Stop Food Waste Day, held annually on the last Wednesday of Earth Month (hello, April), is the perfect time to take stock of the steps you're taking in the kitchen and look for ways to reduce the amount of food you waste. "It's hard to believe, but 40 percent of our food supply is wasted and each of us throws away nearly 300 pounds of food each year," says Margie Saidel, RD, LDN, MPH, vice president of nutrition & sustainability for Chartwells K12. This is a critical issue because when food goes into landfills and rots, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. In its current state, food waste is one of the biggest causes of climate change and reducing food waste is something we can all do to make a meaningful impact on the environment. An added bonus, Saidel adds, is that finding ways to reduce food waste can also save you money: "After all, a family of four can lose $1,500 a year on wasted food."
Following are a number of common mistakes people make that lead to wasting more food than may be necessary, along with some tips to make fighting food waste part of the daily routine. In fact, many of the steps to stop food waste start before you even get to the kitchen.
Going grocery shopping when you’re hungry
“For many people, this may seem like the perfect time to go and satiate your cravings, but this can lead to impulse purchases, an overflowing shopping basket, and more food than can be consumed before its expiration,” says Saidel. The old adage of your eyes are bigger than your stomach isn’t just for the plate of food in front of you, but can apply to your grocery store haul. Instead, Saidel recommends making a meal plan and a corresponding grocery list. This will save you time, dollars, and will benefit the environment.
Buying food items just because they are on sale
Looking for ways to save money is always a smart idea, but be careful of getting lured into purchasing food just because the price is reduced. “If you don’t have a plan for how and when you’re going to use it, there’s a stronger likelihood that you may end up throwing it away,” Saidel explains. Alternatively, look for sale-worthy substitutions for items and recipes already on your list and part of your meal and snack plan.
Not having a plan
"As a dietitian, developing menus and meal plans is inherent in our daily lives to encourage and empower individuals to make healthy choices. Mapping out menus for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinners can help you build a shopping list for exactly what you need and help reduce the amount of food that is overpurchased and underused,” says Saidel. “Instead of running to the store to pick up what you need for dinner several times a week, get creative! Engage the entire family in a TV-inspired cooking contest where you have to create a meal with the items that need to be used up. It’s fun for the whole family and people often find that new favorite recipes emerge unexpectedly.”
A disorganized refrigerator can be your foe
It can be easy to forget about items if they’re tossed into the back of the fridge. Some people find it helpful to label foods in a way that puts expiration dates front and center. Make sure menu plans match expiration dates; it can be helpful to organize items so that those expiring soonest are on top and within easy reach. For our complete guide to organizing your fridge in a way that prevents food waste, see here.
Improperly prepping produce
Many people find it helpful to wash, cut, and prep produce as soon as they get home from the market to help save time with meal prep throughout the week. We love a good meal prep time-saver, but keep in mind that all produce is not equal. “There are some fruits, including strawberries and raspberries, that ripen quicker after they’ve been washed. Apples, on the other hand, can be washed anytime, but should only be sliced close to the time they will be consumed,” says Saidel.
Leftovers shouldn’t be limited to duplicating the original meal
Look for ways to mix it up, whether it’s using leftover roast chicken to make fajitas or tacos on night two, add to a soup or freeze for another night. This keeps your meals from getting monotonous and can save you time in the long run, too.
Bananas that are browning are perfectly fine to eat, or if you can’t eat them, you can freeze them. “The skin will turn black in the freezer but they will be perfectly good to eat,” confirms Saidel. “Add frozen bananas to a smoothie or puree, or use as a healthy substitute for eggs, oil, or butter when baking.”
Saying goodbye to wilted veggies
Did you know that a quick soak in ice water for five to 10 minutes can revive wilted vegetables? Even if they can’t be restored, some veggies you intended to eat raw in a salad can still shine in a cooked dish.
Incorrectly storing herbs
Despite their packaging, buying fresh herbs at the store need a little extra care when you bring them home to ensure they last longer. “Fresh herbs can add a lot of flavor and taste to recipes without adding calories and fat. Remember to put stems in water or wrap them in a wet paper towel. Extras can also be chopped or blended and frozen in ice cube trays to save for a future recipe.”
Not being conscious of what you are wasting
Remember to think about every item before you toss it in the trash or push it down the disposal. “Perhaps there’s another way to use something,” suggests Saidel. In addition, there are a number of apps that can be helpful in preventing food waste, such as Too Good to Go. “If you’re looking for an easy way to assess whether food waste is an issue for you, collect your food waste—both from when you’re preparing a meal and what’s leftover after the meal that will thrown away—and weigh it. Then, challenge yourself to reduce your food waste the next week.”