Food waste is a huge problem in our country. It’s estimated that 30-40 percent of our food supply—about 133 billion pounds of food a year—isn’t actually consumed! Much of that wasted food finds its way to our already overburdened landfills. But that’s not the only problem: Food waste also involves the energy wasted in producing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting and storing food that is ultimately just thrown out.
How you and your family handle food and prevent food waste can help put a big dent in the problem. Here are some tried-and-true tips:
• Plan weekly meals and make a grocery list only after checking the contents of your fridge, freezer and cupboards. Cook and eat what you have on hand first before going shopping.
• Buy only what you need and will use. Larger packages are thrifty only if you will eat all of that food. Sometimes it’s better to buy in smaller sizes that you will actually consume, even if the unit price is more expensive.
• Store all food—especially produce—appropriately so it does not spoil before you are able to consume it. Refrigerated food should be kept at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Is your produce limp or soft? What to do? Even though it may not look in peak condition, it’s still often safe to use and can be incorporated into dishes in various ways.
Here are a few suggestions:
• Use soft celery, carrots and potatoes in soups and stews, or as a base for stocks.
• Very soft tomatoes are great to use in spaghetti sauce.
• A variety of leftover vegetables accumulated during the week can be used in casseroles, wraps and soups.
• Slightly old, limp kale, spinach and other dark greens can be blended with olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts or walnuts for a delicious pesto.
• Overripe fruits like peaches, pears and berries are perfect in smoothies or in fruit-crisp desserts with an oat topping.
• The leftovers from condiment bottles (for example, mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, pesto) can be used, too. Add 1/4 cup of very hot water to the condiment bottle, shake well to loosen the remains, and then pour into soups or stews for a flavor boost, or use as a salad dressing base with oil and flavorful vinegars.
Don’t Forget the Liquids
Once a food item has been used up, you can also use the liquids in which foods are packed, rather than pouring them down the drain. For example:
- Add liquid from olives to salad dressing for
- Add liquid from marinated artichokes to salad dressing or soup stock.
- Add garlic infused, olive oil roasted red pepper to marinara sauce or gazpacho.
- Add liquid from canned dried beads and peas to soups, stews and stocks.
Unsafe Food That Should Always Be Thrown Away
While reducing food waste is important and something we should strive for, food items like the following may be unsafe to eat, and should be thrown away:
• food with visible mold
• items with an “off” odor or smell
• food from a bulging can
• food with a change in color or texture
Using every bit of the food that comes home can be a creative challenge. But with a little creative planning, and by taking stock of what we already have on hand and purchasing only what we will eat in a reasonable amount of time, we can reduce the amount of food—and money—that we waste.