Green Living

Seven Smart Ways to Eliminate Food Waste

Do you cringe every time you need to toss away leftovers because they sat in the refrigerator too long or when you have extra produce but no idea what to use it for?  I do, too! It's difficult not to feel guilty when you know you are wasting food when there are hunger issues in the world and environmental concerns.

Food waste is a real heavy-duty problem. According to a report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), in the United States, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month.  It's definitely in all our best interests to take steps to help reduce this staggering static!

Composting is one valuable way to help turn your food waste into a productive boost to the environment, but eliminating waste up front has a far more positive impact.  Try these tips to keep your after-the-fact compost efforts to a minimum and your food use to the max:

Freeze excess foods.  If you have excessive left-over from a party or last night’s meal, store them in single portion freezer containers, if possible.  In essence, you are creating your own frozen meals, ready for consumption when you need a quick lunch or dinner.  If you purchased too much meat or produce from the store, freeze or preserve extras right away for later use.

Record your leftovers. Keep a white board or notepad on your refrigerator to record the leftovers you’ve placed inside, including the date it was made.  This way you’ll quickly be able to see what is available to eat without having to dig through the refrigerator or guess at what is in the mystery dish in the back.

Repurpose small amounts of food.  Have less than a cup-full of beans left from dinner or a slice of slightly stale bread?  Re-use these food in creating ways by making a vegetarian wrap from your beans or adding them to soups or stews.  Bread easily becomes bread crumbs, a soup thickener or croutons on your lunch salad. Use your creativity to keep these items from the compost pile.

Store your food in the proper space. Have you ever opened the refrigerator to find that the dairy item you placed there a few days ago is now less-than-desirable fresh?  Chances are you stored it too close to the door of the refrigerator.  Dairy food fair best in the back, while items like cheese, condiments and salad dressings have a longer shelf life on the door.  The same applies for pantry and freezer foods. Be sure you’ve selected the very best environment for your food to live its longest shelf life.

Eat seasonally.  The problem with out-of-season produce purchased from the store or farmer’s market is that it will also likely have a less-than-favorable shelf life.  They also will not taste as good as when they are in peak season.  When you are not able to grow it and do not have the item preserved, only purchase out-of-season items if they will be consumed immediately or if you simply can’t live without a taste of it that day.  Otherwise, plan your menu around fruits and vegetables that are in season.  You’ll have the freshest, prime flavors and a longer storage life.

Map out your shopping trips.  Impulse buys and bulk purchase are two of the biggest food waste culprits.  Before you head to the grocery store or farmer’s market, create a thorough list of your actual needs and try to resist the temptation of picking up something that is not on the list.  If you are feeding a family of four and only need four ears of corn for supper, only purchase that amount.  Don’t stock up on fresh foods unless you plan to use them within the week or store them properly for long-term use.

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Barb Webb is a sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky. When she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s writing about country living and artisan culture on RuralMom.com and SustainableChick.com