Americans are notorious for wasting food. While over 1 billion people on our planet do not have enough to eat per day Americans throw away approximately 1,400 calories of food per person per day. Put another way, America throws out 40% of the food that it produces.
Not only is this fact about waste disturbing in relation to those around the globe who are starving to death, but when you consider the volatility of the economy and how expensive food is becoming at the grocery store you would think that it would make more sense for people to guard against waste.
Think about the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator. Did you throw out moldy cheese, produce bags gone gooey, or bowls of leftovers that now resemble some sort of science experiment? Did the leftovers even make it to the fridge or did you just toss them out right from the start?
The problem is, our society has become so immune to the concept of waste; so used to throwing things away, that perhaps part of the problem is in not understanding how to avoid food waste. When we throw out that bag of spinach that has gone bad we know that the next bag is only as far away as the nearest grocery store. We won’t go hungry because we bought too much and/or failed to eat what we had on hand. How can we re-train ourselves to be more conscious of food waste? Here are seven basic tips that can be followed which, when taken together, will significantly avoid the amount of food wasted in your household each day.
1. Only make what you need. One of the biggest problems with food waste is that we often make more food than you need for each meal. If you are in doubt as to how much constitutes a serving, check online. You should be able to gauge how much you will need to make for the number of people you will be cooking for. Cooking only what you need will cut down on leftovers and potential waste. And if you do decide to cook extras make it a family rule that lunch the next day is leftovers from the evening before.
2. Prepare your food correctly. Many today are so used to pre-cooked and prepared food items that they don’t know how to prepare fresh food properly. They may buy up some fresh foods hoping to make some old family favorites they had as a child but since their cooking skills have fallen by the wayside in favor of boxed mac and cheese the foods may sit and go bad. Many times people waste large portions of these items because they don’t understand how to prepare them or they don’t have the confidence that they can do so. Now though, you can look up recipes online and get step by step pictures even. If you buy the food, put the effort into actually making it.
3. Cook your favorites. You know what you and your family members like so come up with a list of favorites that you can cook from scratch and cook well. Serve those meals once or twice a week and make a habit of buying the items you need to make them. When you see those familiar ingredients in the fridge you know what you need to make before things go bad. Occasionally I make a vegetarian version of chicken scallopini for instance and it uses white wine and cream (2 things I usually don’t buy or use). I will often make this meal 2-3 times in a single week until I use the wine and cream up. I do the same thing with Potato Leek soup when I have potatoes and leeks to use up.
4. Use your leftovers. Leftovers have a bad habit of sitting morosely in the refrigerator until they sprout mold and have to be thrown out. No one seems to want to take the time to put the items together to make a new dish. A key to avoiding waste is to devise new meals out of leftover items. There are lots of websites that give ideas for dishes that can be made out of common leftovers and if you get creative I’m sure that you’ll find a way to make something new out of something old. Produce that you know you won’t use in a meal can often be used in green smoothies too.
5. Get Creative – Freeze your cutting board scraps like onion skins, carrots, celery, garlic, mushroom stems, etc and reserve them to make your own veggie broth. Produce that is about to go bad can also be used for this purpose. Stale bread can be used for bread crumbs and coutons.
6. Do a pantry/fridge challenge once a month. This means you avoid going to the store and figure out what you can eat from what you have. Spending a week or more eating this way gets rid of older foods before they can go bad and it saves money too!
7. Compost. As a last resort, compost all the biodegradable items that you are not able to eat or use. While technically this IS waste, it is waste that is being reused for something productive; in this case fertilizer for your garden and is not entering the standard waste/recycling system. We had had great success with our Worm Factory Compost Bin.
By following these seven simple steps you can significantly reduce the amount of waste in your household and, hopefully, will serve as an example to your children about curbing food waste.