, and we spend several hours of most days thinking, planning or working for food. Our tastes are varied, our likes even more so. And yet, we all gather in the kitchen every day to go through the same process – converting raw food into some form of tasty, edible, satisfying meal.
The journey of each item in our kitchen is so fascinating: the plant-based items are grown somewhere, packaged somewhere else, shipped to various places, kept in storage, displayed in department store shelves, and then finally get used up (or not) in our homes. From sowing and harvest to consumption, countless hands work on moving the food along the supply chain, many of whom possibly can’t afford the food they’re packing/transporting/selling. That’s one of the paradoxes of the modern world.
Now, here’s the bad news: Every year, approximately one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption — about 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. Fruits and vegetables have the highest wastage rates, because they are perishable. And they make their way to the landfill partly from our kitchens.
Where were we? Oh, yes: meal planning in order to build a Zero Waste Kitchen.
Plan Your Meals for a Zero Waste Kitchen
Planning carefully what you and your family are going to eat will save a lot of food from being wasted. Here is a checklist to begin planning your meals
1. Stock up on the basics
Be it spices, grains, pulses, jaggery, oats, tamarind – or whatever else your favourite cuisines require. Foodstuff that stores well include cardamom, clove, black pepper, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek, turmeric, saffron, brown rice, white rice, dal, channa, and so on. These last for months, and need to be refilled only when you run out. They also form the basis of most of what I make for my meals. Your basic ingredients may be different, and you should look into the most efficient way to buy and store them. You will not only save money and storage space, you will also reduce the amount of waste you produce.
2. Plan Your Meals
You know how much you and your family need to eat. Whatever your meal preferences, sit down on Saturday or Sunday and make a plan for the week ahead. This might sound too regimented (it did to me at first), but it actually makes things a lot simpler for you. Besides, you’re already planning out your meals to a certain extent anyway: You limit yourself to the groceries and produce you buy, and you buy what you want to eat through the next few days. So, it isn’t all that draconian to sit down and think about it a bit more carefully.
Plan out what you (and your family) will eat for each meal for each day, along with healthy snacks to tide you and your family over in between meals. Determine the amount/quantity you will need to prepare, and list out all the necessary ingredients.
3. Use what you already have
Next, look at what you already have at home and take inventory. Look at the expiry dates, and discard (responsibly!) everything that is past its use-by date. Narrow down your list to what you’ll need to buy for the week, and then have a good meal before heading to the market (the meal is important; it is a well-known fact that you shop more on an empty stomach).
Note: Ensure you’re covered for any festivals or special occasions that are coming up.
4. Shop mindfully
But your weekly stash of fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh every week, or every few days – depending on the shelf life of the particular item and your meal plan.
Buy organic, if possible. It isn’t feasible for everyone, mainly due to financial reasons. Organic produce is more expensive than non-organic. But the next best thing is to buy locally grown vegetables and fruits. This way, not only do you help the local economy, but you’re also eating seasonal produce for the most part. I buy organic produce from Vaer Organics – they deliver at home, and do not use plastic packaging.
5. Be Smart About Storage
Store the longer-lasting items in glass jars and containers, store the fresh produce in cloth bags (so they can breathe), and only put into the fridge those items that you need to last until a few days later. Follow the first-in first-out system for using perishable items, and watch out for signs of spoilage.
If possible, chop the fruits and vegetables just before you cook or eat them (if raw). Time is in short supply nowadays, and many people make do with chopping vegetables and storing them in boxes in their fridge, and taking out a portion each time for making their meal. This is practical, certainly, but not ideal.
Only make as much as you need. If there is any leftover (by chance or by design), store it properly in the fridge, and reheat it on your stove before you eat it. Go the Nigella route for leftovers, and make something new out of them. Or, just refrigerate for use later, or donate leftovers.
What you cannot eat or give away, compost. It’s a really cool feeling to know that your compost will ‘grow up’ to become soil that will nourish the plants that become your food (whether you grow your own food or not is immaterial at this stage; it’s the spirit of achieving the full circle that matters).
Additional tips: Avoid eating out. Eat out only for very special occasions, if you must. It isn’t really good for your health.
In our Zero Waste Kitchen series, we’ve covered all important aspects for your kitchen – from getting rid of problematic materials such as plastic, and composting organic material, to reducing the waste that your kitchen produces in the first place. I hope this has been useful. I’m learning too, so I will probably add on to these posts in the future, should the need arise.
Remember, you will likely not get it “right” the first time. Or the first few times. The important thing is, as always, to keep at it. I’ve stumbled several times. But I persist. It’s really about making these things habitual. And improving your processes at home.
And having fun while doing it!
Want to get a head-start to a zero waste kitchen and do it your own way? Check out these books (affiliate links):
Want a quick guide to help you make deliberate, conscious purchases? Click here (or the image below) to download it.
Advanced Zero Waste: Building Your Kitchen Garden