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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frugal and Green in the Kitchen - Use Less Foil, Baggies and Wrap

Earlier this week, my husband made a turkey meatloaf for dinner. The loaf was done before the potatoes were, so he took it out of the oven, placed it on a cutting board and pulled open one of the kitchen drawers to get some foil. There was no foil. There hadn't been for about a week but neither of us had remembered to buy some. The choices to cover the loaf so it wouldn't get cold were wax paper, parchment paper and some plastic wrap...all of which could cover it, but none would keep it warm.  I had an "ah ha" moment, pulled a mixing bowl out of a cupboard and popped it over the meat loaf. Ta da.  Dinner stayed hot.

Sometimes you just have to use foil: to prevent the skin from browning too early when you're a roasting turkey or chicken; to keep the top layer of cheese from melting while the lasagna bakes; to cover a quiche or pie to avoid a soggy crust. And there are times when plastic wrap and plastic Baggies are essential tools.

But in the past few years, we've cut way back on our use of these disposable products. And we've subsequently made our kitchen greener and more frugal. Here are some of the ways we do it:

  1. We keep a big collection of covered containers of all sizes and shapes. Our favorites are glass food storage containers with plastic lids from Crate and Barrel. We have rectangular, square and round versions in three sizes. They nest so they don't take up tons of space. Just about every kind of leftover fits in these - big round ones for soups and stews; little square ones for that last bit of salad that no one wants now but is enough for lunch tomorrow; and the large rectangle for the second half of the meatloaf that will be dinner two nights from now. The glass containers are also great for heating things up in the microwave. No worries about heated plastic leaching toxic chemicals into the food.
  2. We use food containers instead of plastic wrap or foil to store half-used onions, sweet peppers, scallions and other salad fixings, as well as a half grapefruit or orange that will be eaten later. They'll stay just as fresh and you can easily see what's inside the container.
  3. Instead of keeping lettuce and leafy greens in plastic bags in the fridge, or in damp paper towels (a trick that does help them stay fresh, but still seems wasteful), invest in a SaladSac. These special terry cloth drawstring bags keep greens remarkably fresh for what seems like ages. If I were really clever, I might try making my own salad bags.
  4. Pack lunches and snacks in reusable containers instead of Baggies, foil and wrap. Sandwiches fit nicely into the containers take out food or restaurant leftovers sometimes come in. A cut up orange, celery sticks or some cubed cheese go in the round tubs that olives or fresh mozarella once came in. We don't buy all that much stuff in plastic containers, but over the years we've accumulated quite a few.
  5. Use the wax paper liner of a cereal box for your sandwich, pretzels or cookies. Close it with a paper clip or clothes pin.
  6. Reuse Ziplock freezer bags. This is one disposable I can't live without because we freeze a lot of fruits and vegetables from the CSA, garden, farmer's markets and U-Pick farms. But if a bag is still in good shape after it's been emptied of frozen blueberries, chard or green beans, I wash the bag out in hot soapy water, turn it inside out, place it over a glass or bowl in the dish rack and let it dry.  Then it's ready to be used again.
Do you have a tip for using fewer disposables for transporting and storing food? Please share.


    1. Dee Dee - thanks for the tip on Saladsac. You mentioned the glass containers from Crate and Barrell, I bought a set of pryrex containers from Costco a few years back for $25 or less. They came with plastic/rubber lids for storage. The advantage of the pyrex container is that they are also oven safe. Costco only sold as a set. I have been looking for someplace to buy a few more of the smaller sizes. Any tips on where I might find? Nancy

    2. I like using parchment paper and Silpat for cooking - it keeps food moist and unless the temperature is above 400, doesn't burn and keeps baking sheets clean. I stay away from foil as much as possible. Costco has now large rolls of parchment paper. It's still waste, but at least it is not foil.

    3. Thanks for visiting Nancy. I like the Pyrex cotnainers too - I've only seen them sold as sets. Perhaps yard sales or flea market for single ones.
      Nadine - We use parchment paper for baking. I wonder if it's compostable?

    4. Do you make an exception with reusing freezer bags for when you store raw meat in them? I can't seem to justify washing one of these out and risking contaminating something I would store in there in the future. What's your thinking on this?

    5. Good question Leah. I guess I don't freeze much meat. But I did freeze 10 bags of shrimp (we bought them from a roadside stand in NC and kept them in an ice chest during the drive home!). I have washed those bags (hot water and soap), and then used them for non-food storage like yarn, craft supplies, ribbon, envelopes, etc. And when I'm not looking, I think some probably do wind up in the trash!