Food waste is a huge problem, with estimates that nearly 30 to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted each year.
This is a startling statistic when you consider reports showing that more than 49 million Americans live in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. There’s also a significant impact on the environment to consider as the majority of food waste, reported to be 33.5 million tons annually, ends up in landfills where it rots and produces methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
Nearly 50 percent of food waste is produced by consumers, with farms, businesses and industry comprising the rest. Raising awareness of food waste is the first step in battling this epic problem, and then change has to start with the individual. Making an effort to decrease the amount of food you waste has several benefits, from money savings to environmental support and even philanthropy. Curious where to start? A little planning and self-awareness goes a long way.
Inventory. The best way to wrangle your food waste, grocery costs and shopping list is to take inventory of what you have. Take some time to dig through and organize your fridge, freezer and pantry on a regular basis. Keep track of what you have and which items are nearing their expiration.
FIFO. Reorganize your food using the “First In, First Out” philosophy. Simply put, store the oldest items in the front and the newer items in the back to ensure you’e using older ingredients first.
Make lists. Food shopping without a list and/or planned meals is a surefire way to end up with items you don’t actually need and won’t use. Plan weekly meals using your kitchen inventory so you use up what you have before you buy something new. You inventory list will also prevent you from purchasing yet another jar of cinnamon to add the three you already have at home! Shopping with a list will keep your grocery bill down, and planning your meals can prevent impulsive, less-than-healthy meal choices. Avoid buying bulk foods that you don’t use often, as they will likely go to waste.
Embrace the ugly duckling. Imperfect produce is often doomed for the landfill, yet its only flaw tends to be its shape or size. Embrace imperfections, and encourage your retailer to do the same.
Track what you toss. A great way to get a handle on your food waste is to track what you throw away on a weekly basis. This can be a truly eye-opening exercise. If you dump a half gallon of milk each week you can start buying a smaller quantity. If you trash a ton of vegetable “scraps” during meal prep you might consider saving them to make stocks, soups or even meals.
Use the whole food. Speaking of vegetable scraps, we often waste a large percentage of the ingredient when we cook. The idea of utilizing the whole ingredient offers you a fun opportunity to get creative and save money. If you roast carrots for dinner, you can use the tops to make pesto. Use broccoli florets as a side dish, and shred the stems to make a slaw. Buy the whole chicken instead of the boneless, skinless chicken breast, and use it to make an entree, salad and a stock. Mushrooms stems may not be as pretty as their tops, but they taste great and can be eaten as is – or chopped and incorporated into other meat and vegetable dishes. Stop peeling your produce, and opt for a good scrub instead.
Put less on your plate. You can reduce your food waste while cooking and even re-use any mealtime leftovers, but excess food on your plate almost always ends up in the trash. This is especially important when you consider the food on your kids’ plates as well. Serve up smaller portions, which will help control caloric intake and also reduce the risk of tossed food. You can always go back for seconds.
Repurpose leftovers. Abandon the idea that leftovers are gross and instead, get creative. Utilizing leftovers is a great way to cook once and eat twice, which saves time in the kitchen as well. Leftover vegetables can be added to omelets and frittatas, and leftover animal proteins such as chicken and salmon taste great in tacos, on salads or mixed into casseroles.
Salvage. Fruit starting to rot? Instead of tossing it, roast it, whip up a smoothie, make a sauce or freeze it for later use. Same goes for produce a bit past its prime. Consider mashing it up, pureeing it or making a simple soup before deciding it’s a goner. Don’t fear the sell-by date, either. If it tastes good and smells good, it’s most likely safe to eat.
Share. Before you toss that un-opened can of beans or half a head of lettuce, consider offering it to someone else. One person’s trash is often another person’s treasure, and food can be shared with friends, neighbors or even donated to shelters or food kitchens. Speaking of sharing: Restaurant meal portions tend to be large, so considering sharing a main dish with a friend – or at least taking your leftovers home.