Wanna hear my *favorite* game we play in my household? It’s called “Who Gets To Open The Pile Of Tupperware Full Of Rotting Food And Dump Said Food In The Garbage Disposal?” Cue screams of “Not It!” Anyone else play this game? Each month, you finally get around to cleaning out your fridge, your courage a little shaky, because you know what’s waiting for you: a month’s worth of leftovers or produce that have somehow gotten shoved to the back of the fridge where they’ve been able to become less like food and more like science experiments. It’s a game I grew up playing and have continued playing as a married adult. But, that game stops now.
Food wastage is a huge issue globally.
Did you know currently, approximately 1/3 of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year? A portion of that food is wasted at the production level (before it makes it into a store), but in developed countries, between a 25% to nearly 50% of the food wasted is at the consumer level (aka: people like me who play weird fridge games). But it’s not just food that’s being wasted. All of the resources, including water, land, energy, labor and money, that went in to producing the food is also wasted.
In addition to the wastage of resources, wasting food is also a big contributor to greenhouse gases. When the food biodegrades, it creates methane. Currently the levels of methane in the environment are relatively low, but “it’s ‘high global warming potential’ (21 times that of carbon dioxide) ranks it amongst the worst of the greenhouse gases.”
That’s plenty of encouragement to not continue contributing needlessly by wasting food.
Now, I love food. Like, a lot. In my house, we all have to eat the same meal, because otherwise I get food envy, even if I have the better meal. So, I thought this would be an appropriate place to venture in to zero waste. Here’s what I’ve done to get my food waste to nearly zero!
RECORD FOOD WASTE
To start out, I kept a running record of our food waste for two weeks. To avoid wasting paper, I used the app Evernote, which works great as a digital notepad (and so much more!). I wrote down the date, what food was thrown away, and how much. This helped me to see what foods got thrown away most often.
ANALYZE YOUR FINDINGS
When I finished the two weeks, I noticed a few patterns emerging. I noticed that I sometimes had a problem with leftovers, which surprised me because I thought we were pretty good about leftovers. Writing it down helped me to see that, though we are generally good about leftovers, there are certain types of leftovers that got ignored. Knowing this helped me to realize that I needed to either stop cooking certain meals, because we didn’t like them enough to eat the leftovers, or to only make enough for one meal and leave no leftovers. I also had a problem with certain types of produce, which helped me to change my habits with problem produce and reduce my waste.
MAKE A PLAN
Now that you know what your problem areas are with food waste, here are a few tips that can help you reduce food waste overall!
- Make Meal Plans. Whether you do it monthly or weekly, planning your food makes it easier for food to get used up because everything you buy will have a purpose and a designated time to eat them. I personally plan a whole month menu, including each meal and snacks. To make this process easier, I’ve written out lists of all our favorite breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks so I can just plug them into the menu. Before you meal plan, take a quick stock of your freezer, refrigerator and pantry. What ingredients do you already have that can be used up in this next meal plan?
- Use Grocery Lists. After you’ve made your meal plan, create a grocery list. Only write down things from your meal plan, ensuring that all foods have a plan to be eaten. Having a list before you go grocery shopping will ensure that you will actually use the food you buy, instead of impulse buying food and then later forgetting about it.
- Avoid Buying Random Ingredients. Another great thing about having a list of favorite foods is that they are tried and true and won’t leave you with random ingredients you will never use again. I used to be notorious for finding fancy new recipes, buying crazy ingredients and then we either didn’t like the recipe or it was too complicated so we never made that recipe again and had leftover crazy ingredients that didn’t get used up. I’m not saying don’t try new recipes. Just think twice. And if you do end up buying something that you don’t think you’ll ever use again, either pass it on to a friend who might, or use the app Olio that allows you to list food you’re giving away so others nearby can take it and use it.
- Store Produce Properly. I’ll add a personal tip I’ve learned about berries as well. After you buy them, carefully dump them out on the counter and separate the ones that are bruised or starting to go bad. Either eat these berries right away, freeze them for later, or set them on top so they will be used first. Often the bruised ones are on the bottom and they rot first and then begin rotting all the ones around them and you don’t even realize till a few days later.
- Smoothies, Soups, Stir Fry’s, Scrambled Eggs, Salads and Muffins. What do all of these have in common? They are fabulous for using leftover little bits or produce that are just about to turn. Smoothies and muffins are a great way to use fruit. Soups, stir fry’s, salads and scrambled eggs are a great way to use up any veggies, beans, cheese or meats. Get creative! We love eggs in our house, so we have Friday Egg night. We’ve put some weird, but surprisingly delicious combos together, like last nights carrot, kale, chard and green bean scrambled egg combo.
- Use Your Freezer. Freezers are fabulous for reducing food waste. If you can’t use up your produce fast enough, freeze it and use it for smoothies or soups later. If you have a Tupperware full of dinner from a few nights ago that you just can’t get to, throw it in the freezer. Got a lot of bread or muffins? You guessed it! Throw them in the freezer!
- Don’t Buy Shreds, Buy Blocks. This refers mostly to cheese. First off, pre-shredded cheese comes in packaging and if we can avoid that, we will! Second, when pre-shredded cheese goes bad, you have to toss the whole bag. When a block of cheese starts going bad, you can just cut off the moldy part and save the rest.
- Plan Your Leftovers. Don’t forget about leftovers when meal planning! In our house, we plan for leftovers for work days for lunch. Whatever isn’t used up during the week is eaten on the weekends. Or if you don’t like leftovers, just do your best to only make as much as you will eat. If you do end up with leftovers after all this, once again, you can use the app Olio to pass your food on to people who will appreciate it!
These are just a few tips I’ve learned to keep food waste at a low to zero. We went from wasting quite a bit, to pretty much only tossing foods that were already bad when we bought them (like the random bad strawberries, or weird onion or potato in a bag). We’ve actually saved a bit of money doing this as well, which is a nice added perk!
I challenge you to start tracking your food wastage today! What are the problem foods in your house? Do you already have food saving tips that work for your family? Share your advice with your fellow Waste Not Parents by commenting below!