Americans waste 27% of all food available for consumption – that’s nearly a pound of food per day for every person in the nation and amounts to nearly 30 million tons of food waste per year.
Yet at the same time, 12 million children in American are in danger of going hungry. Many families depend on free school breakfasts and lunches, which are the only meals that some students eat all day.
Thriftiness is a virtue. In a nation where consumption is king and many people define themselves by what they buy, the idea of thriftiness may seem quaint and outdated to some – or simply a lost art to others. But for those who have committed to living a more conscious lifestyle, wasting one pound of food per day is simply unacceptable.
Some food waste is unavoidable, and you should never use your body as a trash can and force down food because you don’t want it to go in the garbage. However, with a little planning and thoughtfulness, you can learn how to drastically diminish your household waste.
1. Get date savvy. Realize that “sell by,” “use by,” and “best by” dates on groceries do not indicate when they go bad, but rather when the product is at the peak of freshness (the exception to this is an “expires on” date – trash it for sure). Commonly tossed items include eggs (they last for a month in the fridge) and milk (stays fresh up to ten days after the “sell by” date). For accurate information on the shelf life of different groceries, check out StillTasty.com.
2. Plan meals in advance and stick to your grocery list. Many groceries go bad because they were impulse buys that looked good at the store, but at home you realize that you have nothing to cook or eat along with them. If you wind up with a gang of food items that you know you will not eat, donate your excess groceries to a local food kitchen.
3. Be wary of bulk shopping at stores like Costco and Sam’s. A bag of fifteen organic avocados for $5 isn’t a value if half of them go bad. Only purchase what you and your family will eat, or team up with a friend to go halves on the large bags of produce and other groceries. For real bulk savings, shop at natural food stores that allow you to choose exactly how much flour, peanuts or oat flakes you want from a bulk service bin.
4. Practice refrigerator awareness. If your fridge is always crammed full, set a day to clean it out completely, and then resolve to never go back. Put leftovers in clear containers so you can see what lurks inside, and do the same for fruits and vegetables if they tend to get lost in a tangle of bags in the crisper. Be sure to package everything properly, leaving nothing open in the refrigerator or anywhere else.
5. Freeze it. If you have a big family and some extra room, consider buying a second freezer. Frozen food stays fresh indefinitely, and you can stock up on sale items at the grocery store. If non-frozen food items are about to go bad, throw them in the freezer and extend their lives – and be sure to label and date all those foil packages clearly.
6. Be creative with leftovers. Learn to make hash and stews out of scavenged refrigerator items, throw dying vegetables into a breakfast frittata, turn stale bread into croutons and bake spotty bananas into muffins. Need some schooling in creative food preparation? Ask a senior citizen who lived through the Great Depression for thrifty ideas, or check out LoveFoodHateWaste.com for innovative recipes. If you absolutely hate eating leftovers, then quit creating them, and only cook what you and your family will consume that night.
7. Buy sample sizes of new products until you are sure that you will like them. If you buy a giant box of a new cereal that turns out to be disgusting, you are either going to have to choke it down or throw it away. Sticking to your list while grocery shopping will help to prevent these kinds of purchases.
8. Grow your own food. When you plant, tend and harvest a vegetable garden, you will be much more conscious of the labor and time that it takes to produce food and much less likely to waste it. Share your bumper crops of organic carrots with neighbors and friends, and start a compost heap to turn any leftovers into garden mulch.
9. Watch your order when dining out. Restaurants throw away piles of food every day because their portion sizes are usually much larger than the average person could ever eat. Order a smaller meal, share your dinner with a friend or take the leftovers home to eat later – and do so.
10. Get a dog. Some vets declare that dogs should never eat a bite of human food – however many dogs would no doubt argue that they like it just fine thank you. Some human food is good for dogs; they will joyfully slurp up your leftover steamed vegetables and keep your kitchen floor spotless!
Want more? Here are three more Easy Ways to Fight Food Waste.
Feed the Children