Whether it’s an unopened bag of kale tossed out every couple of weeks or the lonely fuzzy strawberries found in the back of the fridge, food waste is happening in many of our homes at a distressing rate. In the United States alone, 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted. That’s more than 20 pounds of food per person, per month according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Not only is letting food go unused an expensive habit, but importantly, it’s also negatively affecting our communities and planet. As the waste increases, so does the amount of methane that’s released into the atmosphere as it breaks down in landfills, while the need for food for those suffering from hunger or malnourishment remains.
There are many things that can be done to help reverse these numbers, but one of the most straightforward approaches is to stop food waste before it happens. We can reduce our personal carbon footprint — and save some money — by changing the way we store food and shop for or order groceries, as well as changing our cooking methods and how well we reuse and repurpose the produce we already have.
6 Tips for Reducing Food Waste
1. Take inventory before you shop. Look through your fridge and pantry to see what items you already have and build your meals around them. Take five minutes to write down a grocery “road map” with the types of meals you’ll eat and the additional ingredients you’ll need.
2. Don’t buy more than you can chew. We often purchase more food than we can consume before it goes bad. If this happens to you, try buying less than you think you need — you may just end up with the perfect amount. You can always go back to the store to pick up a few things, but you can’t reverse the wilting greens in your crisper.
3. Save your produce scraps. Before you compost or throw away your veggie tops and ends, store them for later use. You can regrow bok choy, bean sprouts, celery, avocado, sweet potatoes, lettuce, and carrots from their scraps (see more on how to do this below). You can also reuse your food scraps to create entirely new and nutritious recipes.
4. The freezer is your friend. If something is starting to look sad, and you don’t think you’ll be able to eat it in time, stop the aging process by popping it in the freezer. Many vegetables and fruits can be easily frozen and used again. (Tip: Make sure to peel your bananas and briefly blanch your vegetables first.)
5. Cook your meals ahead of time. Food often goes to waste because life gets hectic and we don’t end up preparing all the meals we planned. Spend some time prepping so you have ready-to-grab eats all week. And if you’re making a pasta sauce, soup, or another freezable dish, whip up a double batch and freeze it for a time that you’re too busy to cook.
6. Store your food correctly. Properly storing food will help extend its shelf life. Wrap your greens with a wet paper towel, treat herbs like flowers by setting their stems in water, wash your produce as you go to prevent mold, and know which vegetables and fruits to store in the refrigerator or to keep at room temperature.
How to Regrow Vegetables in Water
You don’t need to be a master gardener to grow your own produce at home. With a few of the right techniques and a little TLC, you can be on your way to growing food like you are a pro. Check out these tips for regrowing some of the common veggies and fruits many of us regularly eat:
Romaine Lettuce: You can grow your new lettuce from the bottom of a lettuce head. Place stumps in a half-inch of water and set in the sunlight. When you notice the first new roots and leaves, replant it into your garden or in a pot with soil. The leaves can grow up to twice the size.
Celery: Use your celery bottoms to regrow the new vegetables. Cut off the bases and place them in a shallow bowl or saucer of water in the sun; in the middle of the base you will soon notice the leaves. Three days after you see the leaves sprouting, replant them in soil.
Potatoes: Cut the potatoes in half and suspend them over water on a sun-filled windowsill. Within a couple days, you will see roots begin to form. When the roots are four inches long, plant into a pot of soil or out in your garden. This process also works with ginger root.
Bok Choy: Put the root ends of the Chinese cabbage in some water, in a well-lit room, and leave them for a couple of weeks. Then transfer the vegetable to a pot with soil. It will soon grow a new head of cabbage.
Avocado: Rinse the avocado pit and gently insert three toothpicks into it, with a slight angle upward, and place in a glass. Fill the glass with water it until it covers half the avocado pit like an iceberg. Replace with fresh water one or two times a week. This is important because the water gets deoxygenated after a while.
Herbs: Savor the flavor of these easy-to-regrow herbs — basil, thyme, mint, sage, and rosemary — even longer. Regrowing your favorite herbs is as easy as placing their leaf clippings in a glass of water in indirect sunlight and watching them flourish. It helps to use pieces with parts of stem attached. Be sure to change the water every few days to prevent bacteria growth.
Other Fun Zero-Waste Hacks
- Store one-quarter of a yellow or white onion with an avocado half to keep the latter from browning for up to three days.
- Expand your herb repertoire by freezing the herbs in an ice cube tray with your favorite cooking oil (avocado and extra-virgin olive oils are good choices).
- Turn your wilted lettuce into pesto. Just add lettuce, parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper into a food processor and blend. (This works with carrot tops and herbs as well!)
- Bring on the bacon. Replace butter or oil in suitable recipes with stored leftover bacon fat from your breakfast pan.
- Out with the old bread, in with the new croutons. Take your stale bread and make the crumbs into croutons for salads or stuffing.
- Place carrot tops in a dish with some water and keep the dish on a windowsill or in a well-lit room. Their taste might be a bit bitter, but you can sweeten them with vinegar and mix it with garlic, and then add them to salads.
- Repurpose your citrus peels by grating them into a zest for added flavor in your dishes. You can also place a squeezed lemon half on the top rack of your dishwasher in addition to your soap for sparkling clean dishware.