The sad truth is that the U.S. tosses about 40% of the food we produce here. Both from a conservation and humanitarian angle, that’s unacceptable. As a chef and baker (and human being), I’m ALWAYS concerned with food waste. Here are my 5 tried-and-true tips to reduce your “foodprint.”
Let’s discuss simple solutions we can try as individuals to reduce our food waste. One that doesn’t require that we eschew all worldly possessions or live the life of a foraging nomad!
First, where’s that 40% food waste buzz coming from? Both the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Report and a PLoS ONE article referenced this number. Not only do these articles confirm this stat, they show that food waste has actually increased over the past 35 years.
The food wasted in this country includes everything: produce unpicked in the field, food spoiled in transit, unsold meat in the market and even uneaten leftovers at restaurants. And of course, the spoiled food in your fridge.
1. Do a Basic Inventory each Week
We’ve all been there – pulling shriveled veggies out of the fridge. Culturing fuzzy life forms in our spaghetti sauce. It ain’t pretty and it feels terrible when we throw out pounds of food. It’s literally flushing our hard-earned money down the drain.
One of the best ways to avoid food spoilage is to get reacquainted with the food in your fridge. Do a basic inventory at least once per week.
- Make a list of what you have & spoil dates
- Move the oldest food to the front of the fridge
- Make sure food is properly wrapped/stored to extend shelf life
- Don’t overfill your fridge – less clutter means less waste
I’ve found that conducting an inventory helps me stay on top of food waste. When I’m aware of what I have at home, I’m also less likely to go out to dinner. It’s a huge money saver, either way.
2. Create a Menu Plan – and Stick with It!
Menu planning is not sexy but it’s another way to reduce your foodprint. To make it more fun, I pretend I’m an Iron Chef. The ingredients in my fridge and pantry are what I have on hand to create my award-winning meal. This turns a chore into a game, which is just what I need.
Top menu planning tips to consider:
- Pre-plan your meals each week
- Use your oldest / most perishable ingredients first
- Make your older ingredients the centerpiece of your meals
- Find unique ways to use ingredients (try sneaking veggies into existing dishes or explore new recipes)
- NEVER shop without doing a menu plan / inventory first
Menu planning has been very successful for my family. It’s both a time and money saver. Plus, you’ll end up with beautiful, healthy meals.
3. Keep a Fully Stocked Pantry
Surprisingly, a fully stocked pantry saves me the most from wasting food. As a baker, I have loads of dry goods in my pantry. These dry and canned foods have a super-long shelf life. I store them carefully so that they are safe from moisture, bugs, etc.
Whenever I have aging food, I know I can always create a hearty meal by pairing it with items from my pantry. Aging kale, gets thrown into a healthier mac and cheese dinner. Ripe bananas become banana bread. Stew meat is transformed into chili and homemade corn bread.
Pantry tips to think about:
- Try this pantry essentials guide for staples to keep in your kitchen
- Store foodstuffs properly – I use sealed bins and ziplock bags
- Buy in bulk to save money
- Include your pantry when doing your inventory & menu planning
- Grow fresh herbs in your garden to spice up meals
What items do you keep in your pantry for these situations? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
4. Limit your Shopping Trips
I love food shopping. Strolling the aisles looking for new products and fresh produce is one of my favorite things to do. However, the more I shop, the more food I tend to waste. When I shop impulsively, my basket ends up full of random products that do not fit together into healthy meals. And so produce goes unused, jars remain half-full, and my wallet suffers.
Limiting your shopping trips can help you be more thoughtful of what you’re buying each week. It will also save gas, reducing your carbon footprint.
Shopping trip ideas:
- Try to only shop 1-2 times per week
- Let menu planning shape your grocery lists
- But the freshest produce – for health and shelf life
- Support Community Supported Agriculture or a farmers market
What do you do to save money and not end up with a bunch of random food after a shopping trip?
5. Use Every Bit & Compost your Scraps
Another way I’ve found to reduce my foodprint is to be mindful of my scraps and discards.
If I roast a chicken, I also boil the leftover bones to make stock. Similarly, celery scraps, peels and other veggie bits can be turned into vegetable stock. Even the leftover rice from your Chinese take-out can become fried rice dish at home!
Vegetable peels, egg shells and coffee grounds shouldn’t end up in your trash. Instead, turn them into compost to feed your garden. If you’re living in an apartment, find a local community garden or even a neighbor who will take your food scraps.
Composting ideas to think about:
- Local cities often offer free / inexpensive compost bins
- Take free composting classes with your city to learn how
- Here’s a list of compostable foods
- Remember to balance kitchen scraps with leaves and yard trimmings (this is a tough one for us)
These 5 tips to reduce your foodprint have worked for me. There are many other ways to take control of your food waste, and encourage others, too. Please, let me know your tips and ideas in the comments. If we all do a little, it will add up to a lot!