According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report, 60 million metric tons of food are wasted a year in the United States, of which about 32 million metric tons end up in municipal landfills. In fact, an astonishing 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes right into the garbage. The figures are alarming, and while many of us only have control over what happens at the domestic consumption stage, it is important that we do our part to reduce food waste at home and in our daily lives.
Before you go food shopping or out to dinner this week, here are some things to consider to help minimize your food waste.
- Take stock of what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Make food menus for the week for all your meals – factor in planned lunches and dinners for work functions or with friends.
- Determine whether your weekly shopping should be done all at once or if it’s better to buy fewer items and make multiple trips during the week.
- Don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach. You’re more likely to buy with your eyes than with your head and you’ll end up making poor food choices.
At the Grocery Store
- Stick to your list; there are many stimuli in supermarkets that can derail you — especially near the checkout stands and aisle ends, where stores are counting on you to grab “impulse buys”
- Don’t be fooled by specials — just because an item you have never bought is cheaper this week doesn’t mean you need to buy it.
- The same applies to “buy three for the price of two” or similar offers. If you can’t eat one bag of greens in the course of a week, what makes you think you will eat three this week?
- Don’t buy produce or other perishables in bulk — especially if you’re a one-or-two-person household. Are you really going to eat four pounds of berries in five days? Now if you drink fruit smoothies daily and you know you won’t have to discard them at end of the week, then by all means shop on.
- Make sure groceries get bagged, produce remains at the top to prevent bruising.
- If you’re running multiple errands, food shopping should be the last on your list. If you can’t avoid it and need to make this the first stop of your day, make sure you have a cooler in your car so food remains at a consistent temperature during your trip.
- As you restock your fridge, freezer and pantry with freshly purchased goods, make sure to rotate food items, bringing older ones to the front.
- Store produce in bags and in your crisper. Put post-it notes on the drawers so you’re constantly reminded of what’s in there every time you open the fridge door.
- If you do buy in bulk, portion out your food immediately after opening. Freeze or store food items using methods that ensure the longevity of your food.
- Don’t wash fruits or vegetables until you are ready to use or eat them.
- As food packages are opened and meals are made, store any leftover food in clear containers in your fridge for easy identification.
- Midway into the week, check the contents of your fridge to determine the freshness of leftovers and produce — revisit your menu plan and see if it makes sense to rotate meals to use up ingredients that won’t make it to the end of the week.
- Freeze items that are still good but you know you won’t have time to use up or consume in the next few days.
- Recycle – if you just can’t salvage something, make sure to remove it from its container before throwing it out or composting.
- Compost any food items that have passed their prime and can’t be used. Make sure they don’t contain oils or other ingredients that can’t break down before adding them to your compost bin.
- Order less – We have the tendency to order based on our level of hunger rather than what makes the most sense. If you are still hungry, you can always order more during your meal.
- Split meals with your dining companion –- Many restaurants offer large entrée portions, more food than one person can consume. Try this method especially if you’re going to a new restaurant and not familiar with their portion sizes.
- Sharing not an option? — If you and your dining pal can’t agree on one dish to share, ask for a smaller portion or one less side.
- Bring dinner leftovers home and turn them into next days’ lunch or dinner.
- Buffet meals – Steer clear of piling mounds of food onto your plate. By taking smaller portions of food, you can more easily determine what you like and what you don’t. You can then go back for more of what you want. But then too, stick to smaller portions as you’re now starting to fill up.
- Go to different types of restaurants — Tapas, or small-plate portions, are very popular in Spain and a growing trend in the U.S. This type of dining offers the option to try and share a number of different dishes with your dining companions and can prevent over-ordering. Still hungry? These restaurants also provide greater freedom to order more during the meal since the menu never gets taken away.
Yes, the food waste problem is massive. But if we all do our parts and follow some simple guidelines, this problem is a solvable one.