Food waste is a global problem, and many of us don’t think too much about it. Sure, we recycle our garbage, upcycle our clothing, and try to shrink our carbon footprint- and for most of us, the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” is our connection to trying to help our planet.
This is a great and noble cause that we should all be following, but taking a closer look at how we consume our food and how we can prevent food waste is eye-opening. Here are a few simple things each of us can do to get a handle on food waste:
Watch how you shop to begin with…
It’s a basic practice, but there are times when we all overdo it at the store. Try to reduce how much you buy each time you go. Making a list and sticking to it is a great way to police what we put in the cart.
Shop meal-by-meal, or plan ahead.
This might mean going to the grocery more often because you’re buying less at a time, but it’ll promote more thought and mindfulness about what you put in the cart. Stopping on the way home from work or school to shop for ingredients for dinner that night, and a staple item you’re out of here and there (coffee, TP, etc.) can cut down on how much you’re buying at a time. If you’re in a hurry to get home, chances are you won’t mosey around the store picking up stuff you don’t really need.
Purchase locally sourced foods or grow your own.
Buying produce and other food from places like your local farmer’s market, co-op, or grow your own as much as possible, can help reduce food waste.
Cook with multiple meals in mind.
If you’re cooking at home, think about how much you’re making. If you’re planning your meals weekly, plan to reuse your leftovers either as-is or to transform them into another meal entirely. If you’re making something that doesn’t keep well, measure your portions, and try to make just enough.
If you’re hosting a party, it can be tricky to determine how much food to make, so erring on the side of abundance is pretty standard. Serve everyone portioned amounts, and hold extras back in the kitchen to serve for seconds upon request. If there’s extra (which is highly likely), make sure to prep “doggie bags” for friends to take home.
Store your food correctly!
Stuff like fruits, veggies, and meats can go bad without us even realizing it if we don’t keep them stored the right way. There are lots of resources to consult about information on how to store your food for optimal longevity- try here and here for starters. Learn how to reuse stuff that’s about to “go bad,” for instance, peppers and onions can be diced and frozen for future use. Bananas and avocados can be chopped and frozen when they become mushy, and no one’s gonna eat them. They’re fantastic to throw into smoothies, and they last forever after frozen. (OK, maybe not forever, but a whole lot longer…)
Keep your fridge, freezer, and pantry organized.
It’s so easy for the places we keep our food to become cluttered. At least once a week go through it all and look for stuff that’s expired or trashy (especially things like condiments bottles with nothing left in them and cracker boxes with two crackers left in them) and clear it out. The less clutter, the better we can see the food we have, and the less likely it is to be forgotten and go to waste.
Pay attention to the kinds of stuff you’re more likely to throw out.
If you’re noticing certain foods going in the trash more than others, it may be time to just quit buying them. For instance, if you repeatedly buy lunchmeats for your fam to make sandwiches and find that no one’s making sandwiches, quit buying it! (Or fry it for omelets and breakfast sides instead- but you get the idea.)
Try your hand at canning or pickling.
There are tons of ways to save your produce (freezing it, as mentioned above)- but also pickling! Pretty much any veg will pickle, and making beautiful stuff like jardiniere to serve with cheeses and crackers makes a fancy little antipasto. There are a bunch of resources online for learning how to can and pickle your stuff- start here and here for some education.
Find helpful ways to deal with the food waste you can’t avoid.
The whole point is to avoid it, but if you do find yourself with food you can’t use or won’t eat for whatever reason, there are plenty of other ways to help avoid food waste. Compost if you can, it’s great for your plants and reuses organic waste. Never composted? Check out this beginner’s guide.
For stuff that’s non-perishable or is fresh enough to eat safely still (especially if it’s unopened), donate to your local food bank. Many people don’t consider this as an option- but giving to local farms is a great way to repurpose food. Many farmers are more than happy to have the additional animal feed as long as it’s not garbage-grade.
There are a lot of creative ways to help cut down on food waste or eliminate it altogether, all it takes is a little mindfulness, effort, and learning. It’s well worth the minimal effort required, and you can feel good about contributing toward the solution.