Food waste is a big problem here in the United States and around the world. In impoverished countries - food waste happens most often at the farm and transportation level. In developed countries like the United States, food waste occurs mostly at the consumer level. This means that as general consumers of food, we can really work to reduce food waste in the kitchen.
- Nearly 80 billion pounds of food is wasted each year, which is 30 - 40% of the food supply
- This averages 219 pounds yearly per person which averages $1,160 for a family
- Most of the food waste ends up in the landfill (as opposed to the compost)
- Food waste takes up 22% of the municipal solid waste
- Fruits and vegetables are the most commonly wasted food in the United States.
In addition to wasting the actual food, we also waste natural resources whenever food goes into the landfill.
- Land - 30% of the world’s land is used for food that is never eaten
- Water - According to the World Resources Institute, food waste uses 45 trillion gallons of water, which represents 24% of all water used in agriculture.
- Clean air - According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste rots and emits methane contributing to 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
- Resources - plastics, tin, glass and all the resources that went into the creating of food packaging
These are some big statistics.
I love helping people to reduce food waste, I even wrote a book about it! Kitchen Confidence: Improve your Health, Save Money, Waste Less.
How to reduce food waste in the kitchen
Be realistic with your eating habits
Do you purchase a lot of fruit and vegetables at the store because you know how healthy they are, but never get to eating them all?
You are not alone! I always recommend to either purchase less fruits and vegetables overall (you can always go back to the store) until you get into the habit of incorporating them into all your meals OR go frozen (more on that below).
Do you aim to eat home every meal, but each week there are sudden impromptu visits to restaurants or take out?
Thats OK! Developing a new habit is a journey, so purchase what you know realistically you will eat at home and gradually work on the goals to eat more at home.
Understand your shopping habits
Do you feel overwhelmed at the store and purchase random items?
If this is the case make a list based on food groups. Basically this involves figuring what proteins, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables and fats and condiments you will need for each meal. I am a HUGE advocate of shopping this way. By doing this, you will have food items to make an actual meal - not just a bunch of random snacks. Select enough items from each food group to get you through the week.
Do you purchase extra food just because its on sale?
I go into this in my book, but basically coupons don't always save you money, it actually causes you to spend more money often. Even though it may be a good deal, if it weren't on sale you would not have purchased it. Extra items = extra food you have to eat and may not get to it.
In addition to making a list of foods you need - it is also really helpful to make a list of foods you already have. Think of it as a running inventory. Many times we can make meals based on what we already have. This not only reduces your waste, but saves you money since you do not have to purchase extra food. It is also good to keep track of what food you purchased, but did not eat. This will help you to gauge if you over purchased or under purchased.
Go with Frozen
Friends frozen food has come a long way. There is frozen everything now, and it is often totally healthy! It used to be that frozen vegetables contained lots of salt and creamy sauces, but not anymore! We all know how important it is to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, but they often perish before we get to use them. This is where frozen can really come in handy! Not only can you purchase frozen fruits and vegetables, you can also purchase frozen grains, frozen quinoa, frozen beans, frozen edamame, frozen fish... get the idea?!
Store Food Properly
By storing food properly, food will stay fresh longer. I go into details in my book how to store food correctly, but here are some quick tips for foods that often go to waste.
Avocados - as soon as they get a little soft, put them in the refrigerator.
Bread - If a full loaf lasts too long, freeze the other half and defrost in the toaster or broiler
Leafy Greens - store in a bag in the refrigerator. Keep the bag slightly open to let the greens breath. Keep them in the crisper draw.
Veggies - most vegetables will be stored great in the crisper drawer, but if you think you won't be able to use in time, I would recommend chopping them up and putting them in an air tight container
Bananas - If you purchased too many bananas and hate when they get over ripe, you can peel them and store in the freezer. They will make delicious smoothies. Or of course you can make a form of banana bread!
Keep Food Visible
This may be obvious, but also surer easy to forget. Keep your fresh food and food that needs to be consumed soon in the front of the refrigerator. It is really easy to just keep pushing food back as you add more to the refrigerator, but remember out of sight out of mind! Using clear glass containers is really helpful. Get into the habit of practicing FIFO - first in first out.
If we have leftovers, we gotta eat them! Or you can repurpose them aka - make them into a different meal.
Once you start reducing food waste, you will feel really good. It is so great to see less going into the trash can each week. And not to be annoying with the shameless plugs, but check out my book Kitchen Confidence: Improve your Health, Save Money, Waste Less