Friday, July 11, 2008

Cooking For One

When I switched to shopping mostly at the farmers' market instead of mostly at Trader Joe's, my food waste soared. I haven't really blogged much about it, because I'm kind of embarassed about it, but there it is.

Why did my food waste soar? For many reasons. One, because all the produce at the farmers' market looked so good, that my eyes would be bigger than my stomach, and I would buy too much. Two, because I was trying to do one big shop every week instead of doing 3-4 small shops every week, and I would get stressed out that if I didn't buy tomatoes now I would be screwed if I needed tomatoes later in the week. Three, because I read a lot of food porn. And I would get convinced that I just HAD to cook this recipe, but then ... I am lazy. And I lack follow through. And I would work until 7:30 most nights. And four, because I would buy all this food from the farmers' market and then end up eating out.

I know from reading Rubbish that I'm not the only American with a food waste problem. Food waste comprises a large portion of our landfills. Rathje and Murphy, the authors of Rubbish argue that when you eat roughly the same thing day after day, you are less likely to produce waste. Eating the same thing every day can be boring, but in my experience, they are right.

So part of my objective in July was to not waste any food, because frankly, if I'm trying to go without spending money on groceries for a month, then I can't afford any food waste. The first couple day of July, I ate cereal for breakfast, bread and cheese for lunch, and pancakes for dinner. I used up every last drop of batter, and ate the ends of my bread. I went home to the Bay Area for the weekend, and my mom packed me a cooler full of leftover food: fish, potatoes, and mushrooms. So then, for the next few days, that's all I ate. Fish and potatoes. Mushrooms and potatoes. Fish and mushrooms. Fish and a glass of chocolate milk. Potatoes and milk. (That was kind of a weird meal.)

Was it boring? Yes, kind of. Did I get a little freaked out about the lack of leafy green veggies in my diet? Definitely. Did I waste any food? No, I did not.

And now that the fish, mushrooms, potatoes, and milk are all finished, I'll probably go back to the pancakes (have to finish off the yogurt and eggs!) And for lunch, I'll probably end up eating peanut butter and jelly for a week.

It is nice not to be having food waste guilt. It is nice to not have the stress of cooking. And I LIKE peanut butter and jelly and pancakes. I could probably eat peanut butter and jelly for the rest of my life.

But it also doesn't seem super healthy. And I guess that's what I struggle with. When you are one person, and you eat something around 1700 calories a day, how do you fit in the veggies, the fiber, the carbs, the fats, and not have left over waste? Can I just throw farmers' market veggies in the freezer willy nilly? Because, I'll tell you what. Farmers' market produce is great. But I miss the convenience of frozen broccoli and spinach. I miss being able to sprinkle some veggies on a dish, and then being able to stick the rest of the veggies back in the freezer without worrying about waste.

Someone help me out before I get scurvy!


Kim said...

I feel your pain! I cook for two and still end up with far more food waste than I care to admit. (And, I'm also addicted to food porn that I too rarely follow through with, because I have so many "recipes" I just know.)

While you can't throw everything in the freezer willy-nilly, some things you can, and other things you can with just a bit of effort. The key for a lot of produce is to blanch it first (submerge it briefly in boiling water or steam briefly followed by a dunk in ice water to immediately stop the cooking) After that you can just package and toss it in the freezer. A lot of things will keep forever that way.

I have bought very little frozen produce for a few years because I've just started making a habit out of freezing 1/2 of pretty much everything I get from the Farmer's Markets, U-pick farms and my garden.

Do you read Sharon's blog ? ( ) If not, you should check it out...she's had a lot of really good posts on food preservation this week!

hmd said...

I struggle with buying too much at the market too. And I'm really trying to cut back. If I end up with too much, I make a big pot of soup. Then I freeze it in smaller containers so that if I have a week where I don't have enough food, I just pop a jar of soup out of the fridge. The soup takes about 2 hours to make, but it's just simmering there on the stove (not labor intensive at all) and I just toss anything and everything in there. It all comes out tasty. If you aren't a soup person, you could always try the blanching like Kim suggests. I just blanched some peas and threw them in the freezer. Too easy!

I'm a lazy cook too and I generally only cook for one (hubby fends for himself and his own diet). Most breakfasts and dinners are toast/bagel/pancake and fruit, maybe some yogurt. Lunches are where I get all my veggies. With only that meal to really plan for, I don't find it as overwhelming to buy food and I usually eat the same thing M-F so I just buy enough to last those meals. My plans for next week? Tomato sammies and potato salad. Easy to buy for, easy to make, yummy to eat. Can't go wrong :)

Anonymous said...

If you want to freeze veggies, I you should blanch them like Kim suggested. But, don't just throw them in the freezer then. Lay them out on a tray in the freezer, let them freeze, then pop them in a freezer bag and label. That way, you can put them in a big bag and only take out what you need, it won't be stuck together, and then you can reseal and put the rest back in the freezer.
I freeze strawberries this way, but I bet it would work for broccoli spears, peas, and any other vegetables.

ruchi said...

Kim, yes, I have heard of this blanching of which you speak. It scares me because I am a cooking idiot, and I immediately assume these things are hard, but this doesn't seem hard. Like a minute in boiling water? Or thirty seconds? Five seconds? See why I need help?

Heather, I have done the soup, but ... it's a little hot in the summer for soup for me, I think. It is a good way to get vegetables though. I'll have to rethink the soup.

Abbie, hmmm. I guess there's no non-plastic bag alternative? Could I stick stuff in yogurt containers or tupperware? I just don't have gallon freezer bags at home (I know, I know, who AM I) and I'm reluctant to buy new plastic.... WWFPFD? Beth? You there?

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

"Fish and potatoes. Mushrooms and potatoes. Fish and mushrooms. Fish and a glass of chocolate milk. Potatoes and milk. (That was kind of a weird meal.)"

Wait - the potatoes and milk meal was weirder than the fish and chocolate milk meal? Seriously? You obviously don't have any Irish in you!

I learned to cook in a big shared student house with 6 other girls, two of whom were vegetarian. Even when I moved out, I was still cooking for 7, a habit that was really tricky to break. And I didn't have very much money at all. So I cook once a week and eat the same thing every day. Even now I usually make enough for 4 or 5 (I'm getting better, slowly).

Luckily, I've never had a problem with repeating dinners, as long as I get some variety in my other meals. The exception was the time we bought a huge amount of steak for a big group BBQ, and only 2 other people showed up. We ate it for dinner that night, all 3 meals the next day, then lunch and dinner on the third day. I don't usually eat that much red meat so I felt pretty gross!

These days my compost bin is a good guilt saver for most of my (really not very much at all) food waste.

Kelly S. said...

Of course you can freeze fresh vegetables! DOn't be silly. I'm also venturing forth to can (jar) things in 2 weeks!!

Anonymous said...

My sister asked me the same question. She eats stuff like an entire bunch of kale for dinner. I can't even imagine! I avoid waste because I buy tiny amounts of food, eat the same thing over and over, and I don't cook that much for myself...

Seriously, there are benefits to eating at restaurants. Small ones in particular have learned to be very good with food waste because their profit margins are so slim. If you ate at one that has a composting program and buys locally, you could be doing pretty well by eating out. But maybe not for your wallet. (And not for the Challenge - mwahahahahahahaha!!!) Maybe the LA Greenopia guide has some good ideas? I'm liking my NYC one so far.

As for this month? Maybe you can throw the almost-bad stuff as-is into the freezer and use it to make veggie stock when it cools down a little? Make enough for two and take your Greatest Coworker Ever some lunch? Have a dinner at your place on the weekend? Cook up the veggies, put them in the fridge, and then have different omelettes/frittattas every night? I'm rockin the PB&J too, if it's any consolation...


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how a yogurt container would handle freezerburn. I like to freeze things in my canning jars, so if you have them, certainly feel free to use them. Sometimes I use freezer bags because: 1) they're cheap in large quantities and 2) I don't want to have a billion small canning jars in my freezer. The bags stack better and seem to take up less space. Maybe I just need to better organize rather than "throw" things in there.

EcoBurban said...

I have been following a rule - whatever I buy from the farmers market - I try to put 1/2 in the freezer. This week I bought a ton of broccoli and I put three bags of it in the freezer and left out only one. I know we can eat one, but certainly not 4! The berries from the U-pick - I ended up with 2 gallons in the freezer. If not, I am with you, I am throwing out moldy berries and brown broccoli.

Though, I will say, I made soup (chili actually) for my one local summer post today - even though it's hot and it was good! Also, I put two servings of that in the freezer. Though... I am starting to get stressed out that I will run out of room in the freezer!!!!!

Rachel said...

I put almost all my freezer fruits and veggies in yogurt containers last year and they did just fine. No freezer burn. :)

Anonymous said...

I recently blogged on this topic as well. One thing that I'm trying is to make a list of meals to buy for each week.

Anonymous said...

I suck at this too! I always have greens that end up wilted - ok, more than wilted - and I HATE IT! I have tried to start putting veggies that are on the verge of the road to decay in the freezer in hopes that I will find a use for them at some point in the future - like stock or something. But, I too am an idiot in the kitchen (but really trying to learn)! For those yummy vegetables that meet their demise before I can eat them or freeze them, the compost bin awaits where they can pass into their next lives as food for their relatives....

Have fun in Vegas!

Anonymous said...

B&B, What kinds of greens are wilting? Are you talking about lettuce or hardier stuff like chard? Because chard and greens like that are easy. Just put them in a glass of water in the frig, just like a bouquet of flowers, and they will not wilt.

Arduous, this is not the best question for FPF because FPF doesn't eat enough veggies and is working on it. FPF's husband cooks massive amounts of fresh veggies every night, and mostly he eats them and leaves her a little bit in hopes that she will have some when she gets home. Sometimes she does. But sometimes it's eggplant or shredded carrots and zucchini and then she just turns up her nose and eats toast.

I know, I'm not helping. Honestly, we don't freeze anything. Michael has a big appetite (he also works out like a fiend, which is probably why) and eats everything before it goes off. (He does most of the shopping too.)

I really just eat the same thing over and over again or eat in restaurants. Did you see my 1 week plastic-free food log? If not, here it is. Look at all the repetition:

Amaya 5 said...

Here's a thought to comment on your last two posts. If you are concerned about spending too much in the 10 days you talked about and concerned about wasting food. Look at what you spend the bulk of your money on. To me it looks like treating your friends to dinner. Which is a very respectable and kind thing. Next time, save your money and eat your food by inviting them over to your home to eat the delicious food from the farmers market. Dinner parties, small, large, sporadic, or planned, any way you have it, are nothing but fun when you've got good friends and good food.

Tina Cardone said...

My solution to this challenging problem is to pick one or two veggies, and eat them all week. I have grilled asparagus, asparagus in pasta, stir fried asparagus and an asparagus omelet when I buy asparagus. I always buy bell peppers because they last and work with most meals I make. Plus, my pets will eat them if they are approaching squishiness. I think the same meal every day thing is very true, but you can have different things each week!

J said...

We used to have the exact same problem, and we didn't want to eat the same things everday either. The key is, to know what you like and build a recipe base that is comprised of meals with interchangeable parts. Perhaps I should do a blog post about it, because we used to waste so much food, but almost went nuts eating bean wraps and black bean quesadillas every day.

First off, I eat a vegan diet which may make this more or less challenging for me, it depends on your view point and your cooking skill.

Anyways, we shop predominetly at the farmer's market as well. We have a large bulk selection of beans and rice, so we'll get things we know we use, but basically whatever looks good at the market, come home, consult our recipes (I have a recipe index with all sorts of recipes on my blog), and plan from there.

We can do something like cook up a large batch of black beans, brown rice, and adzuki beans, and with some supplementing with farmer's market veggies have black beans burgers, tacos, quesadillas, stir-fries, and egg rolls, all using roughly the same ingredients.

It has taken us a very long time to get there, but it is possible, and the hardest part was the "cooking for two" part, as many recipes are made for families. It takes time, but you'll get there, seeing what the problem is, that's the first step to solving it.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

What everybody else said about the vegetables but for some things, like mushrooms, it's best if you dry them...slice, lay on a pan and wait until dry.

Jennifer said...

That's what my husband and I do for lunches... we eat exactly the same thing for a week, and switch every week. YOu might find doing something like this for dinners OR lunches helps!! We will cook a big pot or pan of something (which saves energy of cooking once instead of seven times- but we do refridgerate it). It usually contains almost all the food groups, too...

And then we eat it until it is gone. And start over he next week. IT really works.

Or,find easy recipes that use exactly ONE pepper, or ONE tomato, or one whatever...

Here's one:
Slice and saute 1 red pepper
Cook 1 serving of fettucine
Mix altogether with parmesan (keeps a long time) and parsley (preferably from a kitchen window plant)

Since you ahve to eat an entire vegetable in one serving, you might find that you are eating foods (like the above) that are rather simple, being just that ingredient, a dried starch of some sort (rice, pasta, etc) and some seasoning. But, it's really easy to cook, and you will grow to love the flavors that can burst out of simply prepared organic farmer's market goodies.

If the baskets are too big for ONE serving, just plan on making two servings out of it, and eating the next the next night.

ib mommy said...

I just had to chuckle at this post as I stuck the last of the 2 BUSHELS!! of green beans I got at the U-pick farm last week in the freezer. I put a lot of things in the freezer in canning jars but they take up tons of space. I hung my head in shame thinking I wasn't worthy to read FPF any more as I raced to the store to buy ( I can hardly say it ) plastic ziplocs, the first ones I've bought in 7 months! I just didn't realize how many freakin' beans I had.

I also have tried putting things in yogurt containers but mine did get freezer burn:(

Going Crunchy said...

Making a general food plan for the week helps me, and cooking in a big batch and freezing helps as well. I try to plan on what I can make that is more elaborate on less time crunch days, and what is going to be easy.

I also do odds and ends meals and throw lots of tidbits in my lunch box for work.

I love to buy tons of fresh veggies too, but now pay attention to what needs to be eaten befoe it goes bad.

Melissa said...

here's my secret advice on how to blanche the veggies...get a mug and a teabag. Fill up the teapot, and turn the water on to boil. While the water is heating up, get your veggies out. I use a stainless steel plate with a 1/2 inch or so lip...cut the into whatever size you'd like them. When the water boils, pour some in your mug and the rest over your veggies. Drink your tea, and by the time it's finished, you can drain off the water (you can put it into a jar or yogurt container to save for making veggie stock) Then toss the veggies in a container, and freeze.

Like everyone else said, you can use just about any container but the yogurt containers are not good for long term because they do tend to get some freezer burn. I've had really good luck with things like peanut butter containers that have a screw cap.

The veggies that are starting to go bad can be used to make stock if they don't have mold or anything...put them in the pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles with that frozen water from the blanching and use it to make a good stock for soup (and sneak yourself some extra nutrients).

I second Heather's idea, make a soup or chili, or lentil dish, lots of stuff freezes well. Even if you only cook once every few weeks you can parcel it out into small portions and use it for at least one meal a week when you don't feel like cooking.

My final tip - don't take very much cash to the farmer's market :) That's the only way I've been able to keep my buying under control there!

Robj98168 said...

I have no advice to give you- I like peanut butter and jelly myself! Of course, that changes things when you start making your own peanut butter! I miss my store bought peanut butter, so I buy a jar now and then!

Anonymous said...

Hi Arduous,

I cooked for 1 during grad school (and still only cook for 2). I did (and still do) tend to make a batch of something, and then eat it for a few days, and/or freeze some of it. I also try to buy veggies that have a range of shelf lives, so I can eat the ones that wilt/spoil quickly first and then still have something fresh to eat at the end of the week. Fruit helps there, so I probably eat more fruit as the week goes on. More than anything else, the thing that saves me is having to share a fridge, and having to carry my groceries home or take the bus with them. Not that you need to do those things, but if you can come up with a way to physically limit what you buy (unless you are expecting company), it makes it much easier not to get carried away when surrounded by yummy food at the market.

Thank you for writing. I only found your blog recently, but I love reading your posts.


Becca said...

I google whatever fruit or vegetable I'm thinking about freezing and use the word "freeze" and it works every time. Some things you don't have to blanch, like peppers. Never try to freeze celery, blanched or not--it is a disaster. With the blanching, I'm pretty sure my roommate and I just googled it until we found something that gave an exact time, and stuck with that. It takes the guess work out of it and somebody wouldn't be writing it up if they didn't have success with it, right?

My family has a lot of Minnesota church cookbooks, and they always had cool suggestions for substitutions or for things like this. MN is big on hot dishes (casseroles) and I remember reading a suggestion to take whatever cooked vegetables you had left over from your meal (assuming they aren't covered in sauce/cheese/other stuff) and toss them in a Tupperware in the freezer. When it's full, make a casserole. This solution usually used some sort of canned soup as the binding ingredient for the casserole, but I'm sure with a little poking around on the internet you could find a good substitute.

Anonymous said...

don't you eat salads? A bowl of leafy greens with every meal will solve that issue, and you'll figure out pretty quick how much greens you go through in a week (my family: 2 pounds fresh & 4 pounds cooked. I would guess for you, about a pound of salad greens a week if you eat it every day. If we eat out too much, we both have to pack salads for lunch every day.)

But like everyone else said, you can definitely freeze your own broccoli, zucchini (I just froze a ton of shredded zucchini last night), carrot shreds - anything you'd buy frozen will freeze just fine.

Perri said...

We have a largish family (5)But we still sometimes have issues with food waste. I'll cook something that the kids won't eat and viola: we have a large pot of leftovers. Or we manage to forget about the extra bagel and it goes rock hard, and moldy, etc...Here's our solution: Chickens!

We never "throw away" food, we just feed it to the poulty. Between the chickens and the compost pile, there is no food going to waste. And the chickens and compost provide more food. It's a nice little cycle. (I realize this solution doesn't wok for everyone, but perhaps you know someone who keeps chickens... or swine, even, who could take your scraps and trade you some eggs now and then?)

Now, if I could manage to rid myself of PLASTIC waste... (Working on it)... that'd really be something!

ruchi said...

CAE, Hmmm Gujarati, Maharati ... nope, no Irish!

Kelly, thanks for the link.

Megan, uh, don't tell anyone, I don't have any vegetables for this month. I guess I have a can of pasta sauce. Does that count? I'm so getting scurvy.

Abbie, thanks for the explanation!

EBM, I hear you! I actually have a fairly full freezer. I keep all my bread and stuff in there. And oddly, my fridge is almost empty.

Green Grrl, thanks!

Academic, nice post. It's sort of nice to know that other people struggle with the same issues....

Bugs and Brooms, thanks, I had a great time!

Beth, yeah, I saw your food log. I think repetition is just the way to go.

Amaya, excellent suggestion! I get a little intimidated by dinner parties, but the food doesn't have to be complicated. It can be simple and yummy. Thank you.

Crstn85, good idea. Thanks. I've done this before... eating 2 bell peppers over the course of a week by putting them into everything. I always wonder if that's ENOUGH veggies. It seems so hard. I always feel like I need to have a little of five different types of vegetables every day, but that's probably not at all necessary.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking), I'd love to see you write a blog post about it. I actually think in some ways the eating vegan or vegetarian does simplify things. (I was a vegetarian for four years until I had to stop because of health reasons.)

Wayfarer, thanks for the tip. I LOVE mushrooms!

Thanks for the recipe, Jennifer. Looks good!

Ib Mommy, trust me, I have my own plastic sins as well. In fact, I'm writing about one just now! :)

Shannon, I know. Food planning is the key. I need to get back in the habit.

Melissa, fantastic advice and tips. Thank you!

Rob, wow, you make your own peanut butter?! I bow down to you.

Kt, thanks for the compliment! You know, when I primarily shopped at the Trader Joe's I would walk there and that does help tremendously. I still only take what fits in my reusable bags at the farmers' market, but I guess I manage to squeeze a lot in those bags!!

Rebecca, thanks for the advice. I appreciate it.

Anonymous, you know, it's funny because I was just mentioning on Beany's blog about how I don't really like salads. I know, I know, I'm sure they exile you from California for saying that, but it's true!! ;)

P, hah chickens!! I think it would be really funny to have chickens in my living room, but I doubt my landlord would agree unfortunately. I will just have to do better about the food waste until I have a place big enough for chickens.

mollyjade said...

I have this same problem. And I hate throwing out vegetables. I do a lot of what other people suggested. I also have one night a week dedicated to eating anything that's leftover. So that night I eat stirfry, soup, a casserole, pasta, or a salad. Something that is flexible and can use up whatever I have.

Something else that helped me a few years ago when I was trying to eat more vegetables was keeping a vegetable file. I had a separate recipe box for vegetable recipes organized by the vegetable, and my goal was to find five ways I liked to cook every vegetable. I never finished the box, but it got me feeling more comfortable with some of the vegetables I would buy and then hide in the back of the fridge (eggplant!).

Jenn said...

But wait! You can always FREEZE your own veggies! And you can can some veggies, too... and you can take that yummy cauliflower, carrots and onions and make your own fermented pickle (kim chee anyone?)... when I get too much at the market, I usually eat the stuff that's most perishable and freeze the most freeze-able stuff.

ruchi said...

Mollyjade, I think you're right. I need to learn more quick ways to make vegetables. Most of the dishes I know are Indian dishes, and Indian food takes forever to make!

Jennconspiracy, thanks for the tips! Next time, I will try freezing the veggies.

Melissa said...

you just reminded me...another great way to use up veggies is bruschetta! Tomatoes, eggplant, basil, zuchinni, (green bean mentioned radishes and fava beans)...I think just about any veggie can be made into bruschetta (except leafy greens, maybe). The secret is balsamic vinegar, garlic, and olive oil, then something special to give it a unique signature taste. We had zuchinni bruschetta last night - toast some bread, saute the squash for just a couple minutes, chop up, mix with oil, vinegar, and garlic, spread on toast, and top with a pinch of shredded parmesan. It was awesome, if I say so myself!

ruchi said...

I love bruchetta! I'll have to keep that in mind as a possibility.

Donna said...

I used to have this problem until I started keeping my veggies in green eco-bags (can't remember the exact name) which work FANTASTIC! Now, I can keep veggies fresh for weeks when they used to go bad in one week. It cut down on our waste considerably. I know FPF wouldn't approve because the bags are plastic, but I've been washing out and reusing the same set for 3 years now and they're still going strong. If you don't know what these are, I can try to find out the exact name.

Robj98168 said...

I have cooked for one for so long now I am use to it. I cook a "normal" amount of veggies, then just refigerate the leftovers. LOL I love to eat leftover veggies.
Don't know if that helps, but thats what I do!