We’ve heard the statistic: Americans waste nearly 40 percent of our food. That’s nearly 20 pounds of food per person each month. That’s a whole lot of money and sustenance going down the garbage chute. Not only could a large chunk of this wasted food go to others in need, these tons and tons of food waste end up in our already-diminishing landfill space, which in turn contributes to 16 percent of U.S. methane gas emissions (a contributor to climate change).
These statistics are striking and certainly make us think twice about how much we purchase. But sometimes, particularly if you’re regularly cooking for one, it can be nearly impossible to use up all the food you buy. Many of the packaged goods we find in our grocery stores are portioned for families, not for individuals. Even if you are cooking for a family, it can be difficult to size out how much you need, leftovers can get lost in the back of the fridge, or veggie-denying children can refuse to eat their greens.
The sources of this food waste are endless. Luckily, there are a few key ways you can reduce your own food waste and help decrease some of these impacts!
- Plan it out. Whether you’re an avid planner or not, planning your food consumption is key to decreasing your waste. Use whatever tools work best for you: meal plans, grocery lists, Excel spreadsheets, you name it. Wait until your fruits, veggies, meats, and other perishables are totally used up – then hit up the grocery store. When you’re there, stick to your list and avoid impulse buys (on that note, never shop while you’re hungry!).
- Buy ugly produce. As you look through the piles of apples, pears, and cauliflower that line the grocery store shelves, you’ll notice that some are perfectly intact and others have a few small flaws: bumps and bruises, slight holes or discoloration. These are still totally fine to eat! Many people avoid so-called “ugly produce,” but we assure you… it definitely tastes the same. Buy what others don’t purchase so grocery stores aren’t forced to throw away perfectly good food.
- Only buy ingredients you know you’ll use again. We know how it feels: you find a delicious recipe online that you’re just dying to try. You run to the grocery store, grab all the ingredients, and cook away your Sunday. You end up with a delectable meal that you adore! On the flip side, you probably purchased a few ingredients that you didn’t use up, won’t use again, and will be relegated to the trash. Before trying a recipe, take a careful look at the ingredients. Can you buy all ingredients in small servings? If not, will you use them again? If you answer “no” to both of these questions, find a substitute. For example, say you want to make fish tacos with homemade slaw, which calls for sour cream… but you never use sour cream. Substitute Greek yogurt (it tastes the same – and it’s healthier!) and eat the remainder for breakfast.
- Write down everything you throw away. Designate a week this month and keep a log of everything you end up throwing in the garbage. This exercise will make you more aware of the weight of the food you’re trashing and will give you a better sense of how to properly shop once grocery time comes around.
- Always eat leftovers! Many restaurants serve portions that are much too large to eat in one sitting. If you find this is often the case for you, always take home your leftovers and eat them the next day (or freeze them for later in the week). Not only does this save you money, it saves the food from being trashed by the restaurant’s wait staff. If you’re more inclined to make dinner at home, make more than you can eat that night – then eat the rest for lunch tomorrow.
- Store smarter. Many veggies, fruits, and grains store best in a very specific way. For instance, while spinach might come in a pre-packaged plastic bag, it isn’t the best way to keep your leafy greens fresh. Transfer spinach immediately from the bags they come in to an airtight container and place it in the refrigerator. Check out this handy infographic and you’ll always know where your food should go. On that note, use your freezer. If you aren’t going to eat something you cooked or bought right away, always place it in the freezer for an easy, quick meal the next week.
Reducing your food waste can save you time and money, while helping others and protecting the environment. It’s the true definition of a win-win scenario!
How do you diminish your food waste weekly? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.