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How to Reduce Your Food Waste (For More Than Just the Planet)

August 20, 2021 8 min read

How to Reduce Your Food Waste (For More Than Just the Planet)

 

No one likes to talk about food waste, even though it’s something just about everyone plays a part in. We just like to tip our plates and cutting boards over the garbage can, brush off the leftovers and scraps, and return to our busy lives.

But these daily actions are costing you (and the environment) a fortune. 

Let’s play a game: If I offered you $100 right now, would you take it? Sure! Who wouldn’t, right?

What if I offered you $200? $500? Sounding even better?

Well, take this as a wake-up call. You could save yourself an extra $100, $200, $500, or more each month just by reducing your food waste with some simple and easy-to-follow steps.  

Managing your food waste isn’t a chore. It’s like winning extra cash on the lottery. There are instant rewards that benefit you, your budget, and the environment. All you need are some simple steps to start benefiting directly from food-waste management. It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s fast. And the whole planet benefits.  

So let’s get started.

 

Understanding What Food Waste Costs You

The averageAmerican household wastes between 20-50% of the food they bring home. So let’s just play with that for a minute and figure out how much you could save.  

If your monthly food bill is $700, and we use an average food waste value of 35%, then you could pay yourself $245 per month by wasting less food. That adds up to an extra $2,940 in one year! It’s that simple: Food that you buy but don’t eat costs you money.  

If your food bill is closer to $1,000 per month, then the potential savings on average would be $350 per month or a cool $4,200 left in your pocket by the end of the year.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. 

Food waste is killing your household budget.  

And while the exact math to figure out your savings is probably a lot more complicated than what’s portrayed here, the concepts are not. All the food you waste in a day, a month, and a year adds up to thousands of dollars that you did not need to spend in the first place.

Let’s look at the ten best ways to reduce your food waste and put money straight back into your pocket for other things: 

 

Ten Tips To Reduce Food Waste

 

Shop Carefully

1. Start by understanding your food needs.

If you’re ready to reduce your food waste, begin with your kitchen. 

Clean out your fridge, freezer, and cupboards on a regular basis so you have a clear understanding of what food you already have. 

Keeping track of food supplies can be as simple as organizing your cupboards and fridge so that the oldest foods are at the front, ready to use first (this method is also known as FIFO, or first-in-first-out). When you get home from the grocery store, simply put the newest foods you brought home at the back and push the older ones forward. Chances are, you’ll reach for whatever is in front first.

 

A stocked fridge shelf with vegetables and colorful tupperware

 

2. Avoid overstocking your kitchen.

Once you know what’s in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer, use a shopping list to fill in

the gaps and avoid overstocking. Creating a running shopping list on your phone or a piece of paper can help you remember what you need and prevent a lot of impulse buying. 

Old food left spoiling at the back of the cupboard or fridge can result in a tremendous amount of waste over the course of a year. Learn how to manage‘best before dates’ and keep yourself well-stocked but not overstocked to reduce food waste.

3. Be realistic in the store and buy according to your needs.

While it’s easy to get enthusiastic about big sales and new products, train yourself not to buy more food than you can use within a reasonable amount of time. What is “reasonable” varies by the type of food.  

Most fresh foods have to be used within a week or two. That means the best strategy is to buy no more than a week’s worth at a time unless you’re sure you will follow through with the added work of processing the extras into sauces, pre-made dinners, or other preservation techniques.

Most canned and dry goods will last a year or more as long as they haven’t been sitting in distribution somewhere for a long time. If you decide to buy these foods in bulk, check to make sure theexpiration dates are within reason, and remember not to keep buying more.  

A good rule of thumb for canned and dry goods is to ask yourself if you can use it all up within three months. If you can, then taking advantage of sales or bulk promotions might make sense. But if you can’t, chances are the food will sit in the cupboard a whole lot longer than three months and potentially just become waste.  

Sales on food do not save you money if you end up throwing the food out. Buy according to your needs, not according to the sale limit.

4. Avoid shopping when you are hungry.

Shopping when hungry may lead you to buy more food than you need.  

A 2020 study published in the journalFood Quality and Preference found that overweight and hungry children responded more to food advertising while playing an adventure game than normal-weight and less hungry children. The study suggests that people from a young age become more susceptible to advertising as they get hungrier and more motivated by food.


It’s not just children who are susceptible. You can lessen this impact by eating a healthy snack before grocery shopping, helping you stay on track with your food waste reduction plans.

 

Master Food Waste At Home

5. Store foods properly.

Once the food you buy comes home, you have to store it properly. Simply Google how to best store the different foods you buy.  Followingfood safety practicescan keep all that food in tip-top shape and ready for your next meal.  

The basics of food safety include:

  • Keeping everything clean
  • Keeping raw foods away from cooked foods
  • Cooking foods properly
  • Chilling foods you have cooked within two hours

There are many environmentally friendly products on the marketfor storing foodsand reducing the amount of garbage and plastic required. Proper food handling and storage translates into less food waste.

6. Peel and trim lightly, or not at all.

Many fresh foods requirevery little preparation. Foods like carrots, potatoes, and beets all have edible skins that can simply be scrubbed and left in place. Other foods like pre-washed greens come from the store ready to chop into salads or meals.  

Minor imperfections and even light bruises do not require you to throw out the whole fruit or vegetable. Lightly trim the areas and carry on with your meal preparations.

The less you peel and trim, the more ends up as food for you to eat. 

7. Redirect older or imperfect foods into soups, stews, and stir-frys.

While you may love to create beautiful salads or veggie plate presentations, no one can tell in a soup, stew, or stir-fry if your vegetables were less than perfect.  

Streamline your meal preparations so that the best-looking foods can still go on to create the desired image and effect, while the misshapen pieces or trimmings can be used behind the scenes for flavor and nutrition.

Saving up your scraps during the week to create a soup or stew can mean having a free meal compared to just tossing them in the garbage. Besides,most edible peels and trimmings are the healthiest parts that contain the highest amounts of vitamins, minerals, and nutritious plant compounds.

 

A bowl of soup on a black surface with a jar full of a smoothie-like drink

 

8. Use your leftovers or right-size your cooking

One of the biggest drivers of food waste at home is making too much and then throwing out what is left. Extra food is easy to deal with and can save you time and money later in the week.

Instead of throwing out the extras, you can:

  • Follow food safety practices for storing leftover foods in the fridge or freezer.
  • Make it a habit to eat leftovers for a meal the following day.
  • Turn leftovers into an entirely new meal by adding them to an omelet, wrap, soup, or stew.
  • Share your leftovers with friends.
  • Right-size your cooking so you only prepare enough for one meal, avoiding leftovers altogether. 

Complete the Cycle

9. Compost your food waste.

Nature has a way of dealing with food waste. There are bacteria and microorganisms in the soil that break down food waste and turn it back into raw materials that plants use to grow. Sending food to the landfill is not the same thing.

Composting is a miniaturized version of this natural system. It can turn your kitchen food waste back into soil for growing more food.  

Traditional composting bins are typically purchased or built into backyards. Kitchen scraps are added to carbon sources such as paper towels, napkins, paper bags, cardboard, leaves, and wood chips to provide enough material to work with. By mixing these materials, natural processes can begin to break them all down into new soil. 

Modern versions of composting includeelectric composting appliances that can convert kitchen waste into compost right inside your home with little effort and less time.

Healthy soil is the cornerstone of healthy food. Having a ready supply of your own compost means you could grow some of your own food, save even more money, andbuild some resiliencein the face of climate change. Composting turns kitchen waste into more food. It is the ultimate thing to do to reduce the impacts of food waste.

10. Raise backyard chickens.

For those who have the space,backyard chickens are perhaps the most rewarding win of them all when it comes to reducing food waste. Chickens turn your kitchen waste into eggs!

Just three chickens can produce a dozen eggs a week and convert 270 lbs of household waste into more than 600 eggs in just one year. This makes chickens a faster way to process kitchen scraps than composting, which can take months unless you’re using an electric appliance. Chickens will happily consume most of what people like to eat, and they will eat up the trimmings and peels as well.

 

Better for the environment

Although the immediate win from reducing your food waste comes in the form of extra money in your hands, the greater victory is felt on a planetary scale.

Food waste is costing our planet dearly. That 20-50% food waste figure translates into thousands of acres of farmland planted and harvested each year for absolutely no benefit at all. That is a staggering thought.

 

a bird's eye view of a tractor in a field and a bird flying next to it

 

Because most of that land is being farmed conventionally, tons of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are being needlessly applied to food crops that people will never eat.

It also means that millions of people worldwide are going hungry for no reason at all. Farmers are producing enough food, but too much of it is being wasted to feed those that need it.

All of that food being dumped into garbage cans and sent to landfills daily contributes to environmental pollution and degradation without any nutrient recapture or benefit to the planet.  Had it been composted, it would go back into the cycle of food creation to restore the environment.

Reducing food waste doesn’t just help you. It helps everyone.

 

In Summary

Reducing food waste is as simple as shopping more carefully, mastering food waste reduction at home, and completing the food waste cycle to soil through composting or to eggs through backyard chickens.

You have an opportunity to keep more money in your pocket each week, and you get the added bonus of doing something great for the environment at the same time.   

Rarely is there such a simple win-win situation, and you’ll wonder why it took you so long. The choice is yours. But chances are good you will never look at food left on your plate the same way again.


Sue Senger, PhD - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice


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