Written by Jaz Popa
Every year, the US wastes 80 billion pounds of food. That’s about 30-40% of America’s food supply! This equates to about 161 billion dollars thrown in the trash. Throwing away food has many implications, especially environmental and social impacts, but it also has a huge economic impact! The most expensive food is the food we waste. Throwing away food is like throwing dollar bills straight into the garbage. Luckily, food waste can be easily prevented! Here are a few very simple tips you can start incorporating into your life to decrease your food waste and save you money!
- Shop Smart
- One of the easiest ways to reduce your food waste is to plan before you buy any food. The first thing you should do is shop your pantry and fridge to see what you already have. This way, you don’t buy extra of something you already have. This will prevent you from having too much of a perishable item causing it to go bad before you can use it all. Now that you know what you have, you can make a list of everything you need! Plan your meals ahead of time, write a list, and stick to it. Try not to buy too much of something, specifically perishable items. Write down exactly how much you will need and buy just enough. This way it won’t go bad in your fridge before you get a chance to use it!
- Use the Entire Item
- When we purchase produce, usually the majority of that item is edible, however, most of us still wind up wasting a lot of it. This could be like only using the head of broccoli, not using your beet or carrot tops, or throwing out potato peels. We can greatly stretch our food dollars if we use the entirety of an item. There are many “zero waste” recipes out there. Try looking up recipes for the part of the produce you usually throw away, such as “watermelon rind recipes”. You will be shocked by how many interesting and delicious recipes are out there for things we usually just throw away! Check out this site for some ideas on how to use up common food scraps! Find it here.
- Two of my favorite ways to use up food scraps is to either make a homemade stock or throw it into a smoothie! Not only can you use food scraps in a smoothie, but that’s also a great place to use up produce that might be going soft/mushy since you are blending it up. If you want to make a stock, just save all your veggie scraps in a Ziplock bag. Once you have a full bag, dump it in a pot of boiling water and let it cook to extract all that wonderful flavor!
- Learn How to Best Store Produce
- The shelf life of produce can be greatly extended if you know how to store things properly. And if you can make your produce last longer, then you have a greater chance of using it instead of throwing it away! Check out this site to learn how to store common produce. Just remember, keep your produce dry! If you do wash it before you store it, make sure to completely dry it. Water can speed up the decomposition process and cause your produce to go bad faster. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on that site, just search for the best way to store whatever produce you have!
- Understand Dates on Food
- There are so many dates listed on food, but most of us don’t fully understand what they mean. The majority of dates on food are meant for the sellers, not the consumers. Regardless of the date listed, if there is no mold on the food, it looks fresh, smells good, and tastes normal, then it is likely safe to eat! Food dates refer to food quality, not food safety. The only food that is required to have an absolute expiration date is baby formula. If baby formula has an expiration date and it’s passed, throw it away. However, if it is any other food, check it before you toss it, even if the expiration date is passed since it just indicates food quality. If a product has a “best if used by or use by” date, this is also just a date that suggests when the food will be at its best quality by. Food is generally still safe to eat past this date but check it to make sure. Check it by smelling it, looking at it, and tasting a little. If anything seems off or strange, toss it. If the item has a “sell by” date, this is just the date the store will sell the food by. Food is generally still safe to eat past this date but check it to make sure. And remember, when in doubt, throw it out!
- When you are at the store buying food, check these dates. Try to get the product that has the latest date listed, as it will likely stay fresh the longest.
- Utilize FIFO
- FIFO means first in first out. This is an acronym that is common in restaurants but should be common in your kitchen as well! Using the items that you purchased first decreases the chance of that food going bad. Try making a “use first” bin in your fridge. Grab a bin from the dollar store, label it with “use first” and fill it with older items that will be going bad soon. This way you know exactly what needs to get used up, so you don’t waste anything!
- Befriend your Freezer!
- Your freezer can be your best friend when you are trying to decrease food waste. Made too much food and now have leftovers for days? Freez it. Produce is starting to go bad, and you know you won’t use it up before it turns? Freeze it. You can save so much food, and money, by freezing things. If you are freezing leftovers, freeze them in single serving portions. This way you can easily take what you need and defrost it much faster. If you are freezing produce, remember, just about any fruit or veggie can be frozen! We often don’t think about freezing certain things, like onions or potatoes, but they can be frozen too! Check out this site on how to best freeze all different kinds of foods. Find it here!
So, before you toss some food in the trash, remember these tips! It will save you so much money in the long run!