Manitoba

How one Winnipeg woman cuts food waste by avoiding the grocery store in January

For the past five Januarys, Colleen Holloway decided she would buy almost no groceries for a month. Instead, she uses the things she already has in her fridge, freezer and pantry.

Colleen Holloway says she's learned a lot about food by going nearly grocery-free for a month

Colleen Holloway said this is the fifth year she won't be buying groceries in January, except milk and eggs. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

Colleen Holloway loves to cook — it's why her pantry is always filled to the brim with ingredients for new meals she wants to try.

But a few years ago after Christmas, Holloway decided to do things differently.

"I buy new things to create new meals and then my pantry gets fuller and fuller, and my deep freezer is filled to the top," she said. "I needed to stop that. So I just decided to buy no groceries and get creative and live out of what I already had in the house."

For the month of January, she decided she wouldn't buy any new groceries, except milk and eggs. Instead, she would use the things she already had in her fridge, freezer and pantry.

It's something she's challenged herself to do every January for the past five years.

At first, Holloway said it seemed like a difficult task — even with the luxuries of a full deep freezer and pantry, and a grocery budget of about $350 per month. But then she started to channel her inner chef.

"It reminds me sometimes of that cooking show called Chopped, where you have three random ingredients and you have to make a meal out of it, and that's what I find fun and creative," she said. 

Since then, Holloway said she's figured out ways to avoid the grocery store — almost — for a month.

Plan ahead

Holloway said the first year she challenged herself to go without groceries for a month, she didn't do any planning. It made the challenge more adventurous, but it was also a lot more difficult.

Now, she said she knows what to stock up on (like frozen and canned vegetables) and what to pay the most attention to in her fridge so she doesn't waste food.

"Vegetables are the trick, because they can spoil faster. So you try to meal plan out what you can make with your fresh ingredients," she said.

"Freeze some leftovers. Heat them up later on, and then work out what your emergency meals are in the last week of the month, which is usually just pantry items at that point."

Colleen Holloway said vegetables like bok choy go a long way in the kitchen because they stay fresh. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

Ignore the best-before date

Holloway said it's a misconception that food goes bad the second it's past the best-before date listed on its packaging. If something looks or smells off, get rid of it, she said — but most of the time, it's still perfectly good to use.

"You look at the best-before dates and you realize that a lot of the time, they're there as a liability to protect the brand and the product that they have, [so] that you can't return it and say it didn't live up to its standards," she said. 

Expiry dates are a different matter: they tell consumers the last day a product is considered safe to consume, and can be found on baby formula, meal replacements, and other specific products.

Don't throw it out — freeze it

For Holloway, the challenge has also been a good way to learn more about how to reduce food waste.

"We throw out so much food as a society," she said. "Look at every way you can use an ingredient and use your leftovers. Use your freezers to protect things, then have them later on."

Because she challenges herself to avoid buying groceries every January, Holloway said holiday dinners present the perfect opportunity to store leftovers.

"Those turkey leftovers, I'm throwing them in the freezer right away," she said. "Leftover ham, in the freezer right away, and they come back to life as a pot pie or a soup or some sort of sandwich."

Have exceptions

Five years into her annual challenge, there are still a few things even Holloway can't go without buying for a month, like milk and eggs.

"I have an egg for breakfast every day," she said. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I'm not going to skimp on that."

It's fine to buy things you really need, Holloway said — just make sure you're being mindful of keeping extra items to a minimum.

Learn about your food

By challenging herself to go without groceries, Holloway said she's learned a lot about the shelf life of all her favourite vegetables, which helps her make smarter decisions about what to use, and when.

"I tend to buy a lot of groceries that can be extended in different ways. A lot of fresh spinach — you can freeze it afterwards. Bok choy, great lifespan. Arugula seems to last forever," she said. "You tend to buy certain things anyway throughout the year that you know can be stretched longer."

Cutting food waste by avoiding the grocery store in January

3 years ago
Duration 2:05
Colleen Holloway said this is the fifth year she won't be buying groceries in January, except milk and eggs.

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