What you can do
Reducing how much food you waste is beneficial both to your wallet and the environment. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average American family of four wastes anywhere from $500 to $2000 a year on food. That discarded food is a waste of precious resources, water, land, and oil. And when food makes its way to the landfill, it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Here are some tips to help you reduce your food waste.
Before you go shopping…
- Take inventory of what you have in the fridge, freezer and pantry.
- Make a meal plan for the week - think about how much time you have to cook or whether you have any lunch or dinner engagements. If planning meals for an entire week is too much, try shopping two or even three times a week and only plan for a few days.
- Make a shopping list and stick to the list.
- Avoid the temptation to overstock your fridge, buy only what you need for the week.
- Eat something so you are not hungry while shopping.
- Shop at your local farmers market http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/ for fruits and vegetables. They are often picked a day or two before you buy them, unlike fruits and vegetables at grocery stores that often travel a week or two before they end up on the shelves. Local fruits and vegetables are also not subjected to rough transportation, handling, or interrupted cooling, so less are wasted in transit. Also, farmers markets don’t hold fruits and vegetables to the same high aesthetic shape and size standards as supermarkets, so slightly crooked but delicious carrots are not rejected before they even leave the farmer's field. This means less food is wasted before it reaches consumers.
- If you must go to a grocery store, pick up fruits and vegetables last and carefully store them in your cart so they don’t get bruised or damaged. Store them carefully in your shopping bag as well.
- Consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program where farmers offer a subscription for a weekly share of fruits and vegetables, usually enough to meet the needs of a family of four, or two vegetarians, in exchange for money in advance of the planting season. The benefit to the farmer is they know exactly how much to plant each season because they have a guaranteed market. The benefit for the consumer is a weekly box of delicious, just-picked vegetables.
- Don’t be tempted by sales or buying in bulk; just buy what you need. Ask yourself honestly if you think you will be able to eat the food before it spoils. A jumbo container of spinach may seem like a great deal, but not if you can’t use it up before it ends up looking slimy.
- If possible, avoid pre-cut fruits and vegetables, not only will it save you money, they tend to spoil quicker.
- Refrigerate food items that need to be refrigerated shortly after purchasing. If you don’t return home immediately after shopping, bring a cooler to keep things cool. The less you interrupt the cool chain, the longer the food items will last, thus reducing the risk your produce spoils before you have a chance to eat it.
- Rotate food in your refrigerator, bringing older items to the front where you can see them better.
- Store fruits and vegetables properly to extend their shelf life.
- Visit the EatByDate website to find out how long your food will last.
- Use Fenugreen in your fruit and vegetable bin to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.
- Get the most out of your vegetables. Store leftover carrot, onion, celery, herbs, etc., in a container in the freezer. When the container is full, make a vegetable stock. Freeze the stock for an easy soup whenever you want.
- Try to stick to your menu plan and use up your food.
- Eat leftovers. Use leftover ingredients to make new dishes. Leftover chicken makes a wonderful chicken salad and then soup. Or use your leftovers for lunch the next day. Visit Super Cook and type in your ingredients to get recipes that match.
- Freeze leftovers or food items nearing their expiration date. Make sure to label and date the food you put in the freezer so you can keep track of it.
- When throwing dinner parties, resist the urge to over-prepare food, or, at the very least, send some of the leftovers home with guests.
- Understand date labels. Manufacturers and grocery stores love to use a variety of dates on their products; some of them aren’t even meant for consumers, which leads to confusion. Understand the difference between use-by, expires on, best before, and display by dates to avoid prematurely discarding edible food.
- Trust your senses. Most date labels are very conservative. When manufacturers determine the expiration dates, they have to take into account that the product might not have been stored properly and was exposed to fluctuating temperatures. A container of yogurt that expired yesterday may still be perfectly fine to consume. Look at its appearance and give it a smell. If it looks fine and smells fine, it probably is fine.
- If you are a gardener and find yourself swamped with tomatoes, zucchini and lettuce, consider donating to your local food pantry or soup kitchen. Visit AmpleHarvest.Org to locate a food pantry near you.
- Bring home leftovers from your meal (and then eat them!)
- Split appetizers with dining companions.
- Ask your server for a smaller portion size.
- Order based on your hunger. If you only feel hungry enough for an appetizer instead of an appetizer and an entrée, do what feels right for you.
Before you toss the leftovers, food scraps, and spoiled food...
Things happen that get in the way of our good intentions - business meetings, late nights at the office, impromptu suppers with friends and family - so you can’t always eat leftovers or use up food before it goes bad. Then there are the leftover food scraps to deal with. The following tips will help reduce what you dispose of in the garbage.
- If leftovers are a few days old and you know you won’t have time to consume them, freeze them in small containers that can easily be grabbed at a later date for a quick and convenient lunchtime meal. Don’t forget to label the container with what the meal is and the date you froze it.
- Before you toss food scraps, consider if you can use them in another dish, maximizing their use. For instance, save all meat and poultry bones to make your own stocks and broth. If you don’t have time to make stock after your dinner of roast chicken on Sunday, freeze the whole carcass and pull it out of the freezer when you have time. Ever wonder what to do with stale bread? Besides making French toast, breadcrumbs, or croutons, why not try putting it in a soup? Ecocucina has recipes for using up a variety of food scraps, from cauliflower leaves to broccoli stems. Other food scrap recipe resources include Care2.com’s Thrifty Kitchen article and Love Food Hate Waste’s Recipe page where you can search by ingredients. They also give helpful tips on using up leftovers.
- Compost any spoiled food that can be composted (see our page about composting to learn more).
Talk to your local grocery store manager or fill out a customer comment card
- Ask your local grocery store if they would consider selling less than perfect fruits and vegetables, or having a discount bin for food nearing its “best before” dates.
- Ask the grocery store manager if they donate edible but not sellable food to local food pantries and soup kitchens. Make sure to ask if they are donating not only bread and shelf stable items, but fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat as well.
Save food from the landfill and get it to those in need…
- Participate in gleaning programs in your local community - a group of volunteers harvest leftover fruits and vegetables the farmer is unwilling or unable to harvest, and the bounty is donated to local food pantries. Find out where you can glean in your state or consider organizing your own gleaning party by approaching farmers at your local farmers market.
- Volunteer at food pantries and soup kitchens to help recover food from grocery stores, caterers, and other retail food outlets.
- If you don’t have time to volunteer, consider donating to an organization that is participating in food recovery.