LIVING GREEN for March 14, 2013

For Weekly SurgeMarch 12, 2013 

Meal planning can save time, money and the planet

Food is life’s greatest weakness. Food costs money, food takes time, food makes us unhealthy, but sometimes food just tastes so darn good!

Who has time to make dinner at home anymore? Isn’t it just easier to pick something up on the way home? Drive-thru windows are a busy family’s best friend, especially in between school, work, ball practice, cleaning, television shows, bath time and homework. And don’t forget you have to start all over again the next day. We are stuck in the food routine.

The endless cycle of having no time is frustrating and stressful. I admit that we have had those nights where I’m too tired to cook and something from the Japanese place just sounds so much better. While it may seem to save time, it certainly does not save money or our planet. Our landfill is clogged with disposable containers and cups, just from our quick fix meals.

A friend of mine told me that when her sons spent most of their time practicing at the ball field, she didn’t have time to cook day-by-day. Instead, she spent one day cooking a month’s worth of dinners. That’s right: A month’s worth of dinners. I was very impressed and very curious. If she can do it, so can I. She created meals from several recipes and froze them, so when her family came home in the evening, the meal simply had to be heated up.

Here are some tips in getting started in making a change in your food routine:

Buy in Bulk – This isn’t just for members of Sam’s Club or Costco, try purchasing meats in bulk or large packages at the grocery store, especially when on sale. Try couponing or just browsing the sales papers for the best deals. Then whatever you have extra, freeze it.

Consider Your Health – Commercially prepared foods are chock full of sodium, artificial ingredients, ingredients you can’t pronounce, preservatives and fat. When you make your own meals, you control what goes into them. Try using brown rice instead of white rice and olive oil instead of palm or vegetable oil.

Save Money – It seems like a microwaveable, frozen meal is cheap, especially when you can get them for less than $3 each. However, it’s still more expensive than cooking it yourself. I also just don’t find them filling. Anytime you cook at home, it is definitely cheaper than eating out. For example, a regular soda can cost $2.49 at a restaurant. Is that even worth it?

Save the Earth – Stop creating more waste by throwing away disposable frozen meals. One of the best containers for freezing may be the Pyrex brand because it’s safe for freezer and oven and the lids are BPA-free. While Pyrex may be pricey, build your collection; ask for it for birthdays and holidays.

Save Time – Just as my friend did, set aside one day a month to cook a few recipes and you will create enough meals to last several weeks. That one day will save you from pulling out your hair or your wallet for dinner each time. Yes, this involves planning ahead and that first day may be toughest, but try it and soon you will love it.

These dishes tend to freeze well: baked goods, burgers, burritos, most pasta dishes such as lasagna, calzones and manicotti, casseroles, cooked beans and grains, sloppy Joes, roasted meats, pot pies, and meatloaf. Some foods that don’t freeze well include instant rice, salad and fried foods.

Here are a few tips for freezing and storage:

Completely cool hot food before freezing it to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Frozen doesn’t mean it will keep forever. Fruits and vegetables will stay freezer fresh for about eight months, fish for about six months and meats for three months.

If it smells weird or not right, toss it.

Overall and most importantly, while you stock your freezer, don’t forget to label your frozen meals and to properly seal your food to prevent freezer burn.

Some helpful Web site resources for your freezer meal needs:

www.moneysavingmom.com

www.simpleorganizedliving.com

http://allrecipes.com/howto/freezing-foods-a-real-time-saver/

So instead of juggling your time and money, try something different and plan ahead. Planning ahead can save time, money and essentially the planet, too.

Clean Out Your Chemicals

If you need some room for a deep freezer in your garage or laundry room, you may need to do some spring cleaning. As you come across items to get rid of, consider getting rid of those items safely, especially if they are household chemicals. Bring your household hazardous waste to the “Spring Greening” event 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority’s main facility, 1886 S.C.. 90 in Conway. For details, contact 347-1651 or 365-6715.

Jennifer Sellers is the sustainability coordinator at Coastal Carolina University and offers her eco-views at her blog, mygreenglasses.com. Contact her at jen@mygreenglasses.com.

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