Food Waste is a huge problem in the United States and across much of the world. The average American throws away 300 pounds of food per year! 300 pounds. Of food. Per person. Per year.
The Food Waste Problem
The numbers are staggering when you start to research how much food, energy, water, and land are wasted because of the amount of food tossed out.
In addition to the amount of food, look at how much money is wasted each year on food, too. I know an extra $2,200 per year would help a lot of families financially. That monetary value is the dollar amount that was paid for food that was then tossed. How much were those strawberries that got moldy in the refrigerator? What was paid for the lettuce that wilted before being used?
The Food Waste Solution
Unfortunately, there isn’t just one solution. Instead, there
1. Meal Plan/Grocery List
When you make a meal plan, you purchase only what you need. Rather than going grocery shopping without a plan, think about what meals you want to make and what food you need. Make sure you don’t already have the food and find ways to use up leftovers.
2. FIFO: First In, First Out
FIFO is a common method that has many uses. For a No Waste Kitchen, we are talking about it in terms of food.
When you store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer, find a way to mark when it was made. Always move the oldest food to the front and put the newest in the back. This way you will eat up the leftovers that have been in there longest since they are likely to go bad sooner.
Just because a meal you had planned for much later in the week sounds better, you still need to stick to your plan. Part of meal planning is preparing the meals with the freshest ingredients first. Don’t put off your fresh salad because a frozen pizza sounds better. The fresh produce will go bad before that frozen pizza and then may have to be thrown out.
3. Use Your Leftovers
Find creative ways to use up leftovers. Many meals can be frozen to keep longer and then thawed and reheated for a quick and easy meal a few weeks or months later.
If you finished your pasta and there’s still sauce in the pan, scoop it up into a jar and freeze to use in your next pasta dish. Or, if you made a meal that only used half of an onion, find a way to cook something else that will use the other half.
When you aren’t sure what to do with leftovers, search the internet. I have found quite a few recipes that use leftovers from one meal to create something completely different. In addition, my 6 Tips for Using Leftovers + 16 Recipes post on my recipe blog is a great resource.
4. Farmer’s Market
Search your area for a local farmer’s market. You can often find fresh produce here without packaging, and you prevent food waste because they often have produce that may not be up to grocery store standards. If a tomato isn’t just the right shade of red or a perfect sphere, it will be turned away at most stores. Although there is nothing wrong with the tomato, it doesn’t “look good” and won’t be purchased.
Also, a lot of grocery stores only sell produce in bundles or prepackaged sizes. When you shop at a farmer’s market, you can usually grab exactly the amount you need so you don’t have food waste from over purchasing.
5. Kitchen Clean-out
No, I don’t mean actually cleaning the kitchen, although, that is a good habit to have, too. I’m talking about going through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry on a regular basis.
Find any foods that are starting to go bad or will be soon, and figure out ways you can use them. Instead of creating more food waste, can they be frozen to use later? If your bread is getting hard, can you make homemade croutons or bread crumbs?
I suggest doing this at least once per month. I try to do a quick look through weekly as I make my grocery list and meal plan. About twice per year I take everything out of the refrigerator and freezer to clean them and check expiration dates. Then I do the same in the pantry to clean the shelves. It’s a great way to take inventory of what you have and what needs to be used soon.
6. Vegetable Scraps
As we use more fresh food (with less packaging!) we tend to have scraps leftover. The peels from the garlic and onions, the core of an apple or pepper, etc. But what can we do with those?
While they aren’t directly edible, they also aren’t food waste, either. Many of these can be planted and will grow into a new plant. If you cut the bottom inch off of a head of lettuce, it will grow more lettuce. This is usually called “scrap gardening” and I’ve done it with many vegetables in our kitchen.
You can also save them in the freezer until you have about a pound of scraps. Then use that to make your own vegetable broth in the slow cooker or on the stovetop.
7. Coordinate with Family and Friends
Rather than trying to come up with a new recipe from leftovers, or taking the space to freeze them, start a group of close family and friends to swap leftovers. You would have to know a few things about your swap family, such as any potential allergies and how many people they are serving.
But, if you do it right, you can have your leftovers used and get a second meal. For example, if I made a large pan of baked ziti, and you made a pot of chili, the next day we could give each other the leftovers. Now my family gets to enjoy chili while yours has baked ziti. We both only had to cook once, the leftovers were used rather than possibly wasted, and we got two different meals.
When none of the above are options, or you still need another solution, start a compost bin. Most food waste can go into a compost rather than the garbage. As long as you balance the compost and turn it often, it will eventually break down into a nutrient-rich soil. You can then use this soil for your own gardening or possibly sell the compost.
Food waste is an overwhelming problem, but we can do a few simple things to try to reduce the amount from our own households. These are the ideas that we have and try to follow, but there are other solutions as well.
When you’re ready to get started, make sure to sign up to receive your Welcome Kit. The kit will provide you guidance on how to identify where your food waste is coming from.