10 Ways to Cut Waste When Feeding Kids
I don't know about your kids, but mine just will not eat kibble. At least not the generic kind. Which means I have to shell out for pricey people food like vegetables, fruit, and milk.
To be honest, I'm a better mom than I let on — I even shell out for organic stuff for my three tykes. But then, so much of that pristine, chemical-free food ends up on the floor or being scraped into the garbage disposal that I wonder why I bothered. Here are the guidelines we use at our house to try to cut the waste-to-consumption ratio when feeding the kids.
1. Give tiny servings.
One of my kids eats like a bird, and it seems that no matter how small a scoop I give her of the night's meal, she manages to leave some in her bowl. I'd rather refill her little dish three times than have her take a few bites and leave the rest that technically should not be saved now that it's been eaten out of. For this fussy little one, even a 4-ounce container of yogurt or applesauce gets divided into two or three servings lest she waste the whole package.
I don't mind doing frequent refills even for heartier eaters either, because it means less food is lost in the inevitable spill.
2. Ask before serving.
Since I don't force (strongly advise, sometimes, but not force) my kids to eat what they don't want, I always ask before putting something on their plates: Would you like some salad? Would you like dressing on that? Where would you like me to put the dressing? ("Between your knees, Mom," is not an acceptable answer.)
It may seem like pandering, but it prevents waste and I feel that showing them a little respect teaches them to treat others with respect.
3. Slice it, dice it.
Don't you just love finding a pear or apple with a centimeter of fruit eaten off the outside and the rest left to turn brown? My kids always eat their apples that way. But if I serve them apple slices instead of the whole thing, between my two girls I'll actually use up the entire apple. Victory!
4. Serve food that you don't mind finishing for them.
I've read that parents gain weight when they eat with their kids, and it's easy to see why: My husband and I ALWAYS end up finishing our kids' plates. Sometimes after a particularly good meal we tussle over the privilege — a sad sight, I assure you. Maybe we're the only parents not squeamish about sharing our kids' germs, but from the way I see the other moms swoop in on their kids' leftover cake at birthday parties, I think not. So go easy on the fatty, high-calorie foods even if the kids don't need to watch their weight, because the person clearing their plate will probably be you.
5. Don't fear the sippy cup.
I know this is controversial, but I don't mind giving my 3-year-old a sippy at the table when she's drinking anything other than water, because I know the cup will get knocked over at some point during the meal. Organic milk costs $6 a gallon and I don't want it soaking up into a towel, because they balk when you wring that towel into their cereal the next day. (Just kidding! I actually only wring it into my coffee.) If the sippy spout seems too much like a bottle to you, use a closed cup with a straw.
6. Keep food and drink at the table.
You know where I collect the most half-drunk sippy cups? The car. If you let the kids wander the house or go on an outing with a milk cup, chances are that milk is going to get wasted. My kids can have a cup or water bottle in the car, but it's full of just that: water.
7. Don't go all out on school lunches.
If your kid is like my kindergartener, anything left over from lunch will come home too grubby and mangled to save, not to mention that it's been unrefrigerated all day. So don't pack a larger lunch than she can finish in the allotted time, and don't let peer pressure tempt you into overspending either on the most parent-approved organics or the most kid-approved packaged foods for lunch. Pack something simple and healthy that won't drive you to drink if it comes home wasted.
8. Transform leftovers.
Sometimes I will refrigerate my kid's plate after they're done, especially if they haven't much touched the food. But if I put that same plate in front of them for the next meal, they won't go near it. Instead, I have to mix that leftover meat into their dinner casserole or otherwise disguise it. My 3-year-old's leftover milk usually ends up in my morning coffee. And half a jar of baby food — assuming you followed Rule #1 and didn't feed directly from the jar — can be thrown into your meatloaf or pasta sauce a la The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals, or frozen in an ice cube tray.
9. Wash it.
Whether or not the 3-second rule is law in your house, some foods like raw fruits and vegetables can be washed even if they've languished on the floor for more than a moment. After all, this stuff wasn't clean to begin with — it began its life covered with dirt. So why not rinse off any floor dust and for an encore presentation?
10. Even if it's beyond human consumption, you can still reuse it.
The absolute best way to guarantee zero waste when feeding your kids is a pet. Families with a dog in the house never have to sweep the chunks off the floor after meals. And I hear about households with guinea pigs and chickens putting those dinner scraps right into the food bowl. Better the chickens having to finish those carrots that fell on the floor than you, right?
If you don't have animals, at least compost the food. Since we got a worm bin in our basement (finally!), I don't feel QUITE as bad about bits of fruit and veggies that get left on the kids' plates. At least it will eventually help our garden grow new fruits and veggies, and maybe next time around the kids will actually eat them.