If you’ve ever tossed out a container of yogurt that’s approaching its date, discarded veggies that have gone limp, or thrown out a salad that’s just starting to turn a bit brown around the edges, you’re not alone. While food waste is a worldwide phenomenon, the U.S. is a big contributor. Would you believe that food takes up more space in landfills than any other type of waste? Up to 40 percent of the entire U.S. food supply goes to waste! That’s almost 20 pounds of food per person every month.
Talking about and sharing solutions to food waste is important because there are a lot of less-than-helpful ideas out there. I want to share some of the best ones to boost your health while saving you time and money. Before we dive in to the solutions, let’s talk about the benefits you could see by reducing food waste.
Benefits of reducing food waste
The less food we waste, the more time and money we can save. By reducing the amount of food wasted, farmers can use less resources. Reducing food waste also reduces food production, transportation, and storage. Plus, with less food waste, less ends up in landfills and there is a decrease in green house gas emission.
Leftovers may not be the most glamorous meals, but they allow you to cook (or buy!) once and eat twice. This is a more efficient use of your time and helps to alleviate some of the stress of meal planning and cooking.
You probably don’t want to spend your hard-earned cash on something you’re not going to use—even when it comes to buying food. The amount of produce wasted by an average American family of four costs about $1,600 per year. Imagine what you could do with that amount of money by simply buying what you need and are going to eat.
Save the environment
Reducing food waste helps us use critical resources like our land, water, fertilizers, packaging, transportation, storage, etc. more efficiently. That’s because these investments will go toward food that we’re going to use and enjoy. These efficiencies can help to reduce our environmental impact.
Throwing food away wastes not only the water and energy that went into all of the steps needed to get the food to you, but when it’s in a landfill, food waste releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 95 percent of discarded food ends up in landfills instead of the compost.
Boost your relationships and community
When you share extra food with people you know and care about, you’re building relationships with them. Plus, there are plenty of people who may need to use community services to access food. By sharing food with them, you can help increase food security in your community.
Tips for reducing food waste at home
Now that you know some of the benefits of reducing food waste, here’s how to make it happen.
It’s true that food is wasted at every level from farm to fork. Farms, manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants all waste some of their food. While you may not be able to control these other areas, reducing your own food waste can make a substantial difference. That’s because household food waste accounts for the biggest amount of food wasted (at 43 percent—more than restaurants, grocery stores, and food service companies combined).
1 – Freeze food and enjoy your leftovers
Sometimes we buy or make too much food to eat in one day. As a registered dietitian, I don’t want you to try to force yourself to eat more than you need in order to reduce your food waste. Instead, safely store uneaten food in a sealed container in your fridge or freezer, and then enjoy it another time as a leftover.
Leftovers can also save you time and money when you’re super-busy because you can quickly take a meal out of the fridge or freezer instead of spending the time and money to prepare or buy a whole new meal.
Pro tip: Be sure to pack up and safely store perishable food within 1-2 hours if it’s been sitting at room temperature.
2 – Know your dates
One of the most common reasons people throw away food is because they think it’s spoiled. This is understandable because no one wants to eat or serve food that has gone bad or may make them sick. Sometimes, the date that a food goes bad is not always clear because manufacturers may use different dates on their packages. In an effort to reduce confusion, the FDA is recommending the use of:
- “Best if used by” to describe the quality of the food (not its safety); the food may not taste or perform as expected but it’s still safe to consume as long as it has been properly stored.
- “Expires on” is mostly reserved for infant formulas which should not be used beyond that date.
3 – Try “imperfect” or “ugly” food
Did you know that food is sometimes dumped because it doesn’t look “perfect” enough? Looking for “imperfect” or “ugly” food, or food that’s approaching it’s “Best if used by” date, is another way to save money and reduce food waste. Some markets and grocery stores package up food that may be “ugly” or not as fresh as their latest shipment and sell them at lower prices. Smoothies, soups, and baking are great places to use many of these imperfect foods.
Pro tip: Check to make sure the imperfect foods are still safely edible and are not spoiled; then, prioritize freezing or eating these foods first.
By choosing “imperfect” or “ugly” foods when you’re out shopping you can help prevent it from going to waste while saving money at the same time.
4 – Share extra food
If you know someone who would love to join you for a meal or appreciate your leftovers afterward, consider sharing with them. You can invite them over or drop your extra food off to them.
Another idea is to find a food bank or shelter in your area and see what types of food they accept. If you have extras of those, simply donate it to them.
5 – Optimize your fridge and freezer
Don’t forget to regularly check your fridge and freezer to keep an eye on food that may be approaching the end of its useful life. If you find any, enjoy them first.
Pro tip: Keep your fridge set to a maximum temperature of 40°F and your freezer to 0°F or lower to keep your food fresh as long as possible.
6 – Compost whenever you can
The EPA estimates that Americans compost just 4.1 percent of food waste, so composting is a huge area of opportunity. If you have a backyard and ability to compost food scraps to make nutrient-rich soil, that is a great place to start. Alternatively, if your city, town, or region has a composting program, you can contribute to that instead of putting food waste into the garbage which goes to the landfill.
7 – Use a grocery list and meal plan
When you plan out the meals you want to eat and stick to your grocery list, you’re less likely to purchase and make too much food. If you create a thoughtful grocery list—and stick to it—you can buy only what you need and will reasonably eat each day or week.
How meal planning can help in reducing food waste
Having a plan for your meals—whether you make the plan yourself or invest in one that works for you—is a great way to reduce your food waste. That’s because when your meals are planned out, you can create a grocery list of the foods you need for that plan. Double-check your pantry, fridge, and freezer before adding something to your grocery list. And then stick to the list when you’re out shopping, you will buy only what you need and are planning to eat.
By using a meal plan to reduce the amount of excess food you buy, you’re cutting down on food waste at the source. This is called “source reduction.” According to the EPA, source reduction is the most impactful step toward reducing food waste.
Meal planning has other benefits beyond reducing food waste and saving you time and money. Using meal plans can help you create meaningful and sustainable changes for your health. A recent study found that participants who planned more of their meals lost more weight than than those who planned fewer meals.
By reducing food waste we can help to save time and money, reduce our impact on the environment, and even build our relationships and communities. It truly is a win-win-win situation.
One of the best ways to get started tackling this problem is by using a meal plan. Meal plans can inform your grocery list and then reduce the amount of extra food purchased list when you go shopping at the market or grocery store. But, not everyone wants to spend the time and effort to create their own plans. If this is you, I would love to help with your meal plans!
In as little as 3 months, your meal planning start-up package can help you make meaningful changes and create healthy habits. Whether you’re trying to lose body fat, optimize your fuel for training or help reduce your food waste, a solid meal plan helps you move the dial. Sign up for a free phone consultation today!