Statistics show that between 20 and 40% of all food in the US, Canada and Europe goes to waste. Whether it's farmers who have a glut of one crop, restaurants that are poorly managed or consumers throwing away moldy or unappealing food, the quantity of wasted food is staggering, in terms of both mass and money.
These eye-popping statistics prompted me to not only think about my own food waste, but to offer suggestions on how to minimize yours. We'll do this in two parts. This week we offer 10 ideas of how to keep your food waste and your food spending to a minimum. (It isn't a coincidence that these suggestions also minimize your waist!) Next week we'll talk about specific foods and how you can preserve them if you can't consume them before they become 'vintage foods'.
Minimizing your food waste with 10 easy steps
1. Make a weekly meal plan.
If you know what you're going to be eating each night during the week, whether it's a made-from-scratch meal, leftovers or Chinese take-away, you can easily plan your weekly trip to the grocery store.
2. Minimize your trips to the grocery store; twice a week max.
Think of all the time you'll save. Most food lasts a week in your refrigerator. Pick a day to buy just about everything you'll need for the week based on your weekly meal plan, and then plan to make a quick stop later in the week for fresh meat, fish or whatever you may have run out of.
3. Don't go to the grocery store without a list.
This practice not only makes your shopping faster (and thereby less painful, in my book), it helps you avoid all of those colorful marketing gimmicks that scream, "buy me!" at every turn.
4. Now that you have a list, don't buy anything that's not on the list.
This one is easy. Make it a game. Organize your list by aisle or section. There's a good chance that candy and frozen desserts aren't on your list. If you avoid these sections of the store by just following your list, you're less likely to be seduced by the sugary sirens lurking amongst the shelves.
5. Don't buy fresh food in bulk unless you are cooking for a crowd.
The bulk price looks cheap, but if you end up throwing food away your true cost is likely higher than if you'd purchased it at your local grocer.
6. If your meal schedule is hard to predict, buy less fresh and more frozen.
Fruits and vegetables lose very little in the nutrient department when they are frozen and they keep for a long time as long as they are kept frozen until you're ready to eat them. Read more about the benefits of frozen food in the foodell article, "Fresh vs. Frozen Foods."
7. Check your refrigerator every other day or so and make sure your food plan still makes sense.
If you planned on making Spanish-Style Chicken yesterday but went out instead, will you still have an opportunity to use the ingredients before they go bad? If not, freeze them.
8. Adopt this mantra: Eat it, freeze it or cook it.
Rather than watching your carrots slowly become limp and lifeless or your parsley wilt and fester, do something with them. Peeling and blanching vegetables (plunging them in boiling water for a couple of minutes) will buy them a few more days of life. Are your tomatoes getting soft? Make a quick tomato sauce. Potatoes sprouting? Beets looking beaten? Turnips turning? Root vegetables are great for roasting and yes, roasted root vegetables can be frozen. Almost anything you buy fresh can be frozen with little degradation in quality. Lettuce is an exception, but I can think of few other whole foods that can't withstand the cold.
9. Each month skip one of your weekly shopping trips and eat out of the freezer for the week.
If you follow some of the freezing advice included here, you'll be amazed at how well you'll eat and how quickly you can get dinner on the table.
10. If you don't eat it, freeze it or cook it, compost it.
Non-animal food waste makes great soil. Click here for a Beginners Composting Guide. This website also has great information for the advanced composter. Composting bins that filter odors are now made for even the smallest of apartments, and you can use your compost for indoor plants if you don't have a garden.
Minimizing food waste will save you money and time, so rather than chucking that old food, eat it, freeze it or cook it. Bon appétit!