Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's for Supper? By MCR Sarah D.

I despise wasting food. I also dread this question every day: “What should we make for supper?” My husband and I are pretty passionate about all aspects of food, from farm to table. Every day, on the way home from work, that question plays through my mind and I dread it.

You know the drill. You walk into your home and open the fridge. You open the crisper only to find that the carrots have gone soft, or the 'wild greens' lettuce has turned brown (or worse, to liquid), and there are 17 bottles of opened salad dressing and various sauces. In general, nothing jumps out and says “Make THIS for dinner”. Every two weeks you’re pulling something icky and forgotten out of the back of the fridge. You’re always missing one or two ingredients so you either grab something quick or frozen because you’re in a hurry, or you’re hungry, or both. Sound familiar?

Let me tell you how I changed this maddening process and significantly reduced how much food gets thrown out (and saved money too!).

This year, I decided I was going to apply the first “R” principle I learned from the City of Edmonton’s Master Composter Recycler Program -- Reduce. I decided I was going to reduce how much food waste my family produces while also eliminating my most dreaded task of the day.

Schedule easy dinners on busy nights and leave more complicated meals for the weekends.
My husband, the kids and I sat down at our kitchen table. We talked about all the things we like to eat and then I did a little browsing through the recipe box, cook books and the internet to give us some meal ideas. When we were done, I had about 25-30 choices. I sorted them into piles according to cooking time. The longer prep and cooking time recipes became “weekend” meals, for when we had the time needed to put a bit more effort to make dinner. I also sorted out the most expensive meals from the rest – I will tell you why in a moment (see "Wild Card Night" below). Then I took the meals that are quick, inexpensive and easy to make and laid them out over weekdays on the calendar for the month.  We made sure that we didn't have the same meal too often, and saved the easiest meals for the nights we had extra-curricular activities.  Or, we planned sufficiently large meals a night or two before busy evenings, so we could have leftovers nights.

I also arranged weekend meals, so that, for example, we had roasted chicken and potatoes on Sunday, and used the leftovers (meaning we boiled down the remaining carcass after dinner with celery and carrots) to make a chicken-broth for a delicious home-made soup/stew later that week.
Boil your remaining chicken carcass to make delicious and healthy broth before you throw it away!
Throw in those soft veggies at the back of your fridge for extra flavour and nutrients.
Then, I saved one weekend night each month for a sort-of lottery called “Wild Card Night”. On these nights, we chose from one of the more expensive meals like beef bourginon, brinner (breakfast for dinner), or make your own pizza night (cheese and meats are so expensive!) These meals required a special family trip to the grocery store where we all helped pick ingredients.

Make shopping for "treat" dinner nights a family activity.
I made grocery lists each week for the things I knew we’d need to make the meals we’d planned. This is probably the most important step in reducing waste. Making a list of ingredients that you need for the week ensures that you won't pick up things that you don’t really need when you go to the grocery store. Impulse purchases are probably one of the biggest contributors to food waste. I always choose to forego items that are heavily packaged, and load produce directly into my bags/cart so I am not using any produce bags. I also keep a few reusable grocery bags in my car to eliminate the need for any single-use bags.  This way, I don’t arrive at the store only to realize that I've forgotten my bags at home.

Grocery trips have now become less expensive, less wasteful and less stressful. When we get home at the end of a long day, we already know what we’re making for dinner. The food we need is neither frozen nor rotten, and whoever gets home first starts cooking, which means dinner is ready earlier. We no longer have to take the time to figure out what to cook, or run to the grocery store to pick up the one item that’s missing.

Going through this process has drastically reduced how much food goes to waste in our household. Having a dedicated “leftovers” night means that food doesn't rot in the crisper or in containers forgotten at the back of the fridge. Our planned meals not only tell us what food to buy, they also include a plan for using up leftover rice or meat, which means that less food is thrown into the garbage (or compost bin). A happy side effect of all this planning is that we’re also eating healthier, spending less money on food, and the kids love coming home to check the calendar to find out “What’s for supper!”

Sarah became a Master Composter Recycler in May, 2014. She is passionate about reducing waste, both in her own life and the lives of others. She enjoys being a volunteer and helping to build a sense of community in Edmonton - making connections with like-minded people and learning from the wisdom and experiences of others.
"I especially like volunteering for events as sharing information I believe in, and am passionate about, gets me fired up!"

Monday, April 27, 2015

Big Bin Events 2015

With warm weather comes spring cleaning, and the inevitable pile of unwanted stuff unearthed from basements and garages around the city.

The City of Edmonton holds Big Bin Events through the Spring and Summer, where residents can drop off their large, bulky items for recycling - furniture, appliances, and e-waste - free of charge.

The first City of Edmonton Big Bin Event is this weekend, May 2nd and 3rd, at Commonwealth Stadium. For more information, and to see when we'll be in your area, visit

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Raised Garden Beds for $5 Each...Plus Labour - by MCR Sarah D.

Last summer I knew I wanted to convert some of my expansive front lawn to gardens. Being an admittedly lazy person when it comes to gardening (and given my late start to the season) I didn't want to rototill my front yard into rows to make this happen. Instead I turned to what I had recently learned from my participation in the City of Edmonton’s Master Composter Recycler (MCR) program.
A gorgeous example of reuse in action
In the MCR program, I learned about Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in North Edmonton and the abundance of construction materials that could be found there. Not knowing what to expect, I took the trip over to the store to check it out. Upon arriving I noticed the remnants of window packaging in the front industrial yard – wood frames with cross beams casually labeled $5 each in sharpie. I immediately saw what these misshapen old frames could become. Just in case they'd already sold, I tried not to get too excited at my exquisite find.

Can you see where I'm going with this?
I pretended to ignore them, heart racing, and casually walked inside and up to the front counter. Trying to act natural I asked the clerk if I could purchase the empty window shipping crates and was over-joyed to discover I was not too late! We purchased 7 of them and had to make several trips back and forth to get them home – safety first. As you can imagine, making sure that each load was secure with straps and bungee cords was no small task.  It turned out I was extra lucky; we found out afterward that they could’ve sold them several times over later that day!

Once home I laid the frames out on the front lawn. This process for me took some time as I tried to think of the best way to use them. I went through a few patterns by placing and replacing them, and even sketching layouts that I liked on paper. I eventually found the design that would make the best use of the chain link fence and the position of the sun as it hits my yard.
Perfect place by the fence, and another bed in the middle of the yard
At first I thought about removing all the grass from the bottom of wherever I placed them, but quickly abandoned this notion in favour of something far easier. I decided to use old cardboard and newspapers to line the bottom of my new garden beds to ensure that the lawn below would not grow up through the soil. First, the kids and I removed some of the cross beams that would get in the way of roots and that didn’t really add a lot of structural integrity.

In order to make these garden beds as reuse friendly as possible, I collected some unfinished compost from my compost pile that had settled over the previous winter. I lined some of the beds with it and some without. If you don’t have any finished compost, unfinished will do in this case or you can purchase some compost through the City of Edmonton’s list of compost retailers.

Adding unfinished compost
Then I topped all the beds with soil I had purchased to fill the remaining volume, and voila! Raised garden beds for $5 plus labour and a little soil. All other materials were free/recycled!
Soon to be the envy of the neighbourhood
That first year we planted our veggies and had a great crop of onions, beets, carrots and basil and other fresh herbs. Truly a reuse success!

Life doesn't get any better than this!

Sarah became a Master Composter Recycler in May, 2014. She is passionate about reducing waste, both in her own life and the lives of others. She enjoys being a volunteer and helping to build a sense of community in Edmonton - making connections with like-minded people and learning fromt he wisdom and experiences of others.
"I especially like volunteering for events as sharing information I believe in, and am passionate about, gets me fired up!"