Many of our regular food rescue volunteers have stepped up to do more than ever before during the COVID-19 crisis, rescuing food on several routes per week and bringing their friends and families along to help. These individuals ensure that our program continues operating and ease onboarding the influx of new emergency volunteers with their experience and willingness to adapt. Several volunteers have also offered to be on call in case we need to fill a route or if a special mission comes up. Thanks to their efforts, we can establish a sense of familiarity with our restructured routes for both regular and new volunteers.
Our volunteers are truly our #helpers in time of great need.
By Rachel Gentile, Student in the University of Iowa Career Leadership Academy
According to The National Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away nearly 200 pounds of food annually. This accounts for 43% of all food waste in America, more than grocery stores and restaurants combined. And as you might expect, household food waste is at an all-time high during the holiday season.
With so many delicious foods to enjoy during the holiday season, how do you decide which dish to cook? It’s so hard to choose a favorite dish, so why not make them all — right? This may be our natural response, but it only leaves us with mountains of leftovers that usually get thrown away.
We’ve put together a few tips to eliminate, repurpose, and prolong the life of food from the festive holiday season!
Proper portion sizes
Come the holiday season, it is hard to estimate how much everyone is going to eat. However, the website savethefood.com has an interactive “Guest-Imator,” which is a handy tool that helps you plan how much food to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner. You simply input how many people you are expecting, how many leftovers you want, and the type of meal (accommodating any food restrictions). The Guest-Imator then generates a recommended portion of meat, vegetables, casseroles, side dishes, and, of course, dessert! This easy online tool helps take stress out of the holiday season and finalize a menu just for you and your family.
We have all experienced the dreaded moment you realize you have forgotten an ingredient for Thanksgiving dinner. Last-minute trips to the grocery store on Thanksgiving Day are nothing short of chaotic! Everyone is bustling through the aisles grabbing the last cans of cranberries and green beans – what a mess!
This is why it is so important to do your holiday shopping early and learn how to store your food properly until the big day. This will help keep you and your food fresh and fun.
We hope these resources save you from having to wait in a checkout line that lasts longer than your anticipated holiday dinner.
While eating a Thanksgiving meal is exciting, multiple leftover dinners can become a bit boring. Let’s learn to repurpose and invigorate great side-dishes into a fresh new meal!
Check out our Youtube page for lots of helpful videos where our Food Rescue Program Manager, Emily, takes you through a few of her favorite recipes that help use up those otherwise commonly-wasted ingredients. Read more about her food-saving recipes and tips here: https://table2table.org/10-meals-excess-ingredient/
This #GivingTuesday, I’m raising funds for local food rescue Table to Table. T2T recovers excess food from grocery stores, farms, & restaurants and delivers it to hunger relief agencies. Since March, T2T has served 14,800 people through recipient partners. Access to fresh, healthy food is always needed, but this year especially T2T’s food rescue operations have been critical for many of our neighbors.
T2T has rescued over 22 million pounds of food since 1996 — 2.3 million pounds just this past year. Will you help me support Table to Table’s work by making a donation today?
As a way to increase our fresh food recovery efforts, this summer we kicked off our local farm gleaning program with Blueyah Blueberry Farm near Iowa City. The family-owned farm typically allows visitors to pick their homegrown blueberries to take home and enjoy, but they changed things up a bit this year.
“We were hesitant to open our farm to the public this summer, even with COVID precautions in place—but we also didn’t want to ‘donate’ our entire blueberry crop to the birds and raccoons. When we asked our customers what they thought we should do, someone mentioned Table to Table’s new gleaning program, and it was the perfect solution,” say Jenna and Eric, the farmers at Blueyah. “Not only does Table to Table serve the entire county, but they also recruit and train berry-picking volunteers. Plus, they’re staffed by some of the kindest, most generous people we’ve ever met. Now, our fresh blueberries are finding their way to people who need them, instead of to the local bluejays (who don’t).”
We gleaned 70 pounds of blueberries at Blueyah this season – which is A LOT of blueberries! Gleaning volunteers picked the berries, then portioned them into individual containers for easy distribution at food pantries. Local families could enjoy a package of fresh blueberries grown just a few miles away. Plus, blueberries are packed with antioxidants – making them a very healthy snack. Thanks to Jenna and Eric’s generosity and our gleaning volunteers’ hard work harvesting the berries, many of our neighbors who don’t have affordable access to fresh produce enjoyed nutritious local blueberries this summer.
It’s been another unbelievable week for our community, and we hope this note finds you and your family safe and well.
We want to keep you updated about Table to Table’s efforts as tough times get tougher. First, I just wanted to take a moment and thank the T2T team for stepping up, EVEN MORE, to go above and beyond our everyday mission. The morning after the storm, with communications still down, we weren’t sure what resources we’d have for food rescue. Even with damage to their own homes and their power still out, Table to Table volunteers showed up anyway. By now, this dedication probably doesn’t surprise you, but it is uncommon and we won’t ever take it for granted. If you know a T2T volunteer or if you see one out on a route, please give them a kind word of appreciation or a socially distanced high-five. They are heroes.
Food Loss and Replenishment
In the first days after the storm, T2T deployed resources across Iowa City (and even to Cedar Rapids) to help partners continue serving our neighbors. After so many hours of power outage the evening of August 10 and beyond, many of our partner grocery stores had to throw away thousands of pounds of food. Because of this, food rescue was light in the first day after the storm. Fortunately, we found other sources of food and other ways to help.
CommUnity Food Bank borrowed the T2T 22-foot refrigerated truck to keep food cold until power came back on. CommUnity Director of External Relations Michelle Cole reports,
“We have plenty of food in the Food Bank, thanks to the generosity of Table to Table. During the power outage, they lent us their refrigerated truck, and we were able to save the majority of the food from our full cooler and freezer. We are so grateful to them for this act of community.”
Some partners were unable to save their fresh food. As we kept running food rescue routes amidst the chaos, T2T was able to replenish stocks. North Liberty Pantry shared,
“This week (and really every week), we are SO thankful for the wonderfully dedicated staff and volunteers at Table to Table for helping fill our fridge after derecho took out power on Monday. It’s been a trying year and we’re grateful for all the helpers.”
Additional Rescue Opportunities
While grocers were still out of power, they declined shipments of fresh food from vendors. We were able to recover more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce from these rejected deliveries.
Juliann, T2T Gleaning Program Coordinator, headed to Cedar Rapids to help farming nonprofit Feed Iowa First get veggies out of their cooler and deliver them to the Coralville Food Pantry.
Hot Meals and Parking Lot Pantries
With a downed power line on their building, IC Compassion had no access to their facility or the food/supply resources inside. Wednesday morning, T2T delivered fresh food, refrigerated vehicles, and tables to help them set up shop in their parking lot. We were even able to store perishable food back at T2T headquarters overnight and return the next day. IC Compassion served more than 200 families this week, many of whom had been out of power for days.
On Wednesday, Elder Services requested assistance getting some emergency meals to a senior living community without power. Thanks to Pullman Bar & Diner, a stand-out in our amazing local restaurant community, T2T delivered 25 HOT meals within a couple hours of the request. This was made possible by the network established through the COVID-response Food With Love Project and the Community Foundation of Johnson County.
Continuing Support for Recovery
Gardeners and growers are dropping off produce and fruit recovered after the storm. And we received a call to rescue another couple thousand pounds of chicken, which we will be distributing in the coming weeks.
We also lent T2T vehicles and supplies to Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter and North Liberty City Council member RaQuishia Harrington to make relief deliveries to Cedar Rapids the weekend of August 15-16.
Did I mention we only canceled one route through all of this?
I think we’ll all be happy to see the backside of 2020, but we are certainly grateful to have the best team and your support to get us through.
The Iowa City Masonic Foundation really came through for the hunger relief network in our community and the 19,000 people that we fed this year. The IC Masonic Foundation match of $12,500 in donations kept the wheels turning on Table to Table’s 2.5 million pound food rescue operation.
In the span of a year, our two oldest food rescue vehicles reached the end of their utility after rescuing several millions of pounds of food during their tenure. Our vehicles are essential to route-based food rescue, daily delivering free food to area hunger relief partners. So, when we lost each vehicle, we used operating funds to purchase a replacement. This match challenge has doubled the impact and enabled us to fully fund the 2019 Ford Transit we’ve been using since July 2019. This food rescue vehicle has transported over 209,000 pounds of food from donor partners to local hunger relief organizations. Route volunteers have driven it over 5,300 miles on approximately 300 routes so far.
With a team of more than 400 volunteers and our fleet of eight food rescue vehicles, we rescued 2.5 million pounds of food in Johnson County last year. Wholesome food from more than 80 donor organizations was delivered to over 50 recipient hunger relief agencies serving 19,000 Johnson County residents struggling with food insecurity. We certainly couldn’t accomplish this feat without our outstanding volunteers and the community’s gracious support. Because of your $25,000 investment we will continue this good work with a vehicle that will deliver food for another 15 years.
You can make more than just alphabet soup from these commonly wasted ingredients!
By: Emily Meister
I’ve just been waiting for someone to ask me for my food rescue recommendations. Now that I’ve gotten started, it’s hard to stop! Here, I’ve compiled a list of many of the ingredients I rescue regularly and keep in my freezer.
Flash freezing is the secret to much of my food waste management. You’ll want to do this especially if it’s something you don’t want to use all at once or you don’t want it freezing in a big clump. Just lay the food out, unwrapped, on a cookie sheet. Put it into the freezer for a short time—twenty minutes or so—until it hardens. Once it’s frozen solid, you can store it in a bag or a container, and individual pieces will stay mostly separated. You can then just pull out whatever amount you need.
Apples I don’t know about you, but I find half-eaten apples around my house regularly – apples the kiddos took a few bites of and left. I even rescue these half-eaten fruits. I rinse them, cut off the bitey parts, and cube up for a snack or put in the freezer to add to smoothies. You can do this with slightly mushy yet uneaten apples, too. You don’t have to take a bite of it first, I guess.
Bananas: We all know frozen brown bananas make great banana bread, but how many people keep tossing brown banana after brown banana into the freezer for this purpose and never make that much banana bread?
Bananas are also great in smoothies! Just plop the whole frozen banana in the freezer when it’s past its prime (I have a section of my freezer dedicated to this). Blend it up with fresh or frozen yogurt, a little honey, and any other frozen fruit or veggies you like – either store-bought or fruits and veggies you’ve saved in the freezer.
Mushy bananas that are not great for snacking are great blended into a homemade banana oat pancake mix. Super simple, delicious, and nutritious.
T2T Tip: When you’re ready to peel your frozen bananas, put them in a bowl of really hot water for 30 seconds and the peel will slip right off.
Cauliflower that’s turning brown is great chopped up in curries. You can also mash or rice it, then freeze it for a ready-to-go side dish anytime.
Bell Peppers – A versatile veggie that freezes well! Chop and freeze for soups, stir-fry, curries, or tacos.
Broccoli stems make an excellent addition to a slaw. Throw them in your ramen, on top of a baked potato, even on pizza!
Canned almost anything: There are many times a recipe calls for only part of a can. You can store and freeze almost anything by putting the remainder into small containers.
Coconut Milk is a good example of a canned item I freeze often, is coconut milk. You can use an ice cube tray and then store in a bag or container. Add a cube or two to your stir-fry right at the end for a richer flavor.
Cherry Tomatoes: Even cherry tomatoes can make a quick sauce if you have too many. Rinse, dump in a pan and mash slightly. Cook down for 15-20 minutes, season, and then blend, and freeze. I do this when my cherry tomatoes have gone wrinkly, but are not rotted. The active time cooking is under 5 minutes, so even if there’s only enough for a small amount, you can take out a few frozen containers when you’re ready to put it into a meal.
Green Chilis or Chipotle in Adobo: Mostly, I think my family is a bunch of weenies when it comes to spicy food. Personally, I’d just add the whole can to any dish, but if that’s too spicy for you or your family, just use what you need and put the rest in the freezer. They’ll last quite a while.
Pumpkin: When you add a small amount – ½ cup or so – of canned pumpkin to soups or stews, the pumpkin flavor won’t take over but adds a nice creamy texture and deep flavor. Whenever I open a can of pumpkin but don’t use it all, I pop the rest in the freezer and add to dishes as needed. Pumpkin pancakes are another great use for canned pumpkin! I always make lots of extra mini pancakes and freeze them. Pull a few out of the freezer, cook them in the oven for a couple minutes and add jam for a quick and tasty breakfast.
Rhubarb: when it’s ready to harvest, you get a lot! Good news is that it’s fairly easy to preserve. Cook down with a tablespoon of water, a pinch of salt, and sugar to taste. It makes a yummy sauce for ice cream or yogurt. You can also mix with other fruits like the soggy strawberries below.
Soggy Strawberries can make some recipes better. Cut them roughly and cook them down into a quick sauce topping. It only takes a couple of minutes on the stove. The overripe fruit is perfect because it will be very sweet and the sauce won’t require any added sugar.
Rinse, flash freeze, add to your stock of smoothie ingredients in your freezer.
Stir strawberries, soggy or not, into plain yogurt. (This way you can buy a large tub of plain yogurt and flavor it any way you like. Crushing up a bit of the lemon biscotti from Paglias would make a tasty topping too!)
Also, a good topping for ice cream or thicken it up a bit by cooking longer and you have a simple homemade jam.
Tomatoes: you can freeze the whole tomato, no prep, if you’re really in a hurry. Really, just place the whole thing in there and when you’re ready to use it, thaw slightly and the skin will come off easily. Then it’s ready for soups or marinara.
Tomato Paste – I like to freeze this flat in a bag or on a cookie sheet. Then just break off however much you need.
Veg Heavy Tomato/Pasta Sauce – I like to make a big batch of pasta sauce with LOTS of veggies to freeze. It’s a good way to utilize lots of tomatoes and other veg in your fridge. Chop up onions, red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (if I use green, I use only a small amount because the flavor can take over), celery, carrots, zucchini, and even a few stray mushrooms. Simmer and cook down until all veggies are tender then blend until smooth in a food processor or blender. For seasonings, I add basil, oregano, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper. A really small pinch of cinnamon adds a warm flavor to the sauce. Depending on how sweet and flavorful the tomatoes that you use are, you can also add a little sugar or honey as needed.
Wrinkly Grapes: When the grapes get sad and wrinkly, they get neglected in the fridge. Rinse and place in a bag or container in the freezer. They make a great cold, refreshing snack and it doesn’t matter if they were wrinkly or soft once they’re frozen. Also, a good smoothie ingredient!
Yogurt: You should freeze some yogurt, rescued or not! Put into individual containers in the freezer to use later in smoothies. If it’s a large container, spread on a cookie sheet, freeze, then break up and store the chunks in a plastic bag.
Zucchini are the end of summer excess no one knows what to do with. You can only eat so much zucchini bread. I don’t find that zucchini freezes well whole, but if you chop and even partially cook then freeze, you can blend into vegetable soup or cube for a creamy addition to any fruit smoothie!
Now that you’ve been rescuing those leftover ingredients, you’re going to need to eat them at some point or all that effort is wasted!
Smoothies, Soups, Stir-fries, Slaws, Curries, Tacos, ‘Pick your own toppings’ ramen, baked potato, and pizza are all great types of food to add whatever is in your fridge or freezer!
I can’t think of many ingredients I couldn’t add to at least one of those things! We make something from this list at least a few times a week. 1) because they’re all delicious and 2) because they help us use up everything in our fridge and freezer. I’ve made many-a-meal by tossing together small bits of random ingredients in my fridge or freezer.
Carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, potatoes (one of the most wasted veggies), cauliflower that’s starting to brown, leftover proteins, leftover chickpeas, or frozen beans. One piece of chicken may not be enough for a meal on its own. A curry is a great way to stretch leftover protein.
A baked potato is merely a vector for toppings! Baked potatoes are a good way to use small amounts of lots of different ingredients. Add any of these things and more as toppings for a pretty filling meal: broccoli, cauliflower, shredded chicken, taco meat, shredded cheese.
When I was a kid, my sister and I used to swear that Lipton Noodle soup in a box was the instant cure when we were sick. We called it magic soup. I still believe in its power, but I now have a homemade version as well that is super quick to throw together if you have some of the ingredients in the freezer.
Sauté a fresh or frozen mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion), fresh/frozen chopped bell peppers or sliced mushrooms. Add your frozen stock and let it boil (I just dump the whole chunk of frozen stock in the saucepan and leave the lid on – it will thaw in a few minutes). Once it’s boiling, add a handful of pretty much any noodle (I like to use broken bits of spaghetti, but will use whatever I have), and some salt and pepper. Ten minutes later you have a brothy, homemade noodle soup full of flavor and nutrients. I make this for my kids whenever they are homesick. And now my 9 & 10 year old boys know how to make it, too, so they can make magic soup for me and my husband if we’re sick!
While not a meal on its own, a frozen mirepoix from rescued onion, carrot, and celery that you’ve made ahead is a great start to many meals. Pretty much any soup, stir-fry, or slow-cooked meal that I make starts with a rescued frozen mirepoix. On top of the traditional ingredients, when I have extra veggies that won’t be used up before they turn, I’ll chop ’em up and throw’ em in the freezer. You can do each veggie separately to use as needed, or just a big bag of all 3 mixed together. This combo adds a lot of flavor to dishes, and having them prepped in advance saves time when you want a homemade meal fast!
‘Pick your own toppings’ ramen
You can keep a “ramen bag of goodies” in your freezer. This quick and easy lunch is so much better when you add some fresh/frozen veggies. Celery, cabbage, julienne carrots, bell pepper, radish — if you have it, you should try it!
I like to think outside the pizza box. Not every pizza has to be a standard tomato sauce and cheese. I like to roast any leftover veggies and put them over a flatbread crust with a little garlic and olive oil. Add a few slices of fresh mozzarella and that’s-a-pizza! Pizza is a great way to use up leftover specialty cheeses. Stronger flavored cheese on pizza allows you to add just a little bit and still get a lot of flavor.
We mix up a smoothie of some sort nearly every day in my house. I guarantee you probably have a narrow view of what a smoothie can be. You can throw literally any fruit, compressed and wilted spinach, zucchini, kale, and more. Freeze all of it ahead of time and pull it out when you need it. You can also package up the dregs of yogurt at the bottom of the container and freeze it for use in a future smoothie.
Stir fry is a no-brainer for all kinds of veggies past their prime. Not only can you cook up any and all veggies, but you can also add a different sauce each time. The possibilities are endless!
‘Slaw’ doesn’t have to be just your basic green cabbage and carrot coleslaw. You can use lots of veggie or fruit ‘scraps’ to make various slaws. Don’t throw away those broccoli stems! Just cut the really woody part off the bottom, peel the tough parts, and use a mandoline to julienne the stem. You can also cut them into matchsticks by hand, but it will take some time. Combine with onion, carrot, cabbage, peppers, or all of the above! Add a sweet creamy sauce, a tangy vinegary sauce (or some combo of the two) depending on your tastes. You’ll have an easy side for burgers, grilled chicken, and a great topping for your food rescue tacos.
Now about those TACOS!
At least once a week we eat something taco-y. Because they’re amazing. And also because you can turn anything into a taco. Have a piece of protein left from dinner? Heat it up, fry a corn tortilla, and make a quick slaw.
Table to Table has kept 22 million pounds of food from going to waste since April 1996. As Iowa’s original food rescue organization, our unique food rescue model maximizes the amount of food we can rescue and gets it to people who can use it quickly. Route-based rescue allows us to ensure maximum amounts of food are used by our partners before it goes to waste. In fact, our partners report that most of the perishable food we collect each day is distributed to a family who can use it within six hours of our delivery. But what do we mean when we say “route-based rescue”?
Well, it looks like this!
It’s nearly as complicated to implement as it looks. The good news is, our program staff are experts and our partners are committed and that’s what it takes to make this work.
A Single Route
To put it simply, this is what a single route looks like on any given day. We do this 8-10 times per day!
Each day, volunteers hop in a Table to Table van and drive to a few of our food donor partners. They load the van with produce, dairy products, meat, bread, pizzas, pre-made chicken wraps — you name it! They then drive to a few of our recipient partners, who select what foods they’ll need that day from the T2T van.
The benefits of route-based rescue:
More food from donors. Volunteers follow a specific route at the same time each day to ensure that our donor partners know when they’re coming and have food donations ready for them. They can easily determine whether the food they have will still be good by the time Table to Table will arrive.
Recipients can plan for food deliveries. Our recipient partners know when to expect their food deliveries for that day and have some consistency in what we’ll deliver. When the Coralville Pantry knows we’ll deliver 50 gallons of milk from the Kalona Creamery on Thursday afternoon, they know they won’t have to buy any to meet the need of their pantry members.
Maximum matching of donations to recipient partners. T2T volunteers can become experts at their route. They serve as daily ambassadors to collect feedback about what donors will give and what recipients can take. Our program staff uses this information to make adjustments.
Rapid delivery of short-dated foods.We don’t bring food back to T2T for storage. Volunteers are transporting food directly from the donor to the recipient using a temperature-controlled van in a matter of hours. The produce that’s picked up this morning will be in a family’s refrigerator by this afternoon. Each month on average we collect 100,000 pounds of fresh produce, meat, and dairy products.
Valuable food free to our partners! Many recipient agencies have no other source for these fresh foods, and certainly not another free source. Good food. Free food. It’s a win-win.
Thanks to our route-based model, we are able to rescue more than 2 million pounds of food annually in Johnson County, and our partners make sure it gets to those who need it. Without our route-based rescue, much more of this food would go to waste, never making it to the community and to family tables.
Just because the best by date is coming up doesn’t mean you need to toss that milk that’s two days past or bin the chunk of cheese that’s been on the bottom shelf for a couple of weeks. These items and many others can still be used up to a week or more past the sell-by/best-by/use-by date. What many people don’t know is that the best by or use by date isn’t the definitive food safety date for a product (except for baby formula). Most dairy is good up to seven days past the printed date on the carton, eggs can last up to a month in your refrigerator, and most cheeses are good two weeks or more beyond the best by. In addition to refrigerated goods, many canned and dry storage foods can last weeks, if not up to a year beyond their printed date. And if you can’t eat it now, freeze it!
5 Tips for Food Rescue At Home
Forty percent of all food produced in the US doesn’t ever get eaten. Nearly half of that food waste happens at the consumer level. That’s right, almost half of all food waste happens at home, but you can change that statistic! With these five easy tips, you can cut down your food waste by up to 200lbs and save money while saving your food:
Plan your meals ahead of time: Before leaving for the store, make a rough plan of what you want to cook before your next grocery run and buy only what you need to make those meals.
Make a grocery list and stick to it: While it is tempting to buy bulk or jump on a sale for obscure produce, make sure it is something that you can incorporate into your usual meal plan.
Store your food properly: Oftentimes, we find ourselves peering into the depths of a refrigerator at a tupperware long-forgotten on the bottom shelf and wondering, “what was that?” By checking your fridge daily and making sure produce isn’t kept in the coldest spots and leftovers are properly sealed, you can stop playing “what was that,” and fully enjoy the meals you create.
Plan to over-prepare or avoid it altogether:The Cornell Food and Brand lab found that since 2006, serving sizes in the classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking has increased by 36 percent. This increased portion size also contributes to an increase in wasted leftovers. Preparing more food at once certainly has its place. It can be good for the budget AND good for reducing food waste to make more at once. But you have to plan to store it and eat it. Freeze your leftovers to give you a little more time to eat them.
Don’t neglect leftovers: Just like Mom and Dad told you growing up, clean your plate. Instead of ordering in, make sure your fridge isn’t cluttered with the fajitas you made on Tuesday, or the soup you had last Friday.