It was perhaps fitting that the day my editor asked if I’d take on a green lifestyle challenge in advance of Earth Day, I’d just purchased a $7.99 premade quiche. The tiny thing still took 30 minutes to bake and wasn’t much of a hit. While eating too many premade foods is not great for your health, it’s also expensive and generates garbage.
So, I took on a month’s challenge of avoiding packaged foods. What’s more, I aimed to reduce food waste in my house. If I was going to cook something, I would use ingredients I already had in my cupboard or fridge. If my recycle bin, garbage bin, compost pile and pocketbook saw less activity, I was doing well.
My First Steps to Less Waste
I started with some homemade soup. I combined a half-full jar of stewed tomatoes in my fridge with another jar left over from fall canning and spiked it with a few fresh Roma tomatoes I bought and then roasted. An almost empty jar of Alfredo sauce, probably due to turn mouldy if I let it linger, turned it into a creamy soup.
While a low-end can of soup can run you as little as 99 cents, one of those fancy homemade jars of soup can run more like $6.99. This big pot served us for one dinner and many lunches and probably cost me about $3 in total.
My Successes – And Savings
• I took a 99 cent can of chic peas and made homemade hummus (which would run between $4.99 and $5.99 for a big tub). Served it with falafel (I used a mix, sorry! but at least I didn’t use premade from the frozen aisle) and homemade tzaziki. For $3.99, I got a container of Greek yogurt and only used half of it for my dip. The other half I mixed with soup mix later in the week and had another dip. Savings: $5 or more.
• Instead of another quiche with frozen hash browns (breakfast for dinner always includes hash browns for us), I made a frittata with stuff from the fridge and potatoes roasted in the oven. I probably saved more than $10 on that single meal.
• For pastas, I made a few uncooked sauces with fresh tomatoes and basil. One night, I used some butter, flour and milk to make a white sauce and tossed in some stewed tomatoes and basil. I probably saved $10-$15 over a month by not buying expensive canned sauces.
• We also love salad and I made all of them this month with oil and vinegar from the cupboard.
My Not-So-Successful Attempts
• I took all the old bread ends and the last, forgotten bagel and put together a tray of croutons for the oven. While my mother did this all the time (and made breadcrumbs to boot) I under-oiled and under-cooked my croutons and they were merely OK. They’re still sitting in a container right now and are bound for the compost.
• I tried to make homemade quiche. It was a ton of work. And while I ended up with two quiches (I bought premade pastry and you get two) I put in a lot of time and no one ate the healthy one with leeks (I undercooked them), just the one with bacon. We did use the rest of the bacon in other recipes, but still, entertaining-level work and I saved no money.
• I loved the idea of plain Greek yogurt as a base for dips. But accidentally bought one and realized was vanilla flavoured when I got home. Luckily, the kids eventually ate it.
• We had some friends over and rolled out some pizza dough. Great. But I also used up some tomatoes to make my own sauce. Then I cooked some bacon, some fresh spinach and some mushrooms. By the time we ate, I was ready to pass out. A delish meal, but far too ambitious for a Friday family dinner.
What I Learned From Going Green in the Kitchen
What did I learn on my cooking adventure? Some things take more time than others — putting together a fresh pasta sauce or dressing a salad without using bottled is easy. Tinkering with homemade soups, sauces and dips (I’m hoping to try recipes with white bean or artichoke soon) takes less times and gets the cook and the clan less reliant on the pre-made. However, doing elaborate meals that require multiple steps is best saved for the weekend.
What I Saved
I probably saved about $50 over the month and reduced my waste by a bit, maybe five to 10 per cent – not a lot. I think you really save on that end by growing food, canning and, of course, always cooking food everyone loves and finishes up. Now, that’s a real challenge! While I’ll probably cave and cook a frozen pizza this week, I discovered some from-scratch tricks I will keep using. Happy earth day, and good luck doing your part today!
This post is also available in: French