Food waste is a huge environmental problem today. It’s a fact that 1/3 of all food produced worldwide is being thrown away and that here in the USA, 25% of our fresh water is being used for food production. And, yes, this is a big issue when the same country is battling droughts in many places. It comes with a hefty price because in the United States alone the waste is even more egregious: more than 30 percent of our food, valued at $162 billion annually, isn’t eaten. Reading this makes me angry since there are so many children starving in the U.S. and all over the world.
I used to waste lots of food by overbuying, not using the food I had, and storing food the wrong way which caused it to spoil. Then, we would eat out. At the end of the week, I would clean the fridge of lots of food past its prime, and it all would end up in the trashcan. I’m sure a few of you recognize this scenario as well. Looking back at it, I’m horrified about all the food wasted and all the money I spent on it each week. I basically was throwing money into the trash.
These days, I have totally changed. We waste very little food and, in the process, save lots of money. Here are some of my tricks:
The first — and most important — way to reduce food waste at home is by knowing how different food types are stored to help extend their life. Potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, turnip, cucumbers and squash should be kept in a cool area. Cucumbers, if stored in the fridge, should be wrapped in a moist towel.
To delay decaying, place a paper towel or clean tea towel in your crisper and storage containers to help soak up any excess moisture. If you need to revive pre-rinsed beets, celery, carrots, herbs or greens, just soak them for 15-30 minutes in cold water. You also can stand kale, chard, herbs and beet tops in a jar of cold water, just as you would for cut flowers.
Make a meal plan for the week, making sure to use leftover and short date foods first and sticking to it. Meal planning has saved my sanity and lots of money; and I have found that, with just a little smart planning and food prep, weekday dinners are a breeze. I have less chance of its being dinnertime, the kids feeling starved, but drawing a blank about what to make for dinner — resulting in our cooking food that has a longer expiration date — or worse, just ordering a pizza.
Make sure to shop wisely: make a shopping list and stick to it. Check your kitchen to make certain you aren’t buying things you already have. Buy only what you need or plan to use right away. Don’t buy more of something that’s on sale if you won’t be able to finish it, and don’t buy in bulk because it’s cheaper if you’ll just end up throwing it out. I keep a good stock of dry staples like lentils, rice and other grains, and go grocery shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables only once every week or two.
Another way to reduce food waste is to use your freezer: For foods you think may not be eaten before they spoil, freeze for later! For instance, if I chop too much onion, I will freeze the remainder to be used for soups and stews. Fruits, berries and bananas tend to begin perishing too soon, so I simply chop them up and freeze them for making smoothies.
Make sure to know what’s in your fridge: Keep your fridge organized and clean. Keep leftovers in clear containers towards the front of your fridge so you remember to eat them first. Don’t let items that spoil quickly get pushed to the back of your fridge where they will be forgotten. Know which leftovers and perishable foods you have before buying or making any new food.
Use leftovers: I used to hate leftovers until I got busy with kids. Now, leftovers can be transformed into all kinds of second dishes. I turn pasta sauces into soups, and chili and Mexican quinoa into veggie burgers. There are endless possibilities for leftovers to become something yummy for the next day.
Fruits, vegetables, and leftovers that look a little past their prime often taste great when added to a new dish. Blackened bananas make perfect banana bread. Old bread can be made into bread pudding, croutons, or stuffing. Tomatoes can be cooked and pureed into tomato sauce or salsa. Mushy vegetables and leftovers can be mixed into new dishes like soups and stews without being noticed.
Make sure to compost all food you simply can’t use. When produce goes bad before you have the chance to cook or eat it, toss it into your compost bin so the plant nutrients can be recycled into your soil.