Can you imagine throwing away between $1,300 to $2,300 dollars a year? This does not mean spending money on impulse purchases or entertainment, but literally throwing it away and receiving nothing in return. A report published in August 2012 by the National Resources Defense Council, revealed that’s about how much money Americans spend on food that is tossed out annually by the average family of four. This is food that families paid good money for and then for whatever reason, it just wound up in the trash. The problem is, we know it’s wrong and have tremendous guilt about it. However, many of us simply can not seem to develop the habits that would prevent us from wasting food.
Of all the different food items that are brought home from the supermarket, produce is the one we have the hardest time getting to the table before it’s better suited for the compost bin or trash. Bread and meat are the next two food groups we waste the most. So, how can these patterns be changed? Have a look at these suggestions for putting an end to food waste.
1. Plan and Plan Some More
Rather than carelessly popping into the supermarket without a list or plan, change your tactics. Instead, consider yourself on a mission to shop, cook, and eat well. Make a master grocery list, write out a weekly menu, research recipes and think ahead about what you could transform any leftovers into. Once you get the hang of it, you should definitely see a reduction in the amount of food that is wasted.
See related post, “Save Money By Eating In Season.”
2. Avoid BOGO and Bulk Sales
Buy one get one is a tempting sales ploy that is easy to fall for. Unless you have a big family or a freezer, however, the BOGO offers may in fact be a bogus strategy for your grocery budget. At the time, we may not think about the fact that after one package of the same product, whether it’s cookies, chips, ice cream, or Brussels sprouts, the diners are ready for something different. The same is true of the huge quantities available at the discount-shopping clubs. Do you really need 3 quarts of orange juice or 24 cups of yogurt all at once? Again, unless you have a large hungry family, are planning a party, have a freezer, or plan to share, think twice before you buy massive quantities of certain food products.
3. Store Food Carefully
First off, wash fruits and veggies before you store them so they will be ready for snacking or cooking. Remember to dry them, because certain ones will spoil more quickly if they are damp. Food storage bags for the refrigerator are an inexpensive solution to make produce last longer. Also pay attention to what you store where. Some fruits do not like each other and cause accelerated ripening to occur. For example, never place citrus fruits near apples or bananas. Also, bananas, apples and pears give off ethylene, which ripens other fruits and vegetables stored near them.
Naturally, freezing items such as meats, grains, cereals, cookies, and breads is an easy way to keep them fresh for months. Many people even freeze cartons of milk to have on hand or because it was on sale-BOGO!
4. Manage Your Inventory
Whether it’s a home kitchen or busy restaurant kitchen, to be successful and save money, monitoring the inventory is essential. Get into the habit of making a weekly check of what you have on hand, in the freezer, fridge and pantry. Clean out the fridge each week as well and know what needs to be used before it is too late. Move older items and leftovers front and center so you will not forget to use them. Check your menu and work them into it. Also, knowing what you have on hand will prevent you from purchasing duplicates. So, as you make your carefully planned grocery list, based on those menus and recipes you selected, check to see what you have. Is there a viable substitute or do you already have everything you need for those applesauce muffins you’re planning for tomorrow’s breakfast?
Another thing that may happen is that you stumble upon things you don’t remember buying. For example, “Now, why did I need this chickpea flour?” If that happens, just search out the mystery ingredient on the Internet for ideas and recipes.
5. Relax a Little About Expiration Dates
Those little numbers stamped on virtually everything we purchases from the supermarket these days is one of the reasons so much food is thrown away unnecessarily. The dating system was originally developed as a means to inform grocers and shoppers about “peak freshness”, not as a safety measure. The US Department of Agriculture states, “After the date passes, while not of best quality, the product should still be safe if handled properly and kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below for the recommended storage times.”
In the UK there is a huge movement to end this food dating practice because of the huge amount of food waste it is attributed to.
So relax – when you find something with a past due date, calm down and do a little thinking for yourself. Ask these questions:
- How does it smell?
- How does it look – is it discolored? (and that’s not always a problem)
- Is this something that could actually expire, such as seasonings, grains, pasta, etc.?
- Can I use a portion of it rather than toss the whole package or item out?
*Of course be aware that dairy products and meats are the foods that should be monitored the most carefully.
6. Make Food Appealing and Accessible
Encourage healthy snacking by having washed pieces of fruit and wholesome snack choices in a high traffic area. Placing it in a pretty bowl or basket will also help. The same goes for veggies – just wash, cut, and place them in clear containers in the fridge to make them more enticing. If you finally got around to baking those applesauce muffins with all of those “found” pantry ingredients, offer the leftover ones on the prettiest cake plate you can find!
7. Rethink Those Leftovers
Incorporating leftovers into the weekly menu is one thing. However, what about those foods that we didn’t realize would end up sad and dejected on the fridge or pantry shelf? Here are a few examples and ideas of what to do:
- Break “Time of Day” Mindsets. Cold pizza for breakfast may be a college life cliché; however, eliminating time of day taboos will be a huge deterrent to food waste. In many cultures, soup is a breakfast staple, as are dishes made with vegetables, rice, or fish.
- Vegetables. Whether they are cooked or fresh, they could be worked into a soup, quiche, frittata, salad, casserole, stock, or a smoothie. Veggies are also great to include in pasta dishes and baked goods like focaccia and who doesn’t love zucchini bread?
- Fruits. Leftover fruit that’s past its prime is perfect in your morning smoothie, in pancake batter, baked goods, or stirred into a bowl of granola, oatmeal or yogurt. Everyone knows overripe bananas are a must for delicious banana bread!
- Bread. Homemade croutons are the best along with bread pudding and DIY breadcrumbs. Torn or leftover tortillas are the ideal ingredient in Mexican “migas” the breakfast of buff banditos everywhere!
- Chips, pretzels, cookies, cakes. If they’ve lost their crunch, try toasting them on about 250F in your oven and viola! Broken salty items are ideal for crushing and using as a breading for fried chicken or fish. Old cookies and cakes are an excellent way to stretch other ingredients into a delicious dessert – try a trifle or parfait-hey where’s that fully ripened fruit? Add it in as well!
- Freeze it. Many fresh fruits and veggies do fine when frozen. Simply wash, dry and place on a cookie sheet so they will freeze individually. When they are fully frozen, transfer them to a labeled zip-lock bag. Bananas may be frozen unpeeled and are wonderful to have on hand for baked goods and smoothies. Most any cooked food can be frozen, so don’t toss out that wonderful stew because no one will finish it. Label, date and freeze it and it will come in handy soon.
- Compost. If you have explored every option and can not find an edible solution, it may be time to compost. Remember-no fats, oils, meats, bones, or dairy!
Preventing food waste does require a little creativity and time investment, but it pays off in the long run.