Thursday, August 28, 2014


During the past decade of my career in the workforce there have been two settings in which I have learned lessons on wastefulness: the restaurant industry, and the skilled nursing industry. The lessons learned working in restaurants are not much fun, and seldom transfer into day to day home life. The lessons learned from residents of a nursing home are just the opposite. Lessons learned from the elderly typically have a good story or saying attached, are applicable to everyday life, and often offer us a glimpse into history. Many of the residents I work with are either old enough to have lived through the great depression, or their parents lived through it, and they heard the stories and phrases from them. Although some of the phrasing may be dated, the lessons contained still hold true.

I was helping a gentleman in his 90's wash his hands in the restroom. He carefully scrubbed and rinsed them, and I handed him two paper towels. He looked at the paper towels and said "What in the hell did you give me two for? One would have done the job." I told him that I had given him one for each hand. I didn't tell him that I usually use three for myself. His daughter was nearby waiting for us to finish and she said "Tell her how many sheets of toilet paper we were told to use growing up, daddy." His reply: "Two!" She said "Tell her why, daddy. Tell her about the pennies." The man told me this: "Sheets of toilet paper cost pennies. Save five pennies, you've got a nickel. Save that twenty times, you have a dollar." 

Now, I have a good idea that the vast majority of readers will agree that two sheets of toilet paper is an insufficient number to use, but the idea behind the limit is a good one. According to, the average American uses 57 sheets per day, which adds up to be 50 pounds of paper per year. I think that sometimes we forget that pennies add up to be dollars. Whether it be paper towels, toilet paper, water, gas, or electricity, saving pennies adds up! Pay attention to your usage. Use a towel to dry hands and dishes, rather than paper towels. Reduce the sheets of toilet paper you use. It's okay if your hands happen to get dirty, you're going to wash them anyway (and dry them with a towel, right?) Take shorter showers, turn down your water heater, open your windows at night instead of turning on your air conditioning, put a sweater on in winter rather than turning up the heat, water your lawn and garden during cooler hours, turn off lights in rooms you aren't using.
These are easy habits to establish. At my house we wash  most of our dishes by hand, even though we have a dishwasher, to save on electricity. Our dishes also end up cleaner and it takes less time to wash by hand. When washing laundry we hang out items that are more difficult to get dry in the dryer. Once dry, all you need do is put them in the dryer on fluff with a dryer sheet. This will soften the clothes, but you won't be using electricity or gas to dry them.
If you want to take it a step further, spend some money to save some money. Install low-flow faucets, toilets and shower heads, replace light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, update your water heater and your refrigerator, install heat retaining windows and replace weather stripping around doors, install a light sensor on outdoor lights so they only turn on when it's dark out. All those pennies could add up to make you a whole lot richer!

Another lesson I learned pertains to wastefulness in the kitchen. I was helping a lady who is in her late 60's, and exchanging stories with her. She told me a phrase that her mother often used. "A woman can throw more out the back door with a teaspoon than a man can bring in the front door with a shovel." 
The meaning behind this is that even if the breadwinner of the home is bringing in plenty of money for the things you need, it's all for naught if it is going to be wasted and "thrown out the back door." According to the average American family wastes up to 25% of food and beverages purchased. This could add up to thousands of dollars a month. I know I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. So, what can be done about it?

Only buy things that you know you will use before it expires. If you need creamed corn for a recipe, but your family does not make a habit of using creamed corn for anything else, just buy a few cans for the few times you make that particular recipe. 

Cook meals that are the appropriate size for the number of people being served. If you happen to have leftovers from your meal, put them away, and eat them later. If you have made a dish in which a large batch is required (We often make huge pork shoulders for pulled pork, or big pots of taco soup) utilize your freezer, or canning jars to put away what's left. If you have cooked and put away a lot of meat throughout the week, make chili with it. There are only two in our household, so most recipes give us leftovers, and although we do a good job of putting them away, those leftovers typically get forgotten in the refrigerator or freezer. Put it away, but don't forget to assess your leftovers before you make a whole new meal!

If you find a way to save money on the front end, such as markdowns, case lot sales, family deals, or bulk purchasing, you should have a way to preserve your purchases so your savings don't go to waste.
Family size packages of meat can be portioned into one-meal portions and frozen.
Unopened sauces such as barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard and mayo don't have to be refrigerated, so find a spot in your pantry or food storage and line those bad boys up.
Hot dogs, bacon, and packages of luncheon meat can be frozen, then defrosted in your fridge for later use. Loaves of bread, hot dog buns, and hamburger buns all freeze well. Just put them into the fridge a few days before you will need to use them.
Bulk sized sacks of staple foods such as flour, cornmeal, sugar, rice, and pasta can be kept in 5 gallon buckets with tight-fitting lids. This will keep the foods fresh, contained, and will help keep pests such as weevils out.
Organize canned goods, boxes and jars in your pantry or food storage and rotate stock, move the oldest food forward to be used first so that it doesn't expire before you have a chance to eat it.
If you buy produce on sale, you can freeze, dehydrate, pickle or can most anything. Make sure that you preserve it before it goes bad in your crisper drawer.
Finally, look at the portions of food that you are serving and how much it costs to cook each meal. In America we have a tendency to eat large portions of more expensive foods, such as meats, and scoff the cheaper stuff which is just as filling. You can use the cheaper foods to stretch the meal to feed everyone involved. Here are some examples: Growing up we served a small portion of a cheap meat (cubed steaks, pan steaks, pork chops, chicken etc.) and filled the meal in with potatoes, rice, noodles, vegetables, salad, rolls, garlic bread or whatever else we had on hand that sounded like it would go well with the meat. If we had pizza or pasta we had salad and garlic bread. We added danish dumplings to homemade chicken noodle soup for an extra filler, and ate it with bread and butter. Chili with beans often topped burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches and tamales to make them stick to your ribs. Click here for some of the cheap and easy things we ate at my house growing up: Mom's Cheap and Easy Recipes   You could also look into depression-era recipes, pioneer recipes, and colonial-era recipes. These were tough times to live in, and more often than not tough times make for cheap yet delicious recipes. Be conscious of food preservation and waste, be creative with your meals, and don't forget the filler foods to round out your meals!