Food that’s grown but never eaten wastes the water and energy put into growing that food. There is also at least one compelling environmental reason to minimize food waste. Every pound of food waste represents land, chemical fertilizer, and pesticide that was consumed to grow the food or the ingredients. Cutting food waste by 20-30% nationwide would cut down on fertilizer use, pesticide use, and water use in agriculture. Plus, food waste is expensive! The average American spends $1,800 a year on food that they never eat.
If food waste could be cut in half, the amount of land the country uses for agriculture could be reduced.
The good news? There are some simple changes we can make in how we buy and cook food to reduce how much food we’re wasting at home — helping both our wallets and the planet.
Tip #1: Shop smart
Careful planning is important. If you know in advance what kinds of foods and how much your household uses in a week, you can save money and avoid food waste by only buying what we’ll use before it goes off. Fresh fruits and vegetables tend to spoil quickly, so buy what you know you can use in the next few days. You can also buy frozen vegetables instead of fresh, or include some canned fruit.
Tip #2: Prepare realistic portions
Think about how much you and your family members usually eat at a sitting, then prepare meals accordingly. Serving meals that are just big enough cuts down on the amount of food thrown out each day and reduces leftovers. Plenty of rice and pasta ends up in the trash because people meant to make a couple of servings and got four or five.
Tip #3: Eat those leftovers
Some food waste happens when people cook too much and never get around to eating the leftovers. Keep leftover stew, pasta, and other dishes in the front of the refrigerator, where the containers are easy to see. You can also build leftovers into your meal planning — leftovers make great lunches or even another dinner, if you have enough. You might even consider dedicating one night a week to “fridge tapas,” where you make a meal of whatever leftovers you have on hand. Time to get creative!
Tip #4: Store fruits and vegetables properly
Spoiled fruits and vegetables probably make up a significant percentage of all food waste in the average home. Storing them properly will cut down on waste for no cost. Many fruits and vegetables that could be kept at room temperature go in the refrigerator, or the reverse. Bananas should not be stored in the refrigerator, for example. This helpful guide will make it easy for you to store your produce the right way so that it lasts longer.
Tip #5: Avoid clutter
Make sure everything in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry is easy to find by not packing in as many containers as possible. If you can’t see food, especially food with an expiration date, it’s easy to forget it until it’s too late. And if there’s too much in there, chances are higher that you won’t be able to get to it all before it spoils. You can minimize the amount of food wasted by simply not overstuffing your refrigerator and freezer.
Do more for our planet by connecting to clean energyCheck availability
Tip #6: Treat expiration dates as guidelines
The sell-by dates and use-by dates on food generally tell you when the food is best. Quality may decline somewhat after those dates, but almost all foods are safe to eat a few days after the expiration date. Dry cereal, oatmeal, and pasta may be good for a week or two. Treat the “best if used by” date as a quality guideline, not an “eat-by” date. The “sell-by” dates tell retailers when to rotate their stock, so they can also be treated as quality guidelines.
Tip #7: Keep track of food waste
Financial gurus recommend that tracking your spending for a few days to better understand where your money goes. That way you know where to cut back. In the same way, keeping a log of food that you throw out may help you see ways to cut back on your grocery bill.
Tip #8: Donate non-perishables you’re not going to use
Instead of throwing out that can of green beans or that box of whole wheat pasta, collect your non-perishable and unwanted foods. Get a few friends and neighbors to contribute, too. Then, take the bags of food over to the local food bank. Many communities have annual food drives. If you have canned and boxed food you’ve been planning to use, go ahead and donate it so it does not go to waste — and instead helps someone else in your community.
Tip #9: Take up canning and preserving
If you want a new hobby, canning or preserving your own fruits and vegetables can be a terrific way to save food — and a little money. If you know how to preserve food and have the supplies at home, you can buy in bulk and preserve whatever you won’t be using right away. If you’re a newbie, canning and preserving aren’t that tough to learn. Check out these how-tos from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Tip #10: Use apps and services to help
These days, there are several tools to help you fight food waste. If you want to make a difference beyond your kitchen, you can join a service that delivers “ugly” produce, or produce that is perfectly good but wasn’t accepted at grocery stores for some reason. Normally, that produce would just be tossed. Or there are apps that will help you find folks in your community who will take your unwanted food, find ways to use up ingredients you’re not sure what to do with, and even get discounts on food nearing its expiration date.
Well + Good has rounded up several of these apps and services, but there are plenty more out there!
Tip #11: Plan to use perishable goods soon
If you do buy highly perishable items at the store, be sure to use them as soon as possible. Eat those strawberries, or make guacamole the next day. If you aren’t sure if you would use those items right away, don’t buy them until later. The EPA also suggests cooking with your perishable ingredients as soon as possible, and use as much as possible. Anything your family doesn’t eat at once can be frozen or refrigerated for later. This cuts down on the number of fruits, greens, and vegetables that end up in the trash. Pro tip: Hard-boil eggs just before they expire and they will be safe to eat for a week.
Tip #12: Compost your food waste
If you have a garden or would like to have one, start composting some of your food waste. You get free fertilizer from the compost, and your own garden products are less likely to end up in the trash. Growing fruits, vegetables, or herbs at home also cuts down on the environmental impacts of large-scale farming and possibly even plastic packaging on produce you buy in the grocery store.