By Jenny McCoy — Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

For many during the holiday season, we are tempted by indulgences and excess. And come the New Year, we feel sickened by it all. After my December of gluttony, I’ve decided to focus on a less-considered side of overabundance – the excess garbage it can create. I’m not going to join a gym or stop eating cookies. I will definitely not be cutting back on my red wine and red meat. Instead, for my 2017 resolution, I will spend the entire 31 days of January creating zero food waste at home.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will share some tips to prepare myself for the journey ahead. Perhaps, you’ll join me and take the challenge, too?

credit: rick

credit: rick

First Thing First: Get Organized

The easiest way to prevent food waste is to organize your grocery shopping. Here are three things to do before even making your shopping list (never go to the grocery store without a list!):

  1. Inventory: Take two minutes to do a quick inventory of what you already have in your fridge and cabinets.
  2. Count your meals: I always look at my weekly calendar and decide how many nights I plan to cook dinner. I estimate how often my family will be eating food from home, including breakfast and lunch, throughout the week.
  3. Choose a menu in advance: I love spending free time flipping through cookbooks, so I expect this will be the most fun part of my game plan. My family loves leftovers, so I try to pick recipes that serve twice the amount needed per meal. Extra tip: Look for recipes that use ingredients already in your inventory.

To the Grocery Store 

You’re organized, you have your list and you’re ready to shop. Now what? Here are some tips for navigating the grocery store:

  1. Minimize impulses (but keep it real): I can’t resist some impulse shopping, but I’m setting a limit for myself: I will buy 90% of what I need and 10% of what I want. In my cart, that means nine of my purchases are off my list and one random item is a wild card (usually a fancy chocolate bar!)
  2. Be practical about fresh produce: I love purchasing a wide variety of fresh produce — it’s so pretty and colorful! But since I don’t eat the bulk of my meals at home, this usually results in a lot of waste. Fresh fruits and veggies are the most perishable items on my grocery list. So instead of having oranges, bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe and a pineapple each week, I will remind myself that each visit to the grocery store will not be the last time I see fruit again. Also, stick to purchasing produce that is exclusively in season. By narrowing options, you can lessen your chance of purchasing too much perishable food.
  3. Don’t get sucked into sales: Saving money at the store doesn’t always equate to real savings. Since sales tend to make me over-shop, which results in more food in my trashcan, I shall vow to swap a comparable non-sale item from my list for every sale item I believe I must take advantage of – that way, I’ll buy the non-sale item if I truly think it’s worth it.
  4. Shop the store backwards: This is my absolute favorite way to prevent over-purchasing. Did you know that grocery stores are designed to navigate your shopping experience? The main entrance opens up to the glorious produce section, followed by the bakery or meat department and then the dairy section. Next come the dry goods and, finally, the frozen section. Grocers know that you are likely to select more items when you first walk in the door. As your cart starts to fill, you start thinking about your wallet and cut back your shopping. Grocers want to sell their most perishable products first because it’s the most effective method for reducing food waste in their stores. To defeat this system of subtle marketing, my route will be as follows: Dry goods, dairy, meat, deli, bakery, produce and finally, frozen foods (I don’t want my ice cream to melt!). Though I feel like a salmon swimming upstream, it seriously makes a difference (plus it prevents me from squashing my delicate lettuces and tomatoes — oh wait, no more fresh tomatoes for a while).

We’re organized, we stuck to our list (mostly) and now we’re ready to cart our groceries home. What’s next? Check back soon for my second post, where I’ll share more tips for preventing waste and share my progress.

Want to become a pastry arts pro like Chef Jenny? Click here to learn about ICE’s career programs. 

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