The leftovers tracking device

Our first year of marriage, I had a big problem: a grocery shopping problem. I headed to the grocery store and haphazardly bought things that I thought we would use. Inevitably, they went bad. The leftovers we had also went bad. I was a bad, bad wife and homemaker! The economy at large probably got a nice boost from me buying zucchini three times when I could have only bought it once, but the small economy of our home was just crying out for reform. The helpless whimpers of our bruised and battered grocery budget finally got to me. “Oh-KAY!” I yelled “I get it! I was never cut out to be a spontaneous food shopper anyway, gosh! I hereby repent of all my food squandering and will turn a new and glorious leaf!” And then I composed a small operetta which I promptly sang to celebrate the changing of my ways for the better.

So as you can see, I worked through my problems, and I am happy to report that I’m now perfect.

It’s a happy place, perfection. Except for the part where you keep messing up and have to conceal it from all your friends and loved ones–that’s really the only drawback.

Just kidding! I’ll do an in-depth review of all my flaws shortly, starting with the one that makes me obsessively pick at my scabs, blemishes, and hangnails even when my mama told me to leave them alone. I can’t help myself, mama! Sounds like one of them genetic hoobedihabbidy things again. In fact, I just now ripped off a hangnail with my teeth, though it seems to still be deciding whether or not to bleed.

Have I succeeded in making you cringe? It’s a goal of mine, at least once per day, to horrify someone out there with a shockingly unexpected comment. Normally this “someone” is my husband . . . but today I’m passing the baton to you. He’s been lambasted with so many ridiculous comments from me over the past few days that I thought he deserved a rest.

Getting back to the grocery shopping problem, I soon learned that I work best with a plan. After year #1 of marriage, aka the Year of Waste and Figuring Out this Whole Running a Household thing, I found my rhythm and now plan out meals for the whole week so that I only purchase groceries that are on the ingredient list–I talked about my obsessive planning strategies in this post a little over a week ago. That way I know what I have, I only buy what I need, and I can arrange the meals so that if there’s an ingredient that I know won’t stay fresh long (like basil), that recipe gets made early in the week. This system has helped me reduce our waste, conserve our national resources, and probably save the whales too. But there is another device that we have been using since that fateful first year of marriage that I would like to bring to the forefront: please welcome The Leftovers Tracking Device.

Here’s how it all went down: we purchased a small dry-erase board and stuck it on the fridge. The person who puts the leftovers away after a meal is responsible for writing that item on the board along with the date it was made. That way, we not only know what there is to eat at a glance, but we can easily see if the leftovers in question are past their expiration date—no more wondering “What day did we cook this stinky pile of cabbage? Was it last weekend or the one before?” or “Is this pot of Chicken Cacciatore really a year old, do you think? Should I take a bite and see if it’s still good?” The board will tell us what we need to know! When somebody does their household duty and finishes up a container of leftovers, they simply erase the item from the board.

Our board is getting kind of old and the marker isn’t wiping off as well, but a douse of our friendly reserve of rubbing alcohol, applied with a cotton ball, makes it at least legible.

Moral of the story: if you have problems remembering the contents of that container at the back of your fridge that has something brownish-greenish in it (that could either be old bell peppers or a pile of scrapings from the bottom of your neighborhood pond), buy a dry erase board! It’s a worthwhile investment in your future and the future generations.

And with that, I wish you all a happy, caffeinated Monday morning.

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14 Responses to The leftovers tracking device

  1. Kay Heritage says:

    What great idea! I just threw away several things in my fridge. Thanks for the great tip, Jenna.

  2. Brilliant! I write the information on the containers in the freezer, but then they get buried under other stuff and I forget about them. Your list solves that problem!

  3. Sarah says:

    What a good idea! Many of our leftovers get eaten by my husband in a good amount of time (he actually likes leftovers… weird), or they’re frozen for his lunches in the future, but we always do have some leftovers in the fridge. This is a much better idea than trying to write the date on the food item that some people suggest. I’m drinking my coffee now, off to a happy caffeinated Monday! :) Have a great day too!

  4. claire says:

    such a great idea! hope you have a great monday too!

  5. Robin says:

    Very clever idea, one that will save me a lot of grief. Or at least save me from food poisoning.

    Thanks. :)

  6. Vicki DeArmeyv says:

    Jenna, great post. I know your Mom is a great advocate of using left-overs before starting something else from scratch. How did she take care of this problem of knowing dates etc.? Just curious…

    • Jenna says:

      I have no idea . . . Mom? Are you out there somewhere in cyberspace?
      I do remember that when it was time for a leftovers dinner, Mom would get out all the containers and line them up on the counter, and we would pick and choose what we wanted.

  7. Carrie says:

    I’m afraid, four years in, I still buy way more than I need (or even want, but – shh! – don’t tell the celery!). Each trip to the grocery store concludes with a trip to the trash chute. :( This is a great idea, Jenna… My only problem is, we usually eat the leftovers; it’s the uncooked food (cough*broccoli*achew!) that goes bad under my negligent eye.

  8. Twinky says:

    Yes, Jenna, Here I am in the cyberspace over Wisconsin… Leftovers are GREAT! Some get BETTER with the days, like soups, stews, Paella, and …. Anyone care to mention some others? I have a sense for what has been made when, and with a family of 5 mouths, leftovers were consumed pretty quickly…. I will admit that the dating system you operate by is a GREAT way to manage things. I do still buy on general principles and take my inspiration of what to make based on what I see is available. That may need to change sometime in the nearer than farther future since it is now just the two of us, but right now I don’t have the emotional energy to sit down and PRE-plan anything! I am in a reactive rather than proactive state these days. I do look forward to when I actually WANT to open a cookbook and find something new to make rather than doing the same-old-sam-eold that requires no thought, effort or creativity…. SOME day!

  9. Vesselina says:

    I remember first being introduced to this genius invention when visiting you guys in DE. Ah, the good old days. It’s amazing that you guys have so much discipline and have stuck with this system for so many years. Kudos. I think what you save from being thrown in the dumpster far outweighs what I actually throw away each week. So there… call it even :)

    On a different note, I see that playing with the aperture settings on that Nikon yielded some great results of the board! I love the very first shot at the top.

  10. katie o. says:

    Hmm, I think I need to follow suit and copy this. I use a chalkboard to post the menu for the week, but never thought about including what’s left over in the kitchen. I love it!

  11. Abigail says:

    Great idea! My hubby has been trying to get me to do something like this with food in the freezer. However, right now, I have the excuse that our living situation makes this…er… (almost) impossible. Dare I confess my *cough cough* lazi-*cough cough*-ness? Er…did I just admit to that? Yikes!

    Seriously, though, my living situation has been too overwhelming to do anything like this…but that will soon change. Yay! Not only that, but after eating something bad last night…ick…Carrie recommended I come here to read this. *sigh* I guess I will just HAVE to get it together and do something NOW. Thanks for sharing.

    Alcohol, huh? I will have to try that. It has to cheaper than those cleaners.

  12. Pingback: Bad Food or How Old Was That? « Little RV on the Hillside

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