Friday, February 24, 2017

How to Make Zero Waste Cooking Easier



You probably remember from my article "1 Year of Zero Waste - A Reflection" I mention that one of the challenges I faced was changing my diet and how I ate. Because we live in a time where eating out and making "semi - homemade" meals is the norm, it was INCREDIBLY difficult to get into a rhythm of easily making meals that were very plant based and with more homemade components. So trust me when I say this, there were a lot of times when my husband and I failed and gave in to waste - like fast food subs and packaged tortillas. We also found ourselves eating out more at sit down restaurants because it seemed, at the time, it was easier to avoid the challenge of refusing waste at the grocery store than to just eat and split. I now know THAT isn't a solution but actually contributes to an equal amount of waste in the long run.

I think the most important thing I learned was that striving to be perfect right out of the gate can do more harm and actually cause more failures - at least it did for me. I wasn't very easy on myself from the beginning. What can I say, I'm a perfectionist. Instead, I should have implemented sub steps in the "cooking" department. Trying to change everything at once didn't work out so well.

Well, we've figured out a process that has been working very well for us for over a year and a half now and has made it possible for us to only eat out once per week - on date night! Eating out is no longer an easy "cop out" to avoid being responsible for our own waste and has become something we look forward to for it's intended purpose of rewarding ourselves after a long, busy week.

When I started trying to prepare meals with zero waste ingredients I was severely overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start. All of the recipes and meals I was used to making contained many ingredients that weren't available package free. I panicked and instantly thought that zero waste wasn't attainable for me. I know many of you face the same woes as I did so I'm here to help! There really isn't a perfect way to meal prep and stay ahead of your grocery shopping so all I can do is explain my process.



Assess Your Package Free Options

It was hard to know what I could prepare waste free before I even knew what was available. What was package free in my store? Of course fruits and veggies galore are without plastic and my local grocery store has a pretty big bulk section and a bakery - I know, I'm lucky. Right away I knew that my meals would need to be plant based in order for my zero waste goals to come into view and I was perfectly ok with that. Here's a big tip, take pictures of your bulk sections. That way, you can reference the photos later for when you are meal planning because there is no way to remember dozens of items off the top of your head. Now, I know many of you are without bulk sections and that breaks my heart. Fret not, check out my post "7 Ways to Reduce Food Packaging Waste Without Access to Bulk" for those tips. Also, I don't want to mislead you that everything I purchase is without packaging. For items that I can't get package free, I opt for metal, paper/cardboard, or glass. Bottom line....plastic free.

Pare Down Your Meal Repertoire 

I'm sure you've read several blogs and articles about how our life is considerably less complicated with less stuff. I swear the same applies to meal planning! I have found that it is much more manageable to have a handful of choices every week to choose from, instead - it makes grocery shopping a lot easier, too! It also comes with several other benefits.


  • Simple meals require less ingredients requiring less money
  • Rotating the same meals reduces food waste as you are not buying proprietary ingredients for a recipe that may or may not work.
  • Simple menus mean less stress throughout the work week.

But seriously,  how many Pins do you have right now on your recipe board? More options isn't necessarily better.



Stick to a Theme

We still like to have a little variety every once in awhile so we have a few nights where we stick to a theme but change the recipe slightly each time. For example, we do Stir-Fridays - I know, cheesy. We don't necessarily use the same recipe every time but buy veggies that are on sale or in season and incorporate what ever we have into the dish. It's fun.


Meal Prep

This is very important. For me, it's impossible to go into a grocery store with no plan and just randomly put together meals for a week and not forget any ingredients. Coming up with my meals ahead of time as well as making a list of ingredients I need is crucial to avoiding waste. Also, once you get your ingredients, prepare anything and everything you can ahead of time like chopping, making rice, baking, etc. Having things  ready to go on a nightly basis will help get meals on the table and make it less of a possibly for you to cave to fast food.


Try Substitutions

Don't be afraid to substitute items for ones you can't get package free. For instance, if you are accustomed to eating prepackaged cookies as a snack, try bulk trail mix. My grocery store has one with cookie dough balls! What?!!!!! It's so good. Also, if you are trying to kick dairy, like sour cream for instance, sub in avocado or salsa.


All in all, it just takes time and patience. You'll get there, I promise. I hope I didn't give you WAY too much information. I wanted to make sure I gave you all of the tips and tricks that have helped me these past couple of years.

Have questions? Post them in the comments! 



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