No one likes wasting food, especially when food prices are high and landfills continue to increase. It feels like a necessity to use every ingredient we buy (or maybe grow).
But about 40% of food in the US is wasted, according to estimates from the nonprofit Feed America and other sources. That figure includes the surplus from industry, supermarkets, restaurants and our own kitchens.
There are many ways to reduce the amount of food wasted in your home, and many are downright simple. Every step in the right direction is progress and the results are satisfying on many levels.
A good place to start is making a meal plan and buying only the foods you have specific plans for. Make a shopping list and avoid impulse purchases that could languish in your fridge.
While cooking, remember Intentional Leftovers, one of my favorite cooking mantras. If you plan on using those extra cooked chicken breasts in a Mexican Tortilla Soup recipe, or those extra meatballs in a sub sandwich, you’ll keep them from sitting around aimlessly and thrown away days later.
When cutting or peeling vegetables, wash them first. That way you can save those peels and leftovers to make stock. Just keep a zip-top freezer bag on the counter while you’re cooking and add them to the bag along with herbs that have lost their quirkiness. (Don’t throw in carrots, that would make your stock gritty).
Store the bag in the freezer, and when it’s full, pour the contents into a saucepan, add water to cover, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until the stock has taken on its full flavor before you go press.
This is also a good idea for pieces of poultry or pieces of red meat. Store them in separate, labeled freezer bags and use them as a supply when you’ve saved enough.
If you have a lot of knick-knacks in the fridge, consider making a flexible, inexpensive dish that makes good use of bits and pieces of different foods. Frittatas, stir-fried rice, omelets, quesadillas, and soups are adaptable dishes that allow you to use things like a cup of leftover steamed broccoli, a handful of shredded cheddar, a little pesto, some mushy scallions.
See if there is a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) in your city. Those organizations, usually run by farmers, provide seasonal, locally grown produce and other items at a lower cost. You have to be willing to use what you’re given, so flexible cooking is the name of the game here.
In recent years, a number of companies have sprung up selling “ugly” produce, i.e. fruits and vegetables that are too large, too small, or too irregularly shaped to be attractive in traditional markets. These items are usually priced cheaper than their more pristine counterparts. Misfit Markets and Imperfect Foods are two examples.
Organize your fridge and pantry so you can see what you have and don’t throw out things you didn’t know were there. It’s so daunting to throw out food that you simply forgot about until it was too late. Store highly perishable items, such as fish or berries, in plain sight and use them quickly.
Do a little research on expiration dates. For example, if a food has an expiration date, that doesn’t mean you should throw it away on that day. It usually means the clock is ticking, but even items like eggs or dairy can usually last a few days or more past their sell-by date.
An expiration date is also not a definitive sign that the food has spoiled. Many items can be safely consumed for weeks after that date, with no noticeable reduction in quality. If anything looks or smells rotten, toss it, but don’t read those dates as immutable.
Be sure to store your food smartly to slow down spoilage and reduce waste. There are plenty of reusable storage options – containers, wraps, etc. – on the market. Many focus on a specific type of food, such as vegetables, berries, herbs, or cheeses.
Label anything in your refrigerator that is not easy to identify.
Another great way to ensure food waste doesn’t end up in landfills. There are many good home compost bins available; find one that fits into your kitchen ecosystem.
If you live in a city and have no way to use your compost, find a place to drop it off, perhaps at a local farmer’s market. The farmers who sell at the market often take the compost to use on their farm, completing a nice eco-cycle.
Many cities and towns now offer compost delivery or collection points. Some provide smart compost bins at various locations, where compost is regularly collected and used to beautify green spaces.
Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at https://themom100.com/. She can be reached at [email protected].
For more AP food stories, visit https://apnews.com/hub/recipes