Consumers are responsible for up to 30 percent of food waste, so changing our habits can make a substantial impact. “We can all do our parts to make a difference,” says food-justice advocate and New York University professor Marion Nestle, PhD.
Environmental blogger Tippi Thole agrees. “Reducing your waste is something you can see the benefits of doing right away. It’s very empowering.” This is especially important at a time when many of us feel helpless in the face of climate change. The following ideas can help you reduce household food waste.
- Plan meals weekly and include strategies for how and when to use leftovers.
- Make a grocery list to help prevent impulse purchasing. (On that note, shop for groceries on a full stomach whenever possible.)
- Tidy up. Keep your cabinets, fridge, and pantry organized so you can easily see what’s available. This prevents you from buying items you already have.
- Use bulk bins. Buying nuts, grains, and spices in bulk allows you to bring home only what you need.
- Label it. Write dates on the foods in your cabinet, freezer, and refrigerator. This removes the guesswork about how long an item has been stored and spares good food from being thrown away.
- Limit and eat leftovers. We leave about 17 percent of every restaurant meal on our plates, and we take less than half of those leftovers home with us. Consider sharing entrées and sides or order only what you know you can finish when dining. At home, Thole recommends keeping any leftovers in plain view in your refrigerator so you don’t forget to eat them. She stores hers in transparent containers on a designated shelf so they don’t get lost.
- Celebrate the smorgasbord. Don’t be afraid of unlikely food combinations. “When we have a lot of uneaten leftovers, my son and I like to enjoy them buffet-style,” Thole says. “It ensures that we consume our weekly meals in a fun way.”
- Be smart about storage. Learn to freeze, refrigerate, can, and preserve effectively and safely. Keep your refrigerator temperature at 40 degrees F and your freezer at 0 degrees F. Consult the FoodKeeper website and app for tips.
- Follow the two-hour rule. Don’t leave any perishables out at room temperature for more than two hours. When the temperature is above 90 degrees F, one hour is the limit.
- Wait to wash vegetables and fruits until you are ready to use them, to reduce mold.
- Embrace imperfection. One in five harvested vegetables and fruits are wasted because they don’t meet industry appearance standards, but this “ugly” produce tastes just as good as its cosmetically approved counterparts. It’s often cheaper, too. You can sometimes find imperfect produce in a section at your local market, or you can seek out vendors that trade in it, such as California’s Imperfect Foods, Massachusetts’s Daily Table, or the delivery service Misfits Market.
- Teach yourself some zero-waste cooking skills. Many traditional cooking techniques use all parts of an animal or vegetable. (For ideas, see “5 Root-to-Stem Recipes“.)
- Compost. Home composting can divert around 330 pounds of food waste per household per year from municipal trash sites. If your municipality doesn’t offer curbside or drop-off composting services, contact your elected officials and advocate for the service. You can also build or buy a compost bin for your backyard, or even try a worm bin. (For tips on getting started, visit www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.)
- Share the bounty. If you have too many zucchini in your garden or a surplus of nonperishables in your pantry, donate them to a local food shelf. Organizations like Ample Harvest can connect you with food pantries in your area.
This was excerpted from “Fixing Food Waste” which was published in Experience Life magazine.