12 Easy Ways Your Family Can Reduce Food Waste
It happens to every family. You buy groceries ahead of time and overestimate how much you’d need. Maybe you took a trip to the grocery store when you were hungry, and picked up a few extra items that you won’t ever eat. Fruits and veggies get pushed to the back of your refrigerator until they go bad. A recipe calls for a teaspoon of an ingredient that only comes an 8oz bottle, and you don’t have a reason to use that ingredient again until the bottle is long past its expiration date.
These instances are small, but they do add up over time—nearly 1.3 billion tons of edible food is lost or wasted around the world each year. The average American alone wastes roughly 219 pounds of food. That’s not just concerning for the environment, but it’s also a huge waste of money!
Fortunately, there are several simple ways that families can be more conscious about they food they buy, and how to prevent it from going to waste:
1. Meal Prep
Planning your meals ahead of time is one of the best ways to avoid food waste. When planning, try to choose meals that use the same ingredients. You’ll spend less money on food items, and avoid throwing away any leftover or extra ingredients. On your shopping list, be sure to note how many meals you’ll make with each item to avoid over- or under-buying.
2. “Shop” Your Kitchen
Before you head to the grocery store, head to your kitchen! Check your fridge, freezer, and the deep recesses of your cupboards to make sure you’re not heading out to buy something you already have. To make shopping your kitchen easy, keep a running list of your pantry staples and always take note when something runs out, so you can restock and keep your supply perfectly balanced.
3. Keep Your Refrigerator Clean
Another way to avoid buying unnecessary food is to organize your refrigerator. A cluttered fridge is a slippery slope to letting food go out of sight and out of date. Put your food in the proper drawers, and always put new food items behind old ones, so the older items get eaten first.
That doesn’t mean your fridge can’t be full—in fact, a full refrigerator is also a more efficient refrigerator, which means you’re spending less on electricity to keep your food cool. Instead of overstocking on food, however, fill the empty spaces in your fridge with water bottles, and your freezer with bags of ice.
4. Stop Buying in Bulk
Just because you meal prep doesn’t mean you need to buy all your ingredients at once. Being in a busy family often means plans can change—a extracurricular runs long; the kids go to a friend’s house to study; you decide to order in instead of cook, etc. Not buying in bulk allows you to be flexible, and a quick trip to the store every few days will actually lessen your chances of wasting food.
5. Buy “Ugly” Food
The majority of wasted food are fruits and vegetables that go bad before they can be eaten. This doesn’t just occur in our homes—it also occurs before the food is even bought! Bruised apples, bumpy oranges, and other “flawed” produce are often thrown out by farmers and stores because consumers won’t buy them. Picking these less-than-perfect (but still perfectly delicious!) fruits and veggies indirectly reduces waste.
6. Store Food Correctly
Another big reason food goes to waste is improper storage. For example, you may be tempted to keep tomatoes “fresh” by putting them in the fridge, but this can actually lead to premature ripening, which makes them spoil faster—sometimes before you have a chance to enjoy them.
If you’re not sure the best storage methods, here’s a great guide on storing food the right way.
7. Don’t be Afraid to Freeze
Your freezer is your friend! Freezing food is one way to keeping buying in bulk economical. You can freeze those two-for-one steaks or extra loaves of bread as soon as you get home from the grocery store. Freezing also helps with meal prep, as you can prepare and cook perishable items in advance and then defrost them as needed.
8. Decode Expiration Dates
Do you know the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” and “best-by”? Not all of these indicate whether or not a food is still good to eat! Oftentimes these are used to indicate when a food item is at its “peak,” or if it should be removed from shelves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that item isn’t good to eat after that date. “Use-by” is the term most commonly associated with unsafe to eat, but unfortunately, these terms are not regulated.
Use your best judgement to determine when food has gone bad… or use it anyway, as described below:
9. “Upcycle” Your Food
Your fresh food may be past its prime, but it may still be fine when cooked! Use “expired” produce in casserole, soups, or even smoothies. Brown bananas make for a great banana bread, while stale bread can make croutons or bread pudding. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
10. Check Your Portion Sizes
Our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs, and today’s food industry definitely seems to cater to our eyes. Whether you’re eating in or dining out, keeping your portion sizes in check will help you prevent waste.
That also means not eating everything that’s on your plate, despite what “manners” may dictate. Eat slowly and judge how hungry and/or you actually are. It’s okay to leave leftovers—it’s more than okay, in fact, because leftovers can make a whole new meal for another day.
11. Plan A Leftovers Night
Including a “leftovers night” in your meal prep plan can prevent you from overeating and save you money in the long run. Leftovers can also be “upcycled” into those casseroles, soups, and stews mentioned above!
12. Compost Your Food
While it would be great to eliminate all food waste from your home, it’s not always possible. What is possible is to be responsible and smart about the waste you do produce.
Composting ensures that the food you don’t use isn’t actually food “waste”—instead of food for you, it becomes food for your plants! You can even use composted food to fertilize a small herb garden, saving you even more money on groceries.
With a little planning and some creative cooking, your family can keep your food costs (and your carbon footprint) low!