Reduce, Reuse, Recalentado: Learn from Abuelas on Minimizing Food Waste
Abuelas are the queens of our households. Because of them, our customs have withstood the test of time, and we have preserved our culture and culinary traditions.
Whenever you have a question, odds are you turn to your grandma, as she always has a wealth of knowledge to offer — not only for life’s many obstacles but also in everyday tasks like cooking.
One of our favorite things about Abuelas is their sustainable and eco-friendly way of life. They refuse to waste even a single piece of food and thus are a walking encyclopedia filled with tips and tricks that prevent this from happening.
Here are some things Abuelas do to reduce food waste that you can start implementing at home immediately.
Buying less food
If your fruits and veggies keep going bad before you can eat them, you are buying way too much food.
Abuelas only go to the store when they need a specific ingredient and only buy what they need for their recipe. While you may want to stockpile to save time, you are, unfortunately, wasting food (and money, too).
Making shopping lists
A part of buying less food is always making shopping lists to avoid buying what you already have at home. Sure, you may use tomatoes every single time you cook, but why continue buying if you still have some on hand?
Abuelas are very strict during their shopping trips and create very detailed shopping lists denoting specific quantities and ingredients.
Meal planning goes hand in hand with making shopping lists. By creating a weekly menu, Abuelas not only save time but also know exactly what ingredients they need and how much they need, thus limiting wasteful purchases.
Adding overripe bananas to a smoothie:
When bananas start filling with brown spots, our first thought is to throw them away. Overripe bananas have a more intense flavor and a more mushy texture, so it is understandable if you don’t want to eat them alone.
However, Abuelas are so resourceful that a banana that accidentally turned overripe on their watch is seen as an opportunity to make a special treat. Adding overripe bananas to smoothies makes for a well-balanced, nutritious drink that is great as a mid-afternoon snack.
Composting involves the process of recycling organic waste and gives our soil a boost of health. Without realizing it, Abuelas compost by using items such as fruit peels and vegetable trimmings to create nutrient-rich soil for their plants and gardens.
Repurposing stale bread
Sometimes, no matter how much we plan, time escapes us, and we are left with stale food. A pantry staple that can quickly go stale is bread, but rather than throwing it away, Abuelas use this as an opportunity to create bread crumbs, bread pudding, and even croutons for your salad.
Using scraps to make broth or stock
Abuelas are queens because they acknowledge the importance of using every part of an ingredient. They prevent waste with their clever ways of using vegetable scraps, bones, or leftover meat trimmings to create delicious broth or stock. They then use it as a base to make flavorful soups, sauces, and even chicken or steak marinade.
Using food for skincare
Incorporating food into skincare is another way Abuelas limit wasting food at home. Rather than using products filled with chemicals and preservatives, they opt for a more holistic route in their beauty regimen. For example, my abuela would always rub banana peels on her face as she said this would help moisturize her skin. Others like to use avocados as hair or face masks.
Storing food correctly
Abuelas know the importance of storing food correctly. This means not putting bread in the fridge, storing potatoes in cool, dark places, and keeping flour, salt, and sugar in a dry environment. Storing things incorrectly can, unfortunately, make them go bad faster, so give your Abuela a call next time you’re unsure where to put something away.
Abuelas are very careful with the amount of food they cook. They would rather cook meals a little bit at a time than a large pot that would go to waste. They are careful with portion sizes and only serve what will be consumed, so leftovers are minimized.
Freezing what they can
Foods such as tortillas and arepas can quickly go bad, but instead of making a fresh batch every single day, Abuelas freeze them so they can be used at their convenience. I have started keeping arepas in the freezer, which has made breakfast time so much easier.
Abuelas also like to freeze leftovers to ensure the food remains fresh and can be enjoyed on a future occasion.
Using leftovers creatively when freezing is not an option
Now let’s be honest. Sometimes not everything can be frozen. Or we simply forget to store things in the freezer before calling it a night.
Abuelas also have a sustainable solution for these occasions and have devised ways of transforming leftovers into delicious dishes the following day. Ever heard of recalentado? This popular Latino plate combines food leftover from the night before, such as beans, rice, chicken, and tortillas.
Sharing is caring
When Abuela “se le va la mano,” meaning she made too much food, she doesn’t hesitate to share with others. She will call her kids or grandkids and tell them to come over to have some dinner. She will even pack some lonche for us to take to work the next day.