I’d venture to guess I’m not the only one who’s ever had rotting, moldy cheese and vegetables in my fridge. Have you ever pulled that crisper drawer out to find your lettuce is wilted and dried on the tips? Raise your hand if you’ve gone into your pantry looking for something only to find all kinds of stuff you had forgotten about? Is food waste really a big problem in this country? I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that it is. I decided to learn more about it so I could figure out what I can do to help reduce it.
Some, well seriously all, of the numbers are staggering:
- 1.3 Billion tons of edible food produced worldwide is wasted each year
- ~ 300 Million barrels of oil are used each year to produce food that is ultimately wasted
- the U.S. wastes 50% more food now than in the 1970’s
- 70% of water and 50% of land in this country is devoted to agriculture
- ~ 33 Million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases are produced to grow food that never gets eaten
- $1,500 each year is what the average family of 4 spends on wasted food
- 21% of waste in landfills is food waste – food in landfills turns in to methane gas which is a potent greenhouse gas
What Contributes to all this waste?
- overambitious grocery shopping
- imperfection and/or blemished produce
- canceled plans
- poor planning
- busy lives
How many times have we all gone to the grocery store with the best of intentions on preparing healthy meals with all kinds of vegetables and fruits, among many other things? I usually get on a healthy meal kick towards the end of winter, when we get those first doses of warm weather. Truth be told, I’m probably fearing bathing suit season that’s creeping up. Anyway, you go to the store, load up on all sorts of healthy foods and then life gets in the way, you’ve got a bazillion things to do and no time to prepare all this food you just bought. It gets shoved to the back of the fridge or pantry only to mold and rot.
Aside from our individual households, think of all the buffet restaurants and catering companies that are out there. I can’t even begin to imagine how they plan out a daily amount of food to make. Even in regular restaurants, food gets prepared but maybe no one showed up to eat or a particular dish wasn’t popular. Where does all that food go? If you’ve spent any time in a school cafeteria, you know how much food goes from the kitchen to the table to the trash. For many years, I have been running our Terracycle program in the cafeteria at my kids’ elementary school and I was horrified by what I saw go directly into the trash. Entire meals, not even touched. Seriously, I’ve even watched kids just throw their lunchboxes away. If you’re not familiar with TerraCycle, read all about how to turn trash into cash.
There are so many different circumstances that contribute to perfectly good food not being consumed and finding it’s way into the trash.
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How We Can Reduce Food Waste
Meal Plan – if you’re like me, you have a running grocery list on your phone. Every Sunday, I go to the store, pick up the standard items and anything else on my list. I may have a vague idea in my head of what we’ll have for dinner the upcoming week but no real plan. I need to get back to meal planning. Meal planning enables me to know exactly what ingredients I need and also saves time when 5pm hits and everyone is hungry. When I used to meal plan, I had everything written down which sort of held me accountable to making the meal. That eliminated the problem of fresh produce going bad or meat becoming questionable after it’s sat in the refrigerator for several days. Another option is to buy your meat frozen, or buy meat on sale and then freeze it.
Prepare Produce Immediately – I have found that preparing produce soon after I come back from the grocery store does three things – cuts down on snacking on processed foods, keeps produce fresh longer, and saves time when preparing meals. Greens can be “re-hydrated” after they wilt but they’ll last longer and taste freshest if you clean and store them soon after purchasing. Years ago I purchased these *Lettuce Keeper’s and the *Berry Keeper and truly love them. I just clean the greens (or berries) and store them in these containers in my fridge. I have had great luck with keeping kale and lettuce fresh for at least a week. I will admit, berries don’t last long in our house but I do use the Berry Keeper for storing small leftover pieces of vegetables. Make sure you store herbs correctly. Most of the time, I store the bunch upright in a glass with enough water to cover the bottom 1/2 inch of the stems.
Freeze Herbs – so you planned your meals for the week and one of the dishes called for some rosemary but you had to buy the whole bunch. Now what to do with the leftover? Did you know you can add may herbs to oil and freeze it in an ice cube tray? Seriously, I had no idea. Check out my board on Pinterest for all kinds of useful ideas.
Soups, Chilis, Casseroles – have a few random things in the fridge? Make a soup, chili or casserole. Tomatoes going bad, throw them in a marinara sauce or soup. When we clean-up from dinner, there’s not a whole lot that gets thrown away. I’m somewhat hesitant to save leftover fish or shellfish but anything else gets put in a container and tossed in the fridge, even cooked vegetables. I have one of those food chopper’s from Pampered Chef, I use it all the time to chop up leftover chicken, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc and toss in marinara sauce, chili, hamburgers, etc. The kids don’t notice it and it keeps me from throwing away perfectly good food.
Stock or Broth – When preparing vegetables for meals, save the ends and store in the freezer. You can make stock out of them later. I keep a bag in the freezer of carrot, celery, pepper, onion, garlic scraps to have ready when I make chicken broth or vegetable broth.
Websites – There are a few good websites I’ve found to be quite helpful when deciding what to do with leftover or unused food. Still Tasty is a great reference website for food and beverage shelf life. Just type in the product and it will tell you how long it’s good for. It has information on processed food, fresh food – cooked and raw. If you’re like me, you can open your fridge and find a bunch of different odds and ends that you’d like to make a meal with but have no idea how to do it. SuperCook might just save you. It’s a website that enables you to basically list out what you’ve got and it will give you some suggestions.
Regrow – There are a bunch of vegetables that you can easily regrow in water in your kitchen. Seriously! It’ll take a while but it can be done. Things like scallions, celery, leeks, romaine lettuce to name a few. If you regrow it, then you won’t have to buy it all the time. I haven’t tried this out yet but I’m going to. I want to see how long it takes. If nothing else, it’ll be a fun experiment. Check out my board on Pinterest for details on regrowing.
Know a Farmer? – If you know a farmer, maybe he/she would like to take the produce scraps off your hands for their own compost pile or to feed to their animals. I bet there’s not a pig or goat alive that has turned down a meal. I feed a lot of my veggie scraps to my bulldog, she’s kinda sorta like a piggie.
Compost – if you garden, get a compost pile or bin set up in your backyard. It’s a great way to turn food scraps, paper, newspaper, leaves, etc. into dirt for your garden. Learn how easy it is to get started composting and which bin I’m using in my backyard. If you don’t have space or just don’t have an interest in doing it yourself, a quick search on Google shows that composting services are cropping up everywhere.
Food waste is a big problem in this country but it seems more and more restaurants are finding solutions for what to do with leftover food and people are becoming more aware of the problem. I believe we are making progress and heading in the right direction. We all start out with the best intentions and then sometimes, life just happens and plans take a left turn. That’s ok, as long as we’re doing our part and trying our best.
We are always in a food rut it seems. Eating the same things, week after week. I’d love to add some new recipes to my collection.
Do you have some yummy “go to” recipes for using up leftovers? I’d love for you to share them with me in the comments below.