Photo: Woman Cooking

by Sabra Leomo, RD

Let’s talk about food waste. I will be completely honest--I am writing this article for my benefit as well as yours. I am definitely guilty of contributing to the food waste problem and need a little push to make changes. Maybe having one too many food safety classes in college, now combined with a busy life, has contributed to my challenge but food waste definitely occurs in our home. Whatever your reason, we as individuals can make a big difference and I will join you in making a sincere effort to reduce the amount of food waste my household contributes to landfills.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council up to 40% of food in the United States is never eaten. That is a staggering amount when you think about it. Not only is the final food product wasted but think about the energy that went into growing, harvesting, preparing and transporting the final product. All of those resources go to waste as well.

With grocery stores on every corner we have lost a personal connection to our food. We think about getting to the store and what we will make for dinner. However, we don’t often think about where our food really comes from and the resources that go into producing the final product. It is easy to grab food items off the shelf in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and not think about the resources it takes for them to appear on a grocery store shelf.

As consumers, improving the way that we buy, prepare, and store food items can make a big difference. Here are a few simple tips to help reduce food waste, starting with awareness that food waste is a problem and that we can make a difference.

Make a List/Snap a Pic: Does anyone else make a list and then conveniently leave it on the counter? Take a second to snap a picture of your refrigerator/freezer/pantry so that you can see the items that you have and don’t double up on purchases. In our home we have a magnetic white board on our fridge to keep track of little items that we are running low on. Snap a picture of the white board and you are prepared to shop. You may forget a physical list but it is less likely that you will forget your phone.

Multi-use Food: Spinach is a staple in our house. It goes in smoothies, salads and we sauté and add it to most recipes to increase the amount of veggies we eat. Getting through a large amount of produce isn’t a problem if you can use it for multiple recipes.

The Freezer is Your Friend:  Grains, bread, beans, cereal, nuts/seeds, almost all produce, sauces and soups that aren’t cream based, in addition to many other meals, freeze well. Label leftovers that may go to waste in your refrigerator and keep them in the freezer for a quick meal on a busy school night. You can also split packages of cereal, flour, nuts, and many pantry staples and keep some in the freezer so they don’t get stale in your pantry.

Leftover Lunch: One of the easiest ways to save money and also reduce food waste is to bring leftovers for lunch. Think of ways to repurpose leftovers to make it appealing and take the boredom out of home lunches. For example, a can of black beans can be used in chili, tacos, as a salad topper, or added to a Buddha bowl (here’s a few delicious recipes to try- Kale Rice Bowl or Green Goddess Bowl).

First in, First Out: When you buy groceries arrange your refrigerator so that the older food is in front and the newer food is in back. This helps keep track of what you have in your fridge so you don’t ponder expiration dates.

Pantries are also notorious for “losing” items in dark corners.  When planning meals take inventory of what you have in your pantry and plan some meals around what you have before buying more. While you are arranging, take note of the items you use the most and the ones you buy and don’t touch.

Proper Storage: A large amount of food waste is a result of improper storage. First, check your refrigerator and freezer and make sure they are at optimal temperatures. Keep the refrigerator at or below 40 F and the freezer temp should be 0 F.

When it comes to food, stick to the “two-hour rule”. Never allow foods that require refrigeration to sit out for more than 2 hours –one hour if the temperature is above 90 F. This applies to leftovers and take-out food as well.

Bulk Bins: Despite the name, you don’t have to buy these foods in large quantities. Hit the bulk bin aisle and pick up the exact amount that you need from a wide assortment of items. Another bonus of the bulk bins is that you use less packaging than many commercially-packaged items.

Now that you are aware that up to 40% of food in the United States is never eaten, think about what you can do to decrease your food waste. Small adjustments in the way that we buy, prepare and store food can make a big difference.