“Waste not, want not.” While I was growing up, this adage was tossed about by many frugal parents and grandparents in my neighborhood. But over the past five decades, that message has somehow ended up by the wayside. According to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food in 2012. That is almost 20 percent more than food tossed out in 2000, 50 percent more than in 1990, and nearly three times the amount tossed out in 1960 (12.2 million tons). At the same time, according to the USDA, 14 percent of American households still struggle to put food on the table.
These alarming statistics suggest that better preservation and distribution of food rather than producing more food would do much to curb hunger in our country. At the macro level, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the numbers and decide the problem is a mammoth one that can be solved only by governmental intervention. At the micro level, however, there are several ways individuals can cut down on food waste at home.
Before heading out to the grocery store, plan your menus for the week. Then, go through your pantry and cupboards, itemizing only those items needed to prepare meals for the next seven days. To avoid succumbing to snacks and other tempting foods, do not shop on an empty stomach. When unloading groceries, you should rearrange the food in your cupboards and fridge. Take this opportunity to check expiration dates and put older food front and center.
Deal with “Best By” Dates
While you should immediately toss food that smells funny or has changed color, be aware that producers carefully select these dates to cover themselves. In many cases, the “best by” period can be extended by several days. Check the StillTastyDatabase to see if your food is still fresh.
Watch Your Portions
Before serving, calculate appropriate portions for the adults and children in your home. Give children small portions and let them decide if they would like more. If you have cooked too much food or have leftovers, store in the freezer to keep the food from going bad. Remember to date the containers.
Eat the “Ugly” Produce
Too often, we hold our foods to a high standard, ignoring apples that have a bruise, extra-small peppers, and overly ripe bananas. If you are overly offended by the aesthetics, consider the following creative ideas:
- Puree and freeze very ripe fruit. The fruit can be added to your morning smoothie.
- Peel and dice ripe plums and pears. Place in a small pot over low heat. Cook until they thicken. Instant sugar-free fruit spread.
- Use overripe strawberries, bananas, and apples in muffins and other baked goods.
Save the Scraps and Peels
To reduce the amount of food garbage in our landfills, reuse food scraps and peels in the following ways:
- Store celery tops, onion and garlic skins, carrot peels, wilted cabbage leaves, and mushroom stems in freezer-safe containers. When you have accumulated enough, use them to make a vegetable stock.
- Use broccoli and kale stalks in your next stir-fry.
- Convert hard bread into croutons or bread crumbs.
- Hard pitas can be used to make mini pizzas. Cover with tomato sauce, grated cheese and whatever vegetables are available.
- Roast potato peels to create an easy pre-dinner snack. Start by heating the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the peels with a light drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a large baking sheet and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once. Eat immediately.