Picture yourself walking out of your local grocery store with a cart full of food for your family. After checking out, you take a third of your cart and dump it in the trash on your way out the door. Sounds crazy, right? Globally, one third of food that is grown ends up in the landfill. While many people may think that most of food waste happens in restaurants or food service operations, in America nearly forty percent of the food we waste is in our own homes. We are not just tossing food in the bin, we are wasting all the water, fuel, labor, and other resources it took to produce, process, and transport it. More importantly it is your money. On average Americans throw away $370 of food per person per year. For a family of four, that is almost $1500 a year or about $123 a month. Every day, we have the power to make a difference with our own choices in purchasing, storing, preparing, and eating food. Are you ready to start saving money, reduce food waste, and have a positive impact on the planet? Consider some of these easy steps you can start today.
Know Your Food Labels
Much of the food we waste never needed to be discarded at all. Knowing what the dates and wording on packages mean results in less needless waste of safe and nutritious food. “Sell by” dates are the dates that grocery stores use to determine how long a food can be displayed on a shelf. “Best by” dates are used by food manufacturers as a sort of guarantee of product quality, not safety. You can still safely consume foods that go past their “sell by” and “best by” dates. In fact, most foods we eat can be consumed weeks and sometimes months past their dates with no notable changes in quality, especially if they haven’t been opened.
Trash to Treasure
Repurposing food allows for a creative way to utilize potential trash into treasure. Can that grilled chicken and cooked vegetables go into a wrap for lunch tomorrow? Maybe those soft bell peppers can go into the freezer to be used in a soup another day. Perhaps those over ripe fruits can go into a smoothie for now or the freezer for later. Odds are Pinterest has a recipe waiting to use up that wilting spinach! Freezing cooked food or cooking raw food is great way to rescue food to be repurposed for another day.
Start with Less
In a country where food seems unlimited, it is too easy and sometimes expected for people to dish up more than we can chew. The USDA uses the term “source reduction” meaning avoid food waste by not creating it in the first place. In your own home, this can be as simple as purchasing less at the grocery store. I am typically a fan of buying in bulk or larger packages to reduce packaging waste and to save money. However, if you find yourself ditching extra food because the container simply held more than you can eat, consider buying smaller packages. Try ordering smaller portions at restaurants by ordering off the lunch, appetizer, or a la carte menu. Most restaurants offer lunch portions all day! Learn to scale back recipe sizes, especially if your family is not fond of leftovers. Are you tired of trashing another toddler dinner? Start kiddos off with smaller portions sizes and let them ask for seconds. This strategy works for adults too; smaller portions mean less waste and maybe a smaller waist!
Revamp Your Storage
We store food in a lot of different ways. I encourage clients to clean out the freezer annually and rotate older items to the top for easier access to items that need used first. Also be sure to date anything that goes in your freezer. Take inventory of the refrigerator weekly and keep older items toward the front for easier use. Utilize the crisper by keeping vegetables in the high humidity drawer and fruits in the lower humidity drawer. Store less perishable items, like drinks and condiments, in the door space, instead of dairy products. Refrigerator doors tend to maintain lower temps then the rest of the refrigerator.
Plan to Plan
If you are not already meal planning, getting started can be the hardest part. Start by planning a time in your week where you can sit down and make your plan. Be sure to take inventory of the family schedule, how often you might eat out, what food you already have on hand, and what food needs to be used first. During the week, schedule to use your most perishable foods first, like leafy greens, mushrooms, asparagus, and berries early in the week. Save frozen items and produce such as carrots, green beans, cabbage, apples, and oranges for later in the week.
Ready to take action?
There are so many more ways you can impact our world and your wallet to reduce food waste. The best place to start is by increasing your awareness of what you are throwing away. The next time you put food in the trash just stop and think back on that food’s journey and consider where you might have been able to do things differently to use it instead of lose it. You can also look into composting the scraps you will throw away. If you are looking for more creative ways to reuse and reduce check out Nashville’s own No Waste Nutrition RD Erin Gregory and follow her on Instagram @no.waste.nutrition for a steady flow of clever ideas to save money, eat better and protect earth’s precious resources. Also, check out https://www.choosemyplate.gov/resources/lets-talk-trash for more great information.