You're Wasting 1/3 of the Food You Buy — Here's How to Stop
Ugh, food waste. I think we probably all feel pretty crummy when we waste our food, and those of us who have depression-era parents remember admonitions of "Clean your plate!" The unfortunate truth, according to the USDA, is that Americans are wasting nearly one-third of the food produced in America. How can this be reduced? Here are some suggestions. (See also: Frugal Food Changes You Can Make Today)
1. Be Realistic and Honest
Sure, I should buy the healthier whole-wheat spaghetti, but after 32 years of marriage, I know that my husband doesn't like it, and so the pasta will sit on the pantry shelf. Similarly, 19 cents a pound for cabbage is a good deal, but an entire head of cabbage is too much for us. Be true to yourself when grocery shopping. Just because it's good for you, or a great bargain, doesn't mean you're going to use it.
2. Get Organized
Before you can efficiently plan meals (see #3 below), you'll need a starting place, so get ready to take inventory. My suggestion is that you clean out your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and/or cupboards. This is a big job, but it has big payoffs, too: cleanliness, order, and inventory. Being that it is a big task, try breaking it down over a few days. When you are through, you will have a very good idea of what you need to use up soon, replace, and stop buying (hello, whole-wheat spaghetti). You'll also be prepared to tackle a pantry organization project.
3. Start Menu Planning
Now that you have a good feel for what you really like to eat and what you actually have, you can better begin to plan your meals. There are various "apps" and services to which you may subscribe to plan meals. Pen and paper work fine, too. Plan your menus with your calendar at your side. For instance, I see that I have a hair appointment at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday. That means I will want something easy to make on that night, rather than starting, say, a baked spaghetti. You also might try making larger meals on Sundays or Mondays, so that you can use the leftovers during the week. Lastly, if you use a grocery ad to plan your shopping, you may want to keep that by your side when planning. (See also: Best Cooking Apps to Manage Meals)
4. Use Some Self-Discipline
You knew this lecture was coming, didn't you? In order to reduce food waste, you are going to need to eat your leftovers. This shouldn't be painful, if you have been honest and cooked things you liked in the first place. Also, you don't have to eat them the next day. If you don't want to take leftovers for lunch, then have them again for dinner a few days later, or freeze them and have at a later date (make sure to label and inventory). It's also easy and fun to change up your leftovers. Last night's roast chicken will make a great chicken wrap; a few slices of leftover steak make a delicious steak salad. (See also: Fancy Ways to Use Leftover Food)
5. Buy Less
I love fresh coleslaw, but an entire head of cabbage is too much. Solution? Ask your store's produce department employees to cut a head in half. In the meat department, ask for similar service. If you are a regular shopper, you will find that this service is cheerfully provided. Also, when shopping at warehouse-type stores, be wary. As much as I enjoy certain types of cereal, for instance, when it's time to start on the second box of it, my enthusiasm tends to wane. That brings us to tip #6.
6. Band Together
Because warehouse-type stores can offer some pretty amazing deals, you may be able to reduce waste if you find a family member, friend, or neighbor who wants to split the cost of a warehouse item. Similarly, when we had more freezer space, it made sense to split a lamb, hog, or even a quarter of a steer. (See also: How to Stay Frugal at Costco)
7. Let the Internet Figure It Out
Did you over-buy on asparagus? Too many pounds of potatoes? There are some great sites to help. Simply enter your ingredient(s), and let the 'net come up with dinner suggestions. Check out gems like Recipe Matcher and Super Cook. You might also wish to try out a cooking app for those times when you are stuck.
8. Try Gardening
I have raised some of the ugliest, most misshapen carrots ever seen, but you better believe we ate them. With the work and time you need to expend to raise fruits or vegetables, you are more likely to eat them than let them go to waste. Even the peels from vegetables can go back into your backyard compost. And can you ever beat a sun-ripened tomato?
9. Don't Throw It Out, Yet!
Just because you see a "Sell By," Use By," or "Best By" date, you may not need to toss that food. Many foods are perfectly safe to eat past those dates. You may also be able to perk some stale foods up. When I recently tried oven-toasting stale Triscuits, I found that I preferred toasted Triscuits to ones that are fresh! If cereal is past its date, try making it into an oven-toasted mix with nuts. Bruised apples make good applesauce, heels of bread are great as garlic croutons, and of course mushy bananas are fine for banana bread.
What are you doing to reduce food waste? Please share in comments!