Remember the last time you brought home a copious amount of fresh fruits and veggies only to find the strawberries turn overnight, the spinach wilt in the fridge and the bananas become a fly magnet. It can be frustrating and not only a waste of food but a waste of money.
According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the United States alone, over one-third of food produced goes uneaten, through loss or waste. That’s an estimated 133 billion pounds (over $161 billion) of edible food wasted each year. This adds to our landfills, the production of greenhouse gases and is a major contributor to climate change.
Most food waste is traced to homes and consumer-based businesses. Fortunately, we have come up with some clever ways you can use to fight food waste and save money:
1. Your Freezer is Your Friend
We can be a bit overzealous when we go grocery shopping. Two for ones and daily discounts get us to fill our carts to the brim with food that may go bad before we get a chance to cook it.
As the expiration date approaches, put your food in the freezer to halt the process. This goes for vegetables, fruits and meats. Smaller fresh items like berries or chopped vegetables should be spread out on a cooking tray before you freeze them.
The best way to defrost your food, so you're not left with a soggy mush, is to stick them in the refrigerator a day before you cook.
2. Plan Your Weekly Menu
This can be tedious or fun depending on how you look at it. Choose one day of the week, preferably when you do your grocery shopping, and take 10 minutes to plan your meals for that week. Write your daily choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you plan the meals you are going to cook, you know the recipes and more importantly you know what ingredients to buy. You can even plan to make a large enough meal one night so you have leftovers for the next day.
No more wandering the aisles. Going grocery shopping with a detailed list in-hand saves you time, money and cuts down on the food you throw away.
3. Encourage Leftovers
After a dinner party or at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask guests or patrons if they would like to take the rest of their food home with them.
When you do bring your leftovers home, don't turn your refrigerator into a garbage bin. Make sure no old leftovers get forgotten about. Putting too much food in your fridge can make it difficult for cold air to circulate. The cold temperature is what keeps food fresh. Store your leftovers in a central place in your refrigerator, so you always remember to use them.
4. You Can Always Come Back for Seconds
Minimize the amount of food that goes untouched on your plate or your child’s plate by starting your meals with smaller amounts. You’ve heard it before, “our eyes are bigger than our stomach”.
We tend to pack on level after level of food, trying to fill every space on our plate. Stuffing yourself is never a good idea. You can always come back for seconds. This can be a tricky skill to learn. Being more conservative of the food placed on our plate can lessen the waste and be better for our health.
Try using smaller plates to not over serve.
5. Keep Your Fridge and Pantry Neat
If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. This is important when storing foods too. If we forget it’s there, it will never get cooked. Keep things neat and visible. Use the “first in, first out” principle: When you buy new groceries, move the older food to the front.
On the day you plan your meals for the week, do an inventory of your fridge and pantries. See what items you'll need for the next 7 days, what's going to expire soon and just take a moment to clean the space. Stay organized and you won't ever be surprised by the smell of a gallon of milk that expired months ago.
6. Donate to Food Banks and Farms
Before you throw away your excess food, look for charities and food banks where you can bring items you know you won’t eat before they expire. You can find local food banks through Feeding America and WhyHunger.
The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects everyday people from liability when giving away not-the-freshest but “apparently wholesome” food in good faith. But, always check the expiration date on your food before you buy, before you eat and especially before you donate.
7. Don't Be Afraid of "Ugly Food"
We always look for the perfect apple or potato when we rummage through bins at the supermarket. So called “ugly” fruits and vegetables get passed up for produce more appealing to the eye.
Demand for flawless fruits and vegetables makes grocery chains and everyday consumers purchase only picture-perfect produce from farmers. Choose slightly imperfect produce at the grocery store or better yet, directly from farmers. They offer the same nutritional value and taste.
There are countless ways you can reduce, reuse and recycle your food waste. Minimal changes to the way you shop and cook can increase your self-awareness and make a big impact.