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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

A New Path to the Goal of Less Wasted Food

One of the lessons that I've learned from being a mother and a spouse is that when I want to effect a change in behavior in my family members, instead of badgering them constantly, I have much more success if I give that family member some control (and responsibility) for the outcome. I've heard of parents giving the responsibility of paying the water bill to adult kids (with their own money) still living at home, in lieu of paying rent each month. Doing so incentivizes these young adults to get out of the shower faster and not leave the faucet running when brushing their teeth. So when I was handing over some of my smaller regular tasks to my daughters and husband the other week, I was delighted when one of my daughters volunteered to take on managing the leftovers in the fridge. Since (what feels like) forever, managing all things "kitchen" has been my domain, including tracking leftovers.

I say I was delighted because this is an area that both daughters could use a little nudge. This isn't a criticism of either of them. After all, neither of them have experience in tracking the foods that go into the fridge, and thus developing a sort of radar for when to use things up (because they've had me doing just that). But they do generate a lot of leftovers that linger. They're young, and they buy foods they like and think they'll eat, sometimes more stuff than they can realistically eat before spoilage. And they often have evening conflicts, resulting in some or most of their dinner getting put into the fridge. So, although I didn't plan it this way, they or one of them needed to "see" leftovers from the perspective of trying to minimize their build up.

What my daughter has done for us

First, she organized everything in the fridge. It looked great. Of course, within a few days the rest of us have made a quasi-disorganized mess of her hard work already. But she did establish a space for leftovers and bits and bobs that need using up. 

Then she began asking each of us to use these foods or plan future meals around them. She offers suggestions on how these foods can be used. 

Dovetailing with this chore, she also puts together fruit and vegetable items or dishes that we all use in making our own lunches. On days when she's working, she may just tell us what needs using and one of us at home gets these items out at noon. On days when she is at home, she may make a simple soup or pick greens for salad, to which we each add our own sandwich, cheese and crackers, etc. In doing this task, she also checks the shelf in the fridge with items that need using. If someone has leftovers, she's the point person to remind them. 

This has been extremely valuable for our family, not just in making sure we don't waste food, but also in keeping our fridge somewhat organized so we can find things again. And, I've noticed that both of my daughters are using up the foods that they've bought and forgotten about.

Among the items that need using are my many jars of pickle juice, sweet, sour, and some spicy (oops -- guilty as charged). She also found the other jar of dill relish that I couldn't find when we had our Labor Day cook-out. (I opened a second jar because I couldn't find the first.) I was able to finish off the mostly empty dill relish at a cook-out on Tuesday. Also for Tuesday, my daughter had found the chocolate patties leftover from Labor Day. So we made s'mores after the hot dogs.

If I didn't know better, I would say that we generate more food than we can consume, even with me not shopping as often. It takes one person to monitor what is staying in the fridge longer than necessary, or else we end up with a lot of waste.

My daughter's efforts are working with me, too. Earlier this week, I made a teriyaki marinade using sweet watermelon pickle liquid and sour fig pickle liquid. Another day I rinsed 2 caramel sauce bottles out with hot water to add to my afternoon coffee. And today, I rinsed out a near-empty mustard bottle with vinegar and made a bottle of mustard vinaigrette (it dressed tonight's salad). Now, I need to plan a soup that will use up that pasta cooking water from Monday.

Not only have I gained some time for other, beneficial-to-the-family chores, but I can rest assured that the leftovers are being tracked and we're wasting less food.


  1. That's great that your daughter has taken over this task! This is an area where our fridge/family could stand some work. It definitely takes effort to stay on top of things in this area, and I'm glad to hear you're getting a break from being the fridge supervisor, lol.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I had been referring to myself as the Leftover Monitor (like a Hall Monitor). I think everyone was welcoming a new voice to ask about their leftovers. Ha ha.
      Yes, in our house, leftovers and odds and ends definitely take someone to stay on top of it all.

  2. You are so right! I think it's human nature to enjoy having a measure of control and to dislike being nagged. I'm glad the fridge management is working well for you and I'll have to keep your wisdom on my radar. :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      I was feeling like a nag, too. No one wants to be nagged or be the nagger.
      Me, too. So far, so good. I learn from my kids, too. My daughter is less of a nag and more of an encouragement to using our leftovers. I should probably try to be more encouraging.

  3. With adults in the home I feel like they can contribute even if it's just a little bit. Your daughters helping with the refrigerator is a big help even if it seems small.

    I think many of us make more food than we can consume. In fact, I think most families do. The leftovers don't get lost so much in the fridge but recipes often make portions for more than one or two people so we end up with leftovers much to often for my liking. I sometimes make something else so we don't have to eat the same thing 3 days in a row and that's where our problem is. Trying to finish off something from 3 days ago plus something from one day ago and then there are too many leftovers. I'm trying to make less freezer meals for my son because I feel like he and his sister (live together) should be able to prepare enough for their own meals moving forward. I did that for my son to give him variety when he was living alone but they have to provide their own meals as much as possible.

    My fridge is just about empty so I think tomorrow I'll give it a good wipe down. I won't need to buy much because there is enough there for the two of us as well as many choices in the deep freezer.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Your comment reminded me of when I was first living on my own. A co-worker lent me a cookbook that was titled "Cooking for 2". That cookbook was my introduction to making baked beans from dried beans. It had other easy recipes for someone like me just starting out and not needing to cook for a household.

      I can understand the difficulty in cooking meals for just you and your husband. When my husband and I have a night when it's just the two of us, we're inclined to make grilled cheese sandwiches or something equally simple. It's harder to motivate myself to make a bunch of side dishes if it's only us. And if I were to bake a pie with just two of us here, it would take us a week to eat the whole thing. I'd likely slice the pieces even smaller than I do now, as my husband and I have smaller appetites that our young adult daughters.

      I'm glad you won't need to buy very much this week. That's a nice bonus!

  4. It is smart to assign someone to keep track of the leftovers in your fridge and it sounds like your daughter is doing a good job with it. I tend to encourage others to use up leftovers while my son is good about using up produce and other things like that before they go bad. So overall, we do okay, but sometimes things do get away from us.


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