Food waste is not only socially irresponsible but it can also be the reason why you blow your food budget every month! Read on to find out more about the issues that food waste cause, reasons why reducing your food waste can help you save money, as well as tips on how to actually reduce your food waste.
The Problem with Food Waste
According to the National Resource Defense Council up to 40% of food in the United States never gets eaten but yet one in eight Americans struggle to provide enough food for themselves or their family. Keep in mind this only covers the people in the United States, and would only grow when you start to include other poorer countries across the world.
These statistics seriously leave me speechless. I keep trying to put into words the sadness and revulsion that I feel when I think about these numbers but I can’t.
Now some food waste that happens is impossible for the general consumer to control. This would be crop failures because of inclement weather, diseases, insects, etc. that kill or greatly reduce the amount that can be harvested.
Then there is waste as food travels from the field, farm or production facility. The food can spoil before it even makes it to a grocery store. Or food gets disposed of because it isn’t “pretty” enough and gets picked over by the consumer.
It is important to support local policies that aim to reduce the food waste described above. (check out the NRDC’s site again for more information on policies!) But I want to talk to you about food waste that happens in your own home and what you can do about it.
It’s important to remember that when food gets thrown away, it isn’t just the food itself that is wasted. You have to remember the resources that it took to get that food to your table.
Think about the land that the plants were grown on, or where the animals were raised. Think about the water it took to bring the plants or animals to harvest. Then there is the energy that it took to grow and harvest those plants and animals.
Those resources got wasted too when you threw that food away. I want to point out that land and water continue to become scarcer even though the world’s population continues to grow.
That food that you threw in the trash has to go somewhere. We use a significant amount of land for landfills that our food waste ends up in. Landfills produce a methane gas, which damages our environment.
I want to bring all of this to your attention not to scare you that the world is doomed, but to point out that knowledge is power! We know food waste is an issue so let’s talk about what you and your family can do to help!
The Benefits of Reducing your Food Waste
The first benefit is that less food being wasted means that there is less food going to our landfills. Reducing your food waste helps to reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the methane level produced at your landfill.
The second benefit of reducing your food waste is that it helps to conserve energy and the resources used to produce food. (Think back to our land and water discussion from earlier.)
You also help to reduce the amount of pollution in the air by reducing the amount of trucks on the ground that transport food to the grocery store and then to landfills.
The third benefit of wasting less food will probably be your favorite. You save money! Think back to the statistic from the beginning of the post. Up to 40% of all food in the United States is wasted.
Now apply that to your own kitchen. You are literally throwing away money! 40% of your grocery budget to be exact!
Let’s say that your monthly grocery budget is $200. 40% of $200 is $80. Um yuck! $80 can go a long way in the grocery store!
Now maybe this doesn’t bother you yet. Imagine what would happen if you could reduce your food waste, and therefore spend less on your grocery budget each month. If you start applying that $80 to your debt instead of your grocery budget you could make some real progress.
Now take that $80 and multiply it by 12. That means that you are THROWING AWAY $960 A YEAR! That could be an extra mortgage payment! Check out this post to find out how powerful making an extra mortgage payment each year can be!
I realize that the first two environmental benefits that I talked about won’t light a fire under many people to reduce their food waste, but I am hoping that this last one does!
I would love to hear in the comments what foods always seem to hit the trash can every week or that just never seem to get eaten in time.
Tips on How to Actually Reduce your Food Waste
Buying Less Food – Let’s start from the beginning and talk about ways that you can reduce the amount of food that comes into your house (and therefore shrinking your grocery budget! Yay!!)
Meal Plan – This theme continues to play like a broken record on my blog but it’s for a good reason. It works! Not only will it save you money but it also helps you to not buy food that you don’t need. If you need help meal planning you can check out this post or this post to help you get started.
Use a list when shopping – This goes hand-in-hand with meal planning but one you make a meal plan write down what you need. Remember to account for snacks, breakfasts, etc. when writing your list and come up with specific items for each. You don’t want to aimlessly grab food and end up with two weeks’ worth of snack food.
Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry! Countless bag of Cheetos and other unhealthy foods that I wouldn’t normally eat make their way into my cart when I go shopping when I am hungry. I buy all kinds of unnecessary crap food when my vision is blurred and I am seeing red because the hangry monster rages inside of me.
Write Your Grocery List in your Kitchen – meal planning and list making go awry when you make your list at work and then you end up buying items that you already had in your fridge. When making your grocery list and meal plan, do it in your kitchen! This way you can see what ingredients you already have on hand and won’t need to buy.
Be conscious of coupons and sales but don’t rely on them – I am a huge fan of writing your meal plan based on what is on sale this week. I am not a fan of buying something simply because it is on sale or you have a coupon for it. Buying things only because they are on sale or because you have a coupon about to expire will only cause you to buy food that you don’t need. This is a good tip to help keep your budget in check too!
Grown Your Own Herbs – this is where I struggle the most. A recipe calls for ¼ cup of fresh cilantro. The grocery store sells cilantro in what seems like a bushel. Therefore you are stuck in the land of extra cilantro. I usually don’t make Mexican food enough that I would use all of the cilantro before it goes bad.
The Solution? Grow your own herbs! I have found herbs to be the most forgiving plants to grow for those of us who seemed doomed to produce only non-fruit bearing tomato plants. (Seriously, my tomato plant continued to grow but never produced any tomatoes. Aargh!)
Seed packets usually cost no more than $1.00 and if you use recycled spaghetti sauce jars and soil from your compost pile then these herbs are practically free!
You can even grow a bunch of these in your window sill and have them available to you all year round!
You could also start your own garden and grow a ton of vegetables but starting with growing your own herbs will be less overwhelming.
Eat repeat meals. Let’s say you made a batch of my delicious Rainbow Peanut Noodles and you bought a whole head of red cabbage for the recipe. Chances are good that you didn’t use up the entire head for that one meal.
The solution? Eat Rainbow Peanut Noodles again the next week so that you can use up the rest of that cabbage! Chances are also good that you will have already have the rest of the ingredients in your pantry so there is one meal for the week that doesn’t cost anything for this week’s grocery budget!
Prolonging Perishable Items’ Lives
Wash your produce using this natural DIY produce wash. Not only does this produce wash help to clean up your fruits and veggies, but it also helps to extend the life of the food by 2-3 days.
Wash, chop and store your produce and meat when you get home from the grocery store. Having your produce prepped and ready to consume or cook with will mean that you are much more likely to use it. This also saves you time during the week.
I always try to freeze any meat that I know I won’t be using in the next day or too. If I buy meat in a large quantity I also try to separate out what I will use immediately. I put that meat in the fridge and then freeze the remainder of the meat in meal-sized portions.
Keep an organized fridge. Food that cannot be seen will likely not be eaten before it goes bad. Having an organized fridge can help keep all food visible to you.
Check on perishable food throughout the week. When you are first starting out on this no food waste journey I highly recommend that you check your fridge every 2-3 days. Look for produce that looks like it might be on the way out. Look for food that you didn’t even know was in the fridge (hopefully if you organized your fridge then this won’t happen to you!)
If you are checking your produce frequently then you can adjust your meal plan for the week. Let’s say that you see that your lettuce mix is looking a little limp and maybe starting to brown but that your meal plan didn’t have you eating it for another three days.
Change your meal plan so that you are eating the lettuce immediately or the day after. Checking on the condition of your produce will help you to eliminate food waste and also help you to learn the average lifespan of produce in your fridge.
Implement a New Rule: Don’t cook another meal until ALL of the leftovers are gone – When you were organizing your fridge did you find five containers of leftovers from last week? Try implementing a rule that you won’t cook a new meal until all of the leftovers are gone.
It’s also a good idea to have at least one night of leftovers worked into your meal plan each week. I take leftovers to work for lunch each day to help combat having a fridge full of leftovers. This also saves me money since I don’t go out for lunch.
Freeze your Leftovers – If you aren’t a fan of eating more than a days’ worth of leftovers then you either need to not cook as much food or freeze your leftovers. Leave enough for one helping of leftovers and then freeze the rest. This means you will have an emergency meal in the freezer for when you just don’t feel like cooking.
Store herbs the proper way – I talked earlier about how you can grow your own herbs. Maybe that isn’t your cup of tea, which I totally get. The key is to make sure that you store the herbs properly! Remove the herbs from the plastic wrap or bag that you bought them in.
Trim the ends of the herbs and place the herbs standing up in a glass with water. Make sure that the water is high enough to each all of the herb ends but not too high so that it doesn’t cover any leaves or the herbs themselves. This will significantly help to extend the life of your herbs!
Using Up Produce on the Brink of Going Bad or in Small Quantities
Not only can it be difficult to use food that is close to going bad but it can also be hard to use up food that seems like you have too small of a quantity to do anything with. You are going through your weekly produce check and you notice that some bell peppers are going soft and that you have four stems of cilantro leaves. What can you do?
Stock Your Pantry with the Right Food – You should always have on hand food that you can use to help use up other food. What do I mean by this? Certain dishes are excellent for using up not only produce that is close to going bad but also a great dish to “dump” those small quantity item foods into.
Dishes that fall into this category are pasta or rice bakes, stir fries, omelets, quiches, burritos, chili and soups, homemade pizza, casseroles and smoothies. These dishes are really flexible in that you can add extra veggie scraps or etc. and it will make the dish taste better!
Don’t be afraid to eat a weird combination of food as a meal. My lunches are sometimes 5-6 small containers full of random leftovers that we had in the fridge. Sometimes they don’t always “go together” but it fills me up! For whatever reason having multiple food items also seems to trick my brain into thinking I am getting more food than I actually am. (This is not the only strange thing that my mind does but I digress…)
Use parts of food that you normally throw away. Reducing the amount of food waste that your house produces should include you looking at what you are actually throwing away.
Did you know that some of the trimmings that you take off of your produce is actually edible? Or that you can use meat bones to produce wonderfully flavorful broths?
I have published a few recipes that focus in on using food that you would normally throw away. The best part is that these recipes could also be considered free to make since you are using food that you normally would have trashed!
Or you can also check out this great resource for recipes on how to use up other food scraps.
What to do With Food that Goes Bad
Inevitably you will have some food that gets wasted, regardless of your best efforts. This might be especially true as you are just starting to try and reduce your food waste. Don’t get discouraged! Below are two tips on if food does go bad.
Maybe it actually isn’t bad yet. Just because food is past the “best by” or expiration date, does not mean that it is necessarily bad to eat. If it smells normal and it tastes normal then it is probably safe to eat. I employ this rule often in our house and no one has gotten sick yet. Questionable meat would not be a good item to play the guessing game with though. If in doubt on meat it is best to throw it out.
Composting your food scraps can prevent that food from ending up in a landfill. Check out this link for information on how to get started composting, what foods you can actually compost and then what to do with your newly made compost.
I don’t expect you to be perfect and never throw food away but I do hope that this post at least will make you think before you throw food (and money!) away again.