Simple Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste
Can you believe that each year in the US, $162 billion worth of food ends up in the landfill? And, that each household simply throws out 1.2 million calories worth of food annually, at a cost of nearly $650 per family- without a thought. According to Feeding America, in 2015 42.2 million Americans were living in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million kids- that is 13% of households- while many of us are throwing food in the garbage. Makes you think doesn't it.
Stores like Whole Foods, and even Walmart, have started to chip away at part of this problem by selling "ugly" fruits and vegetables at a discount. This "ugly" food is simply just a bit misshapen or odd looking, but is equally nutritious and delicious! Next time you go to the store, give a try. Pick up a funny looking heirloom tomato and smell it; that unmistakeable mouth-watering aroma of a fresh tomato doesn't change just because it looks a bit different, and you save on them too.
According to Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are simple things that you can do to save both money and food at home too. "It doesn't take a lot of effort or time," she says, "and it has direct impacts."
Here are some suggestions:
Eat Your Ugly Vegetables
Anyone who's been to a farmers' market knows that many vegetables come out of the garden in strange shapes (not just perfectly shaped and stacked like a Whole Foods)- but that doesn't mean that they are not plate worthy. Embrace their uniqueness! Grocery stores are beginning to expand their offering of "ugly" fruits and vegetables in order to help curb the incredible waste due to imperfections. A bonus is that these are often offered at a discounted price!
Shop More Often
I know that this can be difficult for busy families, but if you strategize it well, it will impact your health, wallet, and help reduce waste. Stock up on essentials once a week, then make another short trip or 2 during the week to pick up fresh produce & fresh whole grain bread. That way, you don't over shop and end up throwing out spoiled food because your schedule changed mid-week and you never got to cook those greens that you were planning to. Also, when planning your meals, plan to prepare any meat or fish soon after shopping so that you have leftovers for school lunches or to repurpose for meals such as tacos, etc.
Pickle Your Produce
If you over bought, had a change in plans, or your garden has been more productive than expected (we had so many cucumbers this year...), then with some vinegar, salt, spices and a jar, you can pickle nearly anything- and extend the life of inexpensive peak-season produce. Not only can you store them for your own use, but if you find some nice labels (PS always put the date on your jars) they make great hostess gifts! If you want pickles that last for months outside the fridge, make sure you follow step-by-step directions to sterilize your jars properly.
Give Scraps a Second Life
Instead of tossing out scraps or orphans left on the cutting board, get creative. Turn carrot or beet tops into a pesto, simmer leftover vegetable chunks or parmesan rinds into a stock, make croutons out of stale bread, blend browning fruit into a smoothie, or cook with old wine (if there is any left). If nothing else, compost your scraps to avoid putting them in the landfill.
Decipher "Best By" Dates
"Best by" and "use by" dates on foods can be confusing, come straight from the manufacturers, and are an indication of when the company says its product is freshest (remember, their focus is to sell more)- not whether or not it is safe to consume. Many foods last far longer than those dates: eggs can stay fresh in the fridge for up to 4 weeks (if they float, they are not fresh), apples keep longer when refrigerated, and milk & cream are safe two to three days after the use-by date. Use logic in your judgement- food and beverages should look and smell fresh, and expiration dates should be heeded (not completely ignored).