How to Reduce Food Waste

I throw away perfectly good food on a regular basis, even though I was raised by a mom who used up all the food. She knew how to reduce food waste, and I want to be better at it.

Food waste is a big problem

The U.S. wastes about 30% of the food available to eat, and most of it is tossed at home. A family of four wastes an average of  $2,200.00-worth of food every year. In addition to wasting money, throwing away food drives up prices. As a result, people with limited budgets may not get the nutritious food they need.

Why food waste is bad for the planet

Food is the single largest part of trash in landfills, where it produces methane, a global-warming gas.

If food waste was a country, it would be the planet’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind China and the United States.

What’s more, wasting food wastes resources. For example, 25% of all freshwater in the U.S. is used to produce food that we never eat.

Zero-waste snacking tips

How to reduce food waste at home

Managing food wisely takes time and creativity.

The amount of food tossed in my household is directly related to my level of motivation to manage it. That includes  planning meals, shopping, and using up leftovers. The busier I get, the more food I throw away.

We can’t keep all the food out of the trash heap, but I think it’s safe to say we can do better.

I asked my dietitian colleagues for their best food-saving tips. I divided their advice, and my own, into three levels of difficulty. Managing food is hard, so pick the tips that best fit your lifestyle.

Simple tips to save food and money

  • “Before going to the grocery store, look in the fridge and cabinets to see what you have, and what needs to be used up first. If there is something that I know I won’t eat before it goes bad, into the freezer it goes (either cooked or not, depending on the food). Then I use what’s in the freezer when I’m planning my meals.” – Kaleigh McMordie
  • “You don’t need a complicated recipe to make a meal, snack or side dish. Take a look at what you have, and be confident. Most leftovers combine nicely for a soup, casserole or stir-fry.”- Pat Baird

  • Overeating is technically a form of food waste, because we are consuming more food than our bodies need. This form of food waste can lead to chronic diseases, too. Choose smaller plates and glasses.  A smaller plate helps encourage proper portions and reduces overeating.  – Chris Vogliano
  • Get kids involved! Make preserving food a family effort and encourage children to think of ways to waste less.

Check out 10 Ways to Get Kids to Waste Less Food

  • “Use fresh produce in smoothies. I keep bulk Greek yogurt in the fridge and make smoothies as a grab and go breakfast.” – Mary Emerson
  • Purchase plain frozen fruits and vegetables. That way, you will use only what you need at the time and minimize waste.
  • Embrace imperfection. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables with odd shapes, sizes, or colors. They taste the same, and slightly bruised produce is OK to eat if you cut away the damaged areas. Avoid produce with any cuts.

See what happened when Dana Angelo White challenged herself to reduce her family’s food waste

  • After grocery shopping, get perishables into the fridge or freezer ASAP. If you’re making stops before heading home from the super­ market, bring a cooler bag with you in the car for dairy, meat, and produce.
  • Avoid resealing fresh fruits and vegetables in airtight plastic storage bags or containers because they trap moisture that promotes faster decay. Purchase perforated plastic bags for produce or make your own by poking tiny holes in resealable plastic bags.
  • “Write the date a food was opened when you open a container of shelf stable food like broth or canned beans to avoid having to guess whether it’s still good or not when you can’t remember how long it’s been in the fridge.” – Courtney Stinson
  • “Consider a meal delivery service. I found food waste challenging when we went from a family of three to a family of two. Using the Hello Fresh for a few meals a week is helpful. We get just the right amount of ingredients and the meals-for-two are actually dinner-for-two and lunch-for-one.” – Shelley Real

How to reduce food waste and save even more money 

  • Plan meals and snacks for at least five days of the week and shop for the ingredients. Meal planning helps to save money and food waste, and prepping meals on the weekend saves time Monday through Friday.

  • “Reorganize your fridge. Crisper drawers actually have a purpose! Reconsidering how you organize your fridge can keep your food fresh longer by reducing spoilage.  This will save money and fight food waste.  Check out this fridge storage infographic for more information.– Chris Vogliano
  • “I cook vegetables within a day or two of purchase and refrigerate them in airtight container if I know I will not be eating them that day. This allows me to eat them before they have a chance to wilt in the fridge.” – Barbara Baron
  • “Have a family fix it yourself leftovers night. We do this when we’re too lazy or tired to make a meal. We try to eat all the leftover food and what that is close to expiring. Nobody eats the same thing, but we can still usually each find a pretty balanced meal.” – Courtney Stinson

Here’s how to makeover your leftovers

  • “I use extra vegetables and grains to make pasta dishes and rice bowls.” – Rebecca Clyde
  • “When I’m feeling ambitious, I portion out foods like fruit, veggies, beans, and grains into see-through containers, typically in ½-cup or 1-cup portions. As a result, instead of the blueberries getting pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten, someone can easily grab a portion to eat.” -Wendy Kaplan
  • “Build a layered vegetable salad in order of the food’s ability to withstand moisture, and it’ll keep in your refrigerator longer. Starting at the bottom of the bowl, use sturdy vegetables like peppers and carrots. Then use vegetables that can withstand some moisture, like mushrooms and beans. Follow with a layer of whole grains. Finish with a top layer of herbs and lettuce. Add dressing on individual plates, right before serving.” – Tamar Rothenberg

Cook more often to reduce food waste

  • “I keep a bag of vegetable scraps in my freezer to make stock. When I get enough, I toss the vegetables in with bones and cook overnight.” –Wendy Jo Peterson

  • “Eat root-to-stem! For example, if you’re a fan of broccoli, sauté the leaves, which tastes similar to kale, and turn the stem into broccoli rice in the food processor.”  – Jessica Spiro 
  • Use ice cube trays to preserve leftover wine, remaining tomato paste, milk, yogurt, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Use in recipes later.

Check out Jessica Elyse’s ways to reduce food waste

  • “Use up parts of veggies you wouldn’t normally eat, or veggies that have lost their texture (ex: softened carrots) by making your own vegetable broth. Compost the veggie scraps after you’ve gotten flavor and nutrients out of them.” – Kelly Jones
  • Make food fresh again. Perk up wilted kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens by placing them in ice water for 30 minutes. Cook and eat or freeze. To freshen up nuts, toast them on a baking sheet in a 350 ̊F oven for 10 minutes.

A year of less food waste by Moms Kitchen Handbook

  • “I make an Egg Bake with my leftover food–nearly anything can be mixed with eggs, some onions and a little cheese (even cottage cheese–one of my favorites).” – Kitty Broihier
  • “Search for recipes based on what you need to use up.  Also, when I realize I made too much of something, I’ll find a friend or neighbor to share it with. -Kacie Barnes

Cooking Down: Minimize Waste and Make Easy Real Food

  • “Dry fruits and vegetables in the oven or a dehydrator. Purée veggies and tomatoes for marinara sauce. Make soup. Make croutons with extra bread.” -Aimee Sarchet
  • “I evaluate the fridge before going to the store each Sunday. Then I make a meal with leftovers, such as a frittata with leftover veggies and cheese.  I also make dishes like grain salad for lunches with cooked whole grains, salad greens, veggies and meat, or a soup. I always freeze leftover canned goods.”‪ – Jessica Ivey

Judy Barbe’s Roasted Cauliflower Fettucini uses cauliflower stems! 

Kara Lydon Evancho has compiled 25 delicious, creative recipes to use up leftovers

When is it OK to throw food away?

I feel guilty every time I throw food away, but sometimes I have to. Never freeze, cook, or eat any food that smells funny.

For safety’s sake, toss the following:

  • Odd­-smelling food
  • Food left out for more than two hours, or one hour if the air temperature is 90 ̊F or above
  • If the power has been out for at least four hours and you haven’t opened the refrigerator or freezer; sooner if you have raw animal foods, dairy, and leftovers
  • If cans have rusted or they’re leaking, deeply dented, or bulging
  • Moldy food (except for cheese; you can cut that part away)

What the dates on food packages mean

You may pitch food because you want to eat only the freshest and safest items, but throwing away perfectly good items contributes to food waste.

Some of the dates on food packages are more about quality than anything.

• “Sell by” dates are used for fresh, perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products. It’s the last possible day the store can sell the product, and it’s a date you should take seriously for safety’s sake. However, if the date passes while you have the product at home, the food should still be safe if handled properly.

• The “Use By” and “Best If Used By” dates have more wiggle room, as they refer to perceived food quality, not food safety. For example, the “best if used by” is the last date recommended for the customer’s use of a product at its peak quality.

• Set your refrigerator between 35 ̊F and 40 ̊F, and your freezer at 0 ̊F or below, to keep food fresher for longer. Don’t stuff the refrigerator and freezer. That reduces cooling efficiency and speeds up food spoilage.

To see how long food is still good past these dates, visit stilltasty.com.

5 Comments

    • ewardrd says:

      Thank you. I appreciate it! As you know, it takes a long time to write a post, and it means a lot when someone notices. It’s a good think I have so many friends who contributed such excellent tips. Do you have anything to add?

  1. Pingback: Declutter Your Diet for Better Health | Better Is the New Perfect

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