In America, between 10 and 20 percent of the food we purchase ends up in our landfills. And no, landfills don’t work as giant compost piles. Without light and air, the food in landfills just becomes putrid and releases methane gas. We live in a society where it’s acceptable for people to throw away and waste food while others down the road go hungry.
Wasting the food we buy is also a huge drain on our wallets. Estimates say the average family throws away around $600 worth of fruit, vegetables, meat and other perishables, and around 14 percent of their food purchases.
It’s not only our money that is being wasted. When we throw away fruits, meats, and vegetables we are also wasting the resources it took to produce the food; grains, soy and corn to feed the animals, fertilizer for the plants and trees, and water. We are also wasting the energy and pollution it cost to produce and then transport those foods, and the nutrition that could have gone to someone who needed it.
There are many ways we can reduce this highly wasteful behavior that accounts for 18 percent of our landfills and more than 30 million tons of solid food waste.
Here are a few simple tips:
Go out to eat less. Since you have no control over portion size at a restaurant, a lot of food gets wasted with every order. You could try ordering smaller portion sizes – like half orders or split something with whoever you’re dining with. And if you can’t finish your meal, you can always take it home. Even if you won’t eat it, maybe someone else in your household will. That’s why they call them doggie bags!
Shop smart. Make a list before you go, and plan your purchases ahead. If you usually do a big shopping once a week, plan out your meals for the week and only buy things you know you will use. If you aren’t good at planning ahead, go shopping more frequently and buy less. That way, you’ll only buy things you know you need and are going to use.
Check your cupboards before making your list. Often you may have some of the ingredients in the cupboard or freezer that you could use. It’s also a good way to come up with some inspiration for new recipes and use up what you have rather than buying more.
Check the expiration dates when you're at the store on the items you buy and be sure that you choose foods with a farther away expiration date if you know you aren’t going to use it right away.
When you get home from the store, always practice “first in, first out.” Put the new food in the back and bring the older foods to the front to ensure that you bring out and eat the foods that went in first. Plus, no one likes to deal with that rotten ,unidentifiable thing someone forgot in the back of the fridge.
Use your food creatively: You can turn your leftovers into an entirely new meal if you think ahead. Rather than dousing all those vegetables with sauce, have the condiments on the table, so you can use the unflavored vegetables in a different recipe. Serve smaller portions on each plate to reduce the amount of food taken and then not eaten, since you don’t want to save plate scraps as leftovers. Even if it’s just a small amount, you can probably use or eat it later.
Try cookstr.com or your favorite recipe site to search recipes by ingredients. Have leftover tofu and brussel sprouts? Input the ingredients and you’ll get new recipes and new ways to use the food you have.
Have a weekly ‘leftover dinner’: This is good for families who had several different meals during the week. Designate one night as leftover night, put everything out and everyone can eat what they want. Live alone? Invite your friends to a leftover potluck!
Sharing IS caring: One of the smartest ways we can stop from wasting food is to share with others. If you are making a big meal, bring some to your neighbors. If you have cans and non-perishables in the back of your pantry that you aren’t going to use, donate them to your local food bank.
Don’t just let it sit there: If you buy something and only use a small portion of it right away, freeze the rest before it goes bad. Buying wholesale can save families money, but only if they get full use out of what they buy. If you live alone, use these same practices on foods that come prepackaged in larger amounts, like bread, for example. Freeze your bread right away and when you want it, take out a few slices and let them defrost when you know you’ll eat it. This will prevent mold, and save you money from buying a loaf of bread each week only to eat five pieces.
And for one more reason to stay diligent, think about this: food that’s left out not only goes bad and gets wasted, but it can also attract bugs!
In the summer when there is an abundance of fresh produce, don’t buy it just to let it go bad. You can still cook vegetables that are wilting in stir-frys, soups or casseroles. Or you can learn how to can or preserve fruits and vegetables to have them all year.
Always think of another way: Stale bread or crackers? Leave it out on your lawn for the birds or go feed it to local ducks. Get creative and make the most use of what you buy.
Angella M. Trout CNC, RA
As a Nutritional Consultant and Lifestyle Coach I am passionate about teaching others about total balance in health and spirit. As a real life person with real life struggles.