It’s a well-known fact that eating a nutritious diet is important to preventing and managing health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Plenty of posts on the Cecelia Health blog have provided helpful information on diet changes such as eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and unsaturated fats. One topic that is often neglected when it comes to healthy eating is how to minimize food waste.
It is estimated that as much as 108 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States alone each year, which is close to 40 percent of all food consumed! Fortunately, there are tangible steps you can take when shopping, storing and preparing foods, as well as when eating out, to minimize your food waste. Below are some tips to help decrease what you throw out, maximize your nutrition intake and keep more dollars in your pocket.
1. Be savvy when you shop
A little organization and planning can go a long way to decrease your food waste when shopping:
- Do some meal planning for the week and creating a shopping list from your plan will help you stay on track and avoid over buying. You can even take a picture of your pantry, fridge and freezer to remind yourself what you already have on hand.
- Check sell-by/use-by dates when you are buying fresh foods and only buy what you will use before the expiration dates.
- If you find it difficult to plan ahead for long periods of time then consider doing more frequent trips to the grocery store to buy just what you need
2. Use smart storage
Store food properly! A lot of food waste can occur when foods are stored incorrectly:
- Make sure your freezer and fridge are the correct temps, by checking their settings and even keeping a thermometer inside them to verify temperatures.
- Keep your pantry, fridge, and freezer clutter-free. This way you can easily see things and know when they were purchased so you can use them in time and don’t forget about them. If there are multiples of one item, organize by first to expire in the front.
- Utilize leftovers. If you batch cook, store leftovers in clear containers in the front of the fridge or in labeled freezer bags/containers to remind you to enjoy them in a timely manner. It’s great to have leftover meals to reheat on busy days or when you are not in the mood to cook.
- Make sure your produce is stored properly. When in doubt look it up or ask your grocer. Certain fruits and veggies release ethylene gas that can hasten ripening of other produce that is placed near them. Foods that are ethylene producers include: bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, and apples. Try to keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid early spoilage.
- Your freezer is your friend! If you do buy some perishables in bulk, freeze any extra that you will not consume right away. Properly package and label/date your foods so you can easily access them when you need. A great guide to freeing different foods can be found HERE.
- Store foods with a high moisture content like breads and baked goods in the fridge so they do not get moldy.
3. Be Creative with recipes and food preparation
- Learning canning, pickling and preserving can be a great way to increase the shelf life of fruits and veggies.
- Try to eat the skins of produce like cucumbers, apples, pears, potatoes, eggplant and kiwi. Not only does it decrease food waste but it also increases your fiber intake!
- Blend up produce parts into a smoothie or soup. Blending in fruit peels, overripe fruits, stems of greens like kale, and tops of beets and strawberries can make great additions to smoothies. Chopped broccoli or cauliflower stalks can be chopped to add into soups. You can even add veggie bits/peels, garlic and onion ends with herbs and spices (along with chicken or meat bones) to make a homemade stock.
- Flavor can be added via peels! Grate lemon or orange peels to create zest for baked goods, or pancakes. Cucumber, berry tops, orange and lemon peels can also be used to give a hint or flavor to water or iced teas.
- Use overripe produce in baked goods and sauces. Browning bananas can be used to make banana bread with whole grain flour. Over-ripe apples can be baked or cubed and simmered to make homemade apple sauce, and soft tomatoes can be blended with fresh garlic and herbs to make tomato sauce.
4. Other great tips:
- Share! If you make larger portions of food for events, dinners or batch cooking, let your friends, family and neighbors take some home. Split dishes when dining out. This meal can also help with portion control in addition to decreasing waste!
- Take advantage of a produce program that sells/delivers oddly shaped produce to your door to minimize waste and help you cut costs while enjoying delicious fresh produce at the same time. Some of these programs also sell overstock of other food items as well.
- You can use leftover coffee grounds for plant fertilizer. They provide great nutrients for plants and even help with pest control.
- Consider composting. There are many systems ranging from outdoor to countertop that help re-use food scraps to help provide energy for plants. This may be especially useful if you have a garden!