Food waste is a huge problem. At every stage of the food supply chain – from the farm to the supermarket to your refrigerator – food waste occurs. We’re guilty of it in our house. Especially now that we have two kids under two and I’m back to working full time. Here’s how it usually goes:
Me on Sunday: Hey, let’s eat healthy this week!! ::stocks fridge with a ton of produce::
Me on Monday: Loving family, here is a beautifully prepared meal with all food groups represented.
Me on Tuesday: OK, here’s some rice and beans and frozen veggies.
Me on Wednesday: Uggggghhhhh, so tired … we’re getting pizza!! ::produce wilts and spoils in fridge::
I know I’m not the only one guilty. Some experts estimate food loss as high as 50% of our total food supply. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food globally. That’s enough to end hunger in the United States if we could redistribute food supplies.
For those of us in developed countries, around 40% of food waste occurs in dining establishments or in our homes. That means that the choices we make every day can impact the amount of food headed into the waste stream. Do you really want to eat out at that restaurant that serves ridiculously huge portions? Do you really need to buy that Costco-sized carton of lettuce?
The environmental impact of all of that wasted food is not trivial. It’s estimated that food waste accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, ranking just behind transportation as a contributor to global warming.
With these facts in mind, I am challenging myself to reduce my family’s contribution to the food waste problem. Here are some techniques that I’ve been following to reduce our waste:
//1// Meal Plan and Be Honest.
Most of the food waste in our house begins with the best intentions. I want to eat healthy meals with lots of veggies, but sometimes I can overdo it at the store and a lot of produce gets wasted. At this point, I know myself well enough to realize that unless I shop with a list in hand, I end up buying a lot of things that will spoil before we get around to eating them.
I’ve been trying to spend a few minutes every weekend thinking about what meals I’d like to make for the coming week. That way I can come home from work and immediately get started on dinner without staring into the fridge and hemming and hawing for 15 minutes. And when I have a plan, I’m less likely to give in to the take out temptation and let my veggies go to waste.
However, I also am trying to be honest with myself about how likely I am to follow my meal plan. I know that by mid-week, I’m tired and need a break from cooking. So I build pizza nights or frozen dinner nights into my plan so I don’t let food spoil in the fridge when I inevitably reach for the takeout menus on Wednesday night.
//2// Take Inventory.
It’s super important to take stock of what is currently in the house and plan around those items. This is not my strong suit. In the past when planning for the week, I’ve been known to decide to make five really complicated recipes with a ton of specialty ingredients. Then, I rack up a huge grocery bill buying a ton of different produce items and condiments I’ll probably only use once, all while ignoring the stuff already in our fridge and pantry.
Don’t be like me! Pick recipes that use what you already have stocked. Bonus points if you can pick a few recipes for the week that use the same types of produce so you don’t end up having a lot of half used bunches of kale or spinach wilting in the produce drawer.
//3// Avoid the Grocery Store.
I know this might seem odd at first, but grocery stores are huge culprits in the food waste game. They purposefully overstock produce displays to entice customers to buy more, knowing that they will end up trashing a lot that they won’t sell. Corporate big wigs spend a lot of time and money studying consumer behavior and they know that a customer is more likely to buy an extra apple or two if they’re presented with a large, beautifully arranged stack of pristine fruit. That’s a food waste double-whammy – the grocery store throws away unsold spoiling and blemished items to make room for more pristine produce, and the consumer might throw away those extra apples they were enticed to buy.
Lately, I have been buying more from Farmers Markets and I just subscribed to a CSA. These are more sustainable options because we cut out the grocery store middle-man. Food is not wasted during transport to the store or thrown away because of overstocking or cosmetic expectations (the store will throw away that wonky apple instead of trying to sell it).
I know that CSAs and Farmers Markets aren’t an option for some people, especially during the winter. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in California where we have locally-grown produce year round, you may have to stick with the grocery store. But if you have the option during the summer months, make the choice to buy directly from farmers.
//4// Food Prep
This is another big one for me. I’ll buy a bag of carrots and some hummus for a snack. But every time I think about peeling and cutting up carrots, I decide I’d rather just have a handful of crackers. Then my carrots get all sad and limp and I end up throwing them away.
I’ve been trying to spend a little time on the weekend prepping veggies for the week. That way, I can just grab a container of peeled and cut veggies to throw in my lunch bag when I’m feeling tired and rushed. A little work up front can really cut down your food waste.
//5// Love Leftovers
I love leftovers! I’ll make a huge casserole on the weekend and eat it every single day for lunch during the week. If you’re like me, congratulations! You’re already doing your part to reduce food waste.
For others, like my husband, leftovers are a huge turnoff. Even when he plans on eating leftovers for lunch, he “conveniently” forgets to put them in his lunch bag in the morning and eats out instead. Then, I’ll find weeks old containers of leftovers hidden in the back of the fridge that need to be trashed.
If you’re like my husband, you can do one of two things:
1) Suck it up! Make a point of packing those leftovers for lunch. If you get tempted to ditch them, fill your brain with images of starving children and melting polar ice caps.
2) Make smaller portions when you cook so you don’t have to deal with leftovers. This goes back to being honest with yourself. If you find yourself throwing away leftovers every week, it’s time to reassess the recipes you choose.
//6// Limit Restaurant Meals
Restaurant portion sizes in the U.S. are ridiculous! I have an English friend who told me she takes her visiting relatives out to eat here in the States so they can laugh at the portions. A single restaurant can waste upwards of 75,000 pounds of food per year! And don’t even get me started on the stupid pieces of kale or parsley garnish that some restaurants insist on putting on plates. Who started that? It doesn’t even look good!
Make more meals at home. When you do eat out, be a conscious consumer and pick a restaurant that serves more appropriate portion sizes. If you do find yourself sitting in front of a huge plate of food, take home what you can’t finish and eat it later. But if you hate leftovers, you can always take the extra food and give it to someone in need.
So there you have it, my six tips to reducing food waste. Will you join me?
Let’s chat. Are you guilty of wasting food in your house? Do you love or hate leftovers?