I have a confession: having been cooking up a storm over the past few months as I delve into the world of food blogging, I’ve wasted a lot of food. I’m not proud of it. But I’m not alone. Americans throw away an average of 20 pounds of food each month, ⅓ of our food, totaling $516 in food waste per person each year. And while I would like to comfort myself and say “oh, it’s inevitable!”, it’s not. So here are 11 practical tips to help us reduce our food waste (and the wasted money that goes with it).
REDUCE FOOD WASTE WHEN YOU GROCERY SHOP
1. Plan for the next week or so: Before you set out for the grocery, take a minute to think through a few recipes you’ll make over the next week. Aim for recipes with similar ingredients to prevent having half a tomato here and a rotting leftover cucumber there. You can also look through grocery stores flyers to find the weeks sales, then center a few meals around the sale items.
2. Make an adaptable list: Once you have a few recipes in mind, make a list of what you’ll need, taking into account what you already have at home. Keep in mind that cooking isn’t an exact science, and often times you can exchange something you already have at home for an ingredient called for in the recipe. This post has a few clever kitchen substitutes to prevent you from buying what you might not necessarily need.
3. Stick to the list: You’ve taken the time to make your list, stick to it! Impulse buys are often more expensive and less healthy. As you challenge yourself to stick to your list, tally up the cost of everything else you would have liked to buy. How much did you save in just one shopping trip?
4. Buy loose or bulk: The loose item and bulk bins are the most underrated sections of the grocery. If you just need two carrots, don’t buy a whole bag. If you need one cup of a specialty flour, head over to bulk bins and get just what you need.
REDUCE FOOD WASTE WHEN YOU COOK
5. Practice portion control: Portion control is a big control point when it comes to food waste. Large portions can either cause us to 1) not eat all of our food, resulting in a big fat pile of food waste, or 2) eat more than our bodies need, resulting in, well, a big fat waist. Portion off less than you’re comfortable with to start. When you’ve finished, consciously ask yourself if you’re still hungry. If you are, by all means eat! But by bringing satiety cues to the front of your brain, you can start to better understand what your body is asking for. Often times, your body needs a lot less than what you’re feeding it!
6. Don’t toss the scraps: In the case of many fruits and vegetables, we only eat a small edible portion. We throw away a lot of actually very edible “scraps”. Here are a few ideas for cooking with “scraps”:
- Cut melon rind (hard outer part removed) into small cubes and cook into stir fries, use to make jam, or use as a substitute for cucumber in cucumber salad
- The green tops of carrots are edible! Use them to garnish soups or salads.
- Most veggie scraps can be thrown into a soup or stock to impart some serious flavors. Onion skins, leek greens, carrot peels, you name it! Throw it all in a cheesecloth and tie the cheesecloth off with string to create a infusing pillow of flavor that can be fished out prior to serving.
- Parmesan rinds can also be thrown into soups and stocks. Tastes amazing and takes your cooking to the “Italian grandmother” level.
- What did broccoli stalks ever do to you? Cook these up with just about anything (stirfry, soup, chopped and roasted, in salads) for a hefty dose of fiber and flavor without many calories.
REDUCE LEFTOVER FOOD WASTE
7. First in, first out: Store your leftovers and perishables so that the oldest is to the front of your fridge or pantry. Aim to use the oldest things first to prevent them from going bad. Extra points if you label each container with the date it was made; memories, like mold, can be fuzzy.
8. Keep food fresher, longer: So often my food goes bad before little ole me can get around to eating it. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to keeping your food fresher for longer.
- Don’t store fruits and veggies together. Many fruits give off ethylene gas, a compound that speeds up the ripening (and decaying) process. Keep these fruits away from the slowly ripening vegetables.
- Leave these foods at room temperature: onions, bread, honey, bananas, basil, stone fruits (avocado, apple, melon, tomato)
- Refrigerate these foods: non-stone fruits (grapes, berries, peppers, citrus), almost all veggies (exception: potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash)
- You can freeze these foods: breads and tortillas, ginger, garlic, chopped carrots or celery, flour, chips, non milk-based stocks and sauces, most pre-chopped fruits (for smoothies), homemade dough
- But you definitely should not freeze these foods: almost anything creamy (with the exception of plain milk; sour cream, yogurt, soft cheeses), fried foods, high moisture fruits (watermelon, citrus, apples), foods heavy in egg yolks
- Herbs. Wrap hardy herbs (those with woody stalks; thyme, rosemary etc) in a damp paper towel, wrap that in plastic wrap, and store in fridge. Treat tender herbs (everything else; basil, mint etc.) like a bouquet of flowers, in a jar with a bit of water.
- Leafy greens. Wrap greens in a dry paper towel, place in a perforated plastic bag (you can just punch a few holes in a bag that zips), and refrigerate.
9. Expiration dates are a suggestion: The “use-by” date you may see on foods is not the be-all end-all of freshness. With the exception of some infant foods, expiration dates are not federally regulated, and are instead simply the date the manufacturer predicts the food will be at its peak freshness. Don’t toss a food just because it has lived past this date. Use smell, sight, and taste to determine if a food is past its peak.
10. Use foods that are on their last leg:
- Use leftover tomatoes to make a fresh, homemade marinara.
- Soon-to-go-bad bread can be cut into squares, tossed with olive oil, salt, and whatever herbs or seasonings you’re feeling, then broiled in the oven until crispy to make homemade croutons. You can also grind stale bread into breadcrumbs and store in the freezer.
- Mix fresh herbs with olive oil and freeze in an ice cube tray. When you’re ready to use them, simply add a few cubes to a saute pan for a quick and tasty base to your dish.
- Puree older fruit to make a fruity compote for topping pancakes and toast, or throw it in a blender for a healthy fruit smoothie.
- Speaking of smoothies, go ahead and throw your older veggies in as well. Spinach, kale, cucumbers, beets, carrots, and many other vegetables offer a powerful health punch to a fruit smoothie.
- Get creative. Yesterday’s chicken dinner is today’s chicken salad. Leftover pizza? Peel off the cheesy top, stick it between two slices of bread, and grill yourself up a pizza panini.
11. Designate one or two days a week as “leftover nights”: In my house growing up, if mom wasn’t home in time for dinner we would have “Duby’s” nights, a combination of Dad + Luby’s, the cafeteria-style Texas chain restaurant. Duby’s nights included every leftover in our fridge (+ the occasional Hamburger Helper), and boy would we plow through some leftovers. By designating a meal or two each week that you will eat all the leftovers in your fridge, you can reduce your food waste and save time and money in cooking up something from scratch!