Welcome back, fellow food waste warrior! In case you missed Part 1 of (A.K.A. Round 1), here’s a quick run down of some U.S.-based facts. In this corner, weighing in at 133 billion pounds and costing the average family of four $1,800 a year, is the annual U.S. food waste. Over in this corner, composting 5.3% of food waste and currently producing enough food to feed the hungry, is the American potential for reducing food waste.
In all seriousness though, facts can be a bit of a snooze sometimes, but they are a vital part to understanding why reducing food waste is such a big issue. Being that we are more than American citizens, it’s equally important to be informed about food waste on a global scale. If you missed Round 1, you can find it here. Otherwise, let’s get back in the ring. Ding, ding, ding! Round 2-FIGHT!
What is Food Waste?
Anytime I had thought about wasted food, I envisioned table scraps, uneaten leftovers, and those beloved science experiments in the depths of the fridge. As it turns out, I was very naive to think the scope of food waste was so small. Food loss, not to be confused with food waste, typically happens prior to food being available to consumers (i.e. over planting, weeding out “ugly” produce, improper storage, etc.). Food waste typically happens when retailers (both food service businesses and supermarkets) or consumers throw out good quality food before or after it spoils.
According to the NRDC’s aforementioned report (in Part 1), the food service industry suffers food waste due to increased portion sizes, too many menu options, and the stringent nature of chain-restaurant management. Some flaws mentioned for the retail industry include overstocked product displays, ready-made food, and damaged goods. The report also identifies 6 consumer food waste faux pas that are outlined below so we can do better together.
How to Get Started at Home
Great news, folks: there’s a surprisingly large number of ways you can reduce food waste and everyone can help! Start by identifying the triggers for your household food waste. Once you’ve identified your triggers, pick one or two to start addressing. This might be a big lifestyle change for you so don’t overwhelm yourself right off the bat. As soon as you feel like you have a handle on one of them (this could take a few days or even a month), you can start addressing the next one.
If you answer “yes” to all 6 questions, please don’t beat yourself up. I have weaknesses in all 6 categories too, but that just means there’s a LOT I can do to help in this war on food waste!
Do you lack awareness and undervalue food?
I know I sure did before doing the research for this post! I grew up in an environmentally conscious household and in the early years of my childhood, we were on a tight budget. I’ve always identified myself as a penny-pinching tree hugger because of that, but I have been wasting food just like everyone else. Since the education about food waste and how to reduce it isn’t as readily available, like it is for recycling non-consumables, most people don’t even think about what happens to unused food. Things are looking up for you, though, because just by reading this post, you are already improving your awareness of food waste!
Are you confused about the expiration dates on packaged foods?
Use by, best if used by, best by, freeze by, sell by…ahhh! If you feel like your head is spinning, you are not alone. As a matter of fact, in the NRDC’s above mentioned report, it states that about 20% of the preventable food waste in the UK is due to the perplexing nature of food product dating.
Per the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service, there are no U.S. federal regulations, with the exception of infant formula, requiring companies to date their consumable goods. These dates DO NOT indicate food safety. Companies use these dates to help us figure out the peak quality of their products. Heck, I’m still chowing down on spinach that’s 9 days past its “best if used by” date!
Does some of your food spoil before you get a chance to eat or cook it?
Remember those science experiments? Maybe you have trouble seeing food in the back of your fridge or pantry. Perhaps you have leftover ingredients like half of a jalapeño or that dreaded can of tomato paste. Is your food being improperly stored? Whatever the case may be, you’ve come to the right place!
Do you struggle with impulse buys or buying in bulk?
Hello, end caps! It seems like almost every time I go to a supermarket I end up with a few extra items that weren’t on my list. Retail stores also love to move products off their shelves with promotions that get us to buy in bulk. I’m even guilty of buying “family size” options because they’re cheaper per ounce. However, I’ve noticed in my small family that those foods sometimes spoil before we ever finish them.
Is meal planning and/or sticking to the plan a struggle for you?
It’s so easy for us to get caught up in our busy schedules and forget to meal plan or we’re just flat out lazy and don’t feel like taking the time to meal plan. I’ll be the first to admit I fall into the latter category quite frequently. Sometimes, we get so overwhelmed and stressed in our daily lives that we don’t have the energy to cook or meal plan. Other times, we’re surprised with last second plans that throw a wrench into your meal plan. Through every stage of my adult life, this has always been my biggest food waste trigger.
Do you have a tendency to prepare an abundance of food?
In my experience, this is an especially common problem at holiday meals, special events, and dinner parties. Preparing an excessive amount of food can lead to unnecessary food waste if the leftovers won’t be eaten. This is where the increase in portion sizes has come back to bite us.
Tips & Tricks for Success with Reducing Food Waste
Below are 12 highlighted tips to help you jump-start this journey as a food waste warrior. Reducing food waste is easier than you might think! You can find a more complete list of my tips & tricks here.
Tip #1 – Meal plan for success!
Choose all of your meals and snacks for the week before going to the store. Think about how many meals will be eaten at home vs. going out to eat. Will you have any leftovers?
Tip #2 – Be creative!
I find it thrilling and so satisfying to use leftovers to breath new life into classics like omelets, pizzas, and quesadillas. Occasionally, my creations are duds, but generally I hit it out of the park with my family because I know our flavor preferences. We can’t get enough garlic!
Tip #3 – Buy “ugly” produce.
As consumers in America, our standards are too high for the aesthetic of our produce. It’s time to suck it up, Buttercup! Buy those asymmetrical lemons, oddly sized onions, and discolored squash. They taste the same as their prettier counterparts. I know from a recent experience that it can be tough to break through that mental barrier, though; especially when you have a bin full of vein-y sweet potatoes staring you in the face. You had better believe it took me a hot second to work past that one! If your grocery store only offers aesthetically pleasing produce, find a local farmer’s market (see below) or a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that delivers to your area.
Tip #4 – Go to your farmer’s market first.
See what you can mark off your list here before you go to your favorite grocery store. Shopping local is a great way to give back to your community, but it’s also more environmentally friendly. The farmers typically will sell various sizes of produce. Some even offer discounts for their cosmetically challenged produce. There’s also the added bonus of the eggs, meat, and produce traveling a shorter distance to the market and eco-friendly packaging. This is truly one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning with my little family.
Tip #5 – Pay attention to food product dating.
In my experience, dairy milk spoils on or near the date printed on the jug. If you know you won’t use it up before that date, look for a date that suits your needs. However, if you need a quart of buttermilk and you plan to use it up soon after buying it, go ahead and buy the earlier dated jug. You’ll save some milk from being wasted at the retail level of the food supply chain while still getting what you need. The same strategy can be applied to other dairy products, meat, leafy greens, fruit & veggie trays, and the like.
Tip #6 – Let your freezer be your friend!
From meat to fruits & veggies to bread to dairy, the freezer can be a great tool for reducing food waste at home.
Tip #7 – Clean out your fridge regularly.
In general, it’s a good idea to give your fridge a good scrub to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria like Listeria. It’s equally important to weed out spoiled foods so other foods aren’t hidden. Out of sight, out of mind in the fridge leads to a bad habit of wasted food.
Tip #8 – Wash, dry, and prep produce the day you buy it.
The busier and lazier ones of us are less likely to snack on something that still requires washing and/or cutting. It also helps speed up dinner prep if everything is already chopped, minced, or sliced. Ultimately, this will keep you on track with your meal plan & prevent some of your produce and meat from going to waste. I know I’ve opted to eat out on more than one occasion because I ran out of time to prep and cook dinner.
Tip #9 – Don’t toss veggie scraps.
You can use these lesser used parts for homemade veggie broth. Veggie leaves can also be good additions to stir-fry, soups, and smoothies.
Tip #10 – Order smarter.
If you know you can’t finish the portions you’ll get at certain restaurants, share an entrée, skip the appetizer, and/or order half-sized portions when possible. If all else fails, I always eat half of my plate and take the rest home for another meal.
Tip #11 – Only take what you can eat at all-you-can-eat buffets.
It can be really hard to resist filling up 3 plates of food for the price of a buffet, but this typically creates a lot of waste. Besides, it’s just not healthy to stuff yourself to the point of discomfort.
Tip #12 – Compost your wasted food.
After exhausting all other routes, you can compost your excess food. You can start a compost pile at home or you can use a local composting company (if you have one).
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Reducing Food Waste
Food waste has been sneaking around and wreaking havoc on our environment, finances, and natural resources for far too long! It’s time to reevaluate how food gets used in our homes, change our mindset about superficial food standards, and educate ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities about food waste. Not everyone is a lawmaker or farmer and not everyone owns a restaurant or grocery store. However, everyone IS a consumer and every consumer can do their part to help reduce food waste.
Follow along (heck, join me!) as I take on the challenge of reducing the food waste in my home! My next stop? Finding the Best Kitchen Products for Fresh Produce! I’m curious, which food waste trigger(s) are you going to fight first? Which trigger do you think will be the hardest to tackle?