Food waste is a big problem in the United States. It has been estimated that Americans waste almost 40 percent of food they buy each year.
Almost everyone does it at some point, and while you won’t be able to save every single crumb from going in the trash, you can do a lot to minimize the amount of waste you and your family generates. A little bit of planning ahead, and knowing how to shop, store, and cook your food will take you a long way. If you’re looking to cut back on your food waste, these tips will help.
Plan Your Meals
Making a meal plan is perhaps one of the easiest ways to avoid throwing away food (and money.) It takes some getting used to, but it’s something that will make a huge difference in your day-to-day life.
When you plan your meals each week, you can ensure that you buy ingredients that can be used up (instead of buying a bunch of green onions for a recipe and throwing them out because you don’t know what to do with them), and you can make a detailed list that will keep you from buying too much.
Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need
If you go to the grocery store with no list, you’re likely to buy whatever looks good to you, which can be disastrous in terms of wasting both food and money.
Instead, make a list of what you know you’ll reasonably eat within the week. Channel some willpower so that you don’t buy foods you won’t eat. It also helps if you eat before going to the grocery store. Even if you are slightly hungry, you are much more likely to buy that package of cookies, pint of ice cream, or loaf of bread that you simply don’t have time to eat before it goes bad.
Buy Only the Amounts You Need
If your supermarket has a bulk section, head that way first. Being able to buy foods like flour, beans, rice, and nuts in bulk will help you buy only what you need, especially if it’s something you don’t use on a regular basis. Even dried goods do go bad eventually, and if you don’t have a plan for them, chances are you will end up throwing them out.
Many supermarkets will sell you smaller portions than what is seemingly available, so if you only need half a loaf of bread from the bakery, or even half a watermelon, ask someone to help you.
Learn How Long Food Lasts (And How to Store It)
Many foods go bad pretty quickly, especially when it comes to produce. Learn which foods last longest, and think about whether you have enough time to eat them before they go bad. For example, if you’re going out of town tomorrow, buying a pint of fresh raspberries is a waste of money unless you’re going to eat them tonight (they only last a couple days.)
Learn how to properly store food as well. Leafy greens need to be kept in the fridge, but avocados can be stored at room temperature. Knowing how to store your food is one of the biggest battles of avoiding food waste.
First In, First Out
This technique is employed in both supermarkets and restaurant kitchens, and it makes perfect sense. It’s simple. Finish an opened product before you open something new. Most jarred and canned foods will last for a long time if they are unopened, so if you have a half jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge, use that first. Get some masking tape and a marker and put the date on everything that you put in the fridge so that you know how long it’s been in there.
Have a Clean Out the Fridge Meal Every Week
When doing your meal planning for the week, designate one (or even two!) nights a week where you clean out your fridge and use up whatever is about to go bad or that you don’t have a plan for. This may take some cooking skills, but it ensures that something doesn’t get stuck in the back of the fridge until it becomes moldy. If you have room in your fridge or pantry, dedicate a small space to odds and ends that you don’t have a plan for. Things like a single carrot or half a box of pasta go there, and then on these nights, you can start there first.
If you have leftovers, eat them. Yes, it can be boring to eat last nights dinner again, but if you don’t, you’ll end up throwing it away. If you don’t like leftovers, try your hardest not to make them. Learn which foods make the best leftovers so that you can plan your recipe amounts accordingly.
Learn the Art of Preservation
There are very few foods that can’t be preserved in some way. Freezing is an easy way to preserve scraps, leftovers, and other odds and ends until you can use them again, and you’d be surprised to learn which foods can most definitely go in the freezer. Milk, butter, bread, even eggs freeze beautifully.
Canning is another great way to preserve fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go bad. It’s not hard to do, and it will allow you to enjoy those summer tomatoes or strawberries in the middle of winter. Instead of throwing out fruit that’s about to go bad, make jam. It’s better than anything you’ll get at the store anyway.
Got some extra cucumbers, beets, or peppers? Pickle them. Not only does it add flavor, but it also helps them keep much longer than when they are fresh.
Throw onion peels and carrot skins in a pot with some water and make a quick vegetable stock. Don’t peel your tomatoes when making a sauce; puree it. Some “scraps” such as broccoli stems and beet greens are nutritious and can be eaten in a stir fry, soup, or other dish. Throw fruit that is a little wrinkly in a smoothie.
Ask For a Sample
How many times have you bought a bottle of salad dressing or pasta sauce that you hated once you tried it? These kinds of foods almost always get thrown away, even with your best intentions.
Instead, why not ask your grocery store manager for a sample? While not all will do it, many will, but you don’t know until you ask. Don’t feel bad asking them to open up a product; they’ll put it out for others to sample when you’re done.
If you aren’t sure you’re going to like something, don’t buy it, unless you can buy a very small amount, especially for expensive or gimmicky items.
Food waste is a reality, and it can be difficult to avoid entirely. While you may not be able to get rid of all food waste, you can definitely be responsible for what you and your family throws away each week by following these tips.
Of course, don’t go so crazy trying to avoid waste that you eat foods that may be bad for you. If something has mold on it, smells bad, or is way past its expiration date, throw it away. It’s not worth getting sick to avoid throwing away a bad piece of fruit, but if you can plan ahead, you can quite possibly avoid it.