October 24 is Food Day in the US. We can celebrate the richness of various cuisines, cultural and local traditions, or rejoice around the countless pleasures we have sharing delicious food with loved on important personal milestones… We could also take a look at the not so bright side of the story… Have you ever wasted or are you regularly wasting food?
Yes, let’s do this, but in a positive, solution-promoting way. The average household (yes, us!) creates about 1.28 pounds of daily waste, equal to 14% of the family’s food purchases… Stopping food waste begins at home, and while this issue has a lot to do with what’s on our plate, it also has to do with what isn’t.
Here are 10 simple ideas to help considerably reduce the amount of foods we may waste, tackling a number of possible causes. Because, yes, we all can do better!
1- Know what you have, so you know what to get- Plan your meals, do it a week ahead of time, do it for one week, and base it off of what you have left so you can make a strict list of what you’ll need. Check out all the places where you store foods: fridge, cupboards, pantry, freezer… Be aware of your weaknesses (guilty of often letting vegetables go bad in your refrigerator?) Monitor these items even closer than the others and adjust quantities to buy when you need them.
2- Shop weekly and smartly- Grocery shop weekly for the one week worth of meals you just planned. If you shop less often, some items (fresh produce…) may have time to spoil, and if you shop more often, there are more temptations to buy items you don’t need, increasing the risk of them going to waste (there’s so much food we can eat in one week after all). That is not even counting the time wasted in multiple commuting trips! Go with and stick to your list to get in and out fast, focus on the periphery of the store (away from the unhealthy packaged foods), do not go hungry so you don’t cave to impulsive, marketing-induced cravings, and buy local items whenever possible so there are as few miles from the field to your fridge as possible. Use the bulk aisle for exact quantities. For packaged foods, reach out in the back of the shelves to get the items with the longest “Best by” or “Use before” dates. And when it comes to expiration dates, remember that it is all about common sense when dealing with a past due product. Put your nose and mouth to work, and smell and taste to evaluate the item for yourself. As a general rule, a good week past a due date is usually fine, but check out stilltasty.com for a great food storage guide. And do not be unnecessarily picky: Your bananas turned spotty with brown spots? They are actually better for you this way!
3- Beware the BOGO temptation- Don’t let the powerful “Buy One, Get One” (free or half price or how-much-ever less) marketing tool trick you into buying more than you had planned. There is this feeling of making a good deal, but if we let the product spoil because we bought more than we needed, then that defeats the purpose of paying less for more. This is a possible waste-generating mechanism only created to make us buy more in one trip to the store, but the truth is, we likely won’t eat more than usual.
4- Proactively handle leftovers- Repurpose your leftovers as the start of a new meal. Go online for ideas, get creative, share tips with friends… just be sure to finish yesterday’s meal by making delicious, innovative dishes. You’ll have to repurpose on a weekly basis, within 2-3 days or cooked items will go bad. Doing so will soon “teach” you by experience how much time you have left to eat specific food items.
5- Organize your kitchen- Inspect your fridge, freezer and cupboard monthly or as you feel is needed to make sure nothing was forgotten, and check the temperature levels for best preservation conditions (39 and zero for the first two). Organize all storage space, by types, expiry dates… whatever works best so you can see at a glance what you have that must be consumed soonest.
6- Preserve or freeze if you grow your own food and / or cook more- If you grow your own (indoor or outdoor) garden, there’s a chance you’ll end up with more of each item you grow than you can use while it is still fresh. So give a try to canning and freezing. You can either freeze the raw ingredients, or cook more of a meal than you actually need, and freeze that extra portion. It’s mostly a matter of quantity and won’t add much cooking time in the kitchen. But it’ll save you some on that day when you’re behind schedule and have no time to prepare something new! Also a good way to enjoy certain ingredient out of season, without paying extra for a product coming from the other side of the planet.
7- Efficiently manage your… trash- Efficiently manage your trash can by separating the actual food scraps from any packaging (paper, plastic, aluminum…) and either compost yourself if you have enough room, or look for a community garden nearby, maybe neighbors who would be interested in adding your scraps to theirs. By composting your organic waste you are returning nutrients back into the soil, and by disposing of organic waste in a proper manner, you help protect the environment. As for an excess of leftovers, don’t let them become trash, be proactive and if you know you’ll need an outlet after a special event (and so much can get into your freezer), then look for an association/charity serving the hungry locally?
8- Store food properly in the fridge- If say you go through 3 loaves of bread per week, maybe store one in the freezer so it does not go bad while you eat the other two. Store produce at the bottom of the fridge and wipe out extra humidity if you spot more moisture than needed (drops of water on the drawers). Prefer glass to plastic when it comes to storage and use clear containers: that’ll help not to forget about leftovers, half eaten or half used items, but also to monitor fresh produce that tend to spoil first.
9- Eat out in a sustainable way- When heading out for a meal, remember to only order what you’ll eat (you can always go back for seconds if still hungry), or bring the non-eaten portion back home if it was not from a buffet. Just do not let it go to waste by the restaurant. And once home, don’t throw anything away either, plan to eat it later or give it to someone who will.
10- Spread the “no waste” word out- It is easy to make a difference, so let’s cue in our loved ones (teach good habits to our children), friends, colleagues, anyone we’re in contact with really. Let’s share how simple small new habits can make a difference in our personal budget, in the amount of foods that get wasted everyday, and at a bigger scale, how we can participate in making a positive impact on everyone else’s lives.
Can you think of any tips or ideas you already put into action and or particularly enjoy, to add on to this non exhaustive list? Please share the knowledge!