I remember when we were poor grad students a friend telling me she had to throw out some moldy grapes and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it later. She bought grapes and didn’t eat them? They sat long enough to get moldy? To me, having a grocery budget big enough to not only buy grapes but also forget that I bought those grapes long enough to let them go bad was almost impossible to imagine. We had just spent the summer living off of food storage so my husband could study for his comprehensive exams. My kids would think they had died and gone to heaven if I bought them grapes.
I remember the time we felt like we had really made it in this world. It was when we decided we could finally afford to buy real butter all the time instead of margarine. What a luxury! We were rich! Since then, I’ve had several times where I was embarrassed to find that I had to throw out perfectly good food that had gone bad just because I forgot about it. I was ashamed by all that waste.
So this month, as part of my effort to be grateful for what I have, I gathered all the food in my house that was past its expiration date (or almost past) and I planned most of our meals around using it up instead of throwing it out. Are you grossed out? Don’t worry, I stayed away from expired meat or eggs or dairy. I’m not that crazy.
I was a little worried at first about giving us all food poisoning, but aside from some jams I threw out because they obviously smelled off as soon as I opened them, I didn’t find anything really wrong with the expired food. We were able to clear out a lot of room on the pantry and the condiment door of the fridge, try some new recipes, and no one was afflicted with any gastrointestinal ailments.
In order to use up enough ingredients, I pulled out some of my latent skills from our years of being starving students. I googled random ingredients and found new recipes and even made up some of my own. One night, I threw together a pasta dish that used up five things I needed to get rid of. Score! Grub liked it so much, he asked what the recipe was called so he could request it again.
Not only did this challenge help me avoid waste and appreciate all that I have, but it also taught me an important lesson on the dangers of the impulse buy. I will now remember forever that it doesn’t matter if it’s on sale – a giant bag of croutons from Costco is not a wise purchase for our family. I’ve had to spend a whole lot of time on Pinterest searching for casserole recipes that call for crushed croutons because there’s no way we’re going to eat that many salads before March 2017. Also, I think I need to remember that, although my kids used to be okay with cardboard-tasting pancakes, now that I’ve been making light, delicious ones from scratch for so many years, we really have no use for a giant box of Bisquick.
In the future, I plan to keep better track of my food storage rotation and stop buying stuff we just don’t use anymore so I don’t find myself in the same situation. But it is good to know that the numbers stamped on the package are really just a suggestion. I can use my best judgement and not freak out at the strike of midnight on the expiration date. Just don’t tell my kids or they won’t touch the stuff.