March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Go Further with Food”, which gives everyone an opportunity to make positive food decisions (in whatever ways they can) for healthier living. This year I want to be more intentional about reducing food waste because on average we waste about 40% of the food we buy (which is a LOT) + that’s a lot of hard earned money down the drain and more crap into our landfill. I live a pretty urban lifestyle meaning I don’t grow my own food, I drive my car more than I walk, and use way more packaged products (and don’t always recycle) than I’d like to admit but I don’t want those things to stop me from taking small, practical steps to reduce food waste. For some people or community, it could be a part of their lifestyle already but for some of us, it’s a work in progress and I want to be more conscious about these choices I make everyday. I hope you find these 5 Practical Ways To Reduce Food Waste to be a good reminder and a resource for you and your family too.
Be Intentional and Realistic about Food Purchase (or free samples)
This is probably an area I struggle with the most because I am always excited to try new products and also being a food blogger, I get 2-3 packages almost every week. 90% of the time, I like and use the products I get but there has been times that I just don’t care for it. A lot of times I am like ….ehhh it’s free I don’t care for it; not a very proud thing to say or feel but that’s the reality. Over the years, I have become more selective about receiving free samples but again, it’s a work in progress. Staying on top of meal planning has certainly helped me reduce impulse purchases and be more realistic about what I need vs. me blindly buying 3 different herbs, 5 lbs of potatoes and letting it go to waste by the end of the week. It may be cost-effective to buy things in bulk sometimes but for perishables, it is best to stick with what I need instead of wasting it or not using it because it’s not at it’s peak.
Besides your home, you can help reduce food waste at restaurants by being more mindful about ‘free’ chips, bread basket, condiment packets etc. Not trying to ruin your eating out experience or prevent you from your bread basket but just be mindful about reordering them just because it’s free. Same goes for buffet-style restaurants. It is tempting to fill your plates with food (and more food) because you’ve paid for all-you-can-eat but instead of piling on food just because you can, be realistic with your food decisions. Hotel and buffet style restaurants are responsible for about 40% of total food waste and only 10-15% of leftovers can be donated or repurposed due to food safety guidelines. I am sure hospitality industry is actively trying to solve the food waste problem but as a consumer, we can do our part by wasting less, which in turn may prompt the service staff to cook less, which may ultimately lead to less food waste. I am sure the equation is more complicated than that but that’s how I plan on contributing towards less food waste while dining out.
Shop your Pantry & Refrigerator More Often
I don’t even have an actual pantry but boy, my cabinet is always overflowing with different beans, pasta, rice, sauces, canned goods and I am sure yours is too. It’s a tedious task to go through different bins and dig behind half used pasta boxes to see what else is in your pantry but you will be surprised. It’s the same thing with my fridge – different sauces, frozen veggies, meat etc. Some weeks, I buy food enough for 3-4 days and leave it up to my creative kitchen skills to make whatever I can with whatever I have. It’s not always successful but it’s a good exercise to rotate your inventory & utilize food that you already have on hand rather than adding more stuff to your overcrowded pantry.
Be Creative with What You Have
Cooking is way more forgiving than baking, which is why I prefer cooking over baking most days of the week. If a recipe calls for a certain ingredient and you don’t have it – instead of rushing to the store for 1 tsp of certain spice or flour, see if you can substitute. Unless it’s the main ingredient, I recommend you get creative with what you have or shop the bulk bin section to buy a small amount rather than a box. Some substitution I use regularly include :
Greek yogurt for sour cream in equal amount in baking as well as for dips and toppings
I use chicken and vegetable broth interchangeably depending on what I have on hand
1 tablespoon fresh herb = 1 teaspoon dried herb
I use honey and maple syrup in granola, granola bars, and bites interchanebly
For making roux or thickening, I use whatever flour I have on hand in equal amount
Here are more substitutions you can use but again, remember that depending on the recipe and how the ingredient is being utilized, it may alter the final result of the dish!
Learn Dates (what they truly mean) & Proper Food Storage
Unless it’s meat, I loosely follow expiration, use by and sell by dates at home. Obviously, if you are in a healthcare or food service environment, there are food safety guidelines you need to follow because you are serving a diverse audience – immune compromised, kids, elderly etc so you should be extra precautions but at home – I go by my sight and smell to determine if something is really expired. USDA (Food Safety and Inspection Service) oversees a lot these date regulations and here are some common ones we see on food packaging and what they really mean. Just know that product dating is voluntary and manufacturers provide dating to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality. Except for infant formula, dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety and are not required by the Federal law.
A “Best if Used By/Before” means when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date. You may notice a lot of “managers discount” or “store special” on items that are close to “sell by” date because once it’s past that date, they remove it from the shelf and goes to trash.
A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
Storing food properly in the fridge, freezer, and pantry helps increase it’s shelf life and stay fresh longer esp with produce. Fruits such as bananas, apples, and tomatoes give off natural gases as they ripen which can make other nearby produce spoil faster so it is best to store them separately. If you think you won’t use all the meat that week, freeze it for later use. I came across this really informative site via Oregon State University that goes over food storage in more detail.
Donate and Compost
If you follow these 4 steps above religiously, you won’t need to donate but if you have excess of food you know you won’t need, please donate it to your local food bank, church, homeless shelter etc. Depending up the donation center, most of them don’t accept food with dented cans, or expired date so be mindful of the expiration date. I’d suggest you check with your local food bank to find about the specifics.
Composting may not be practical for everyone but if you have a backyard, it’s totally doable. I have every intention to make stock with vegetable scraps but it never happens, so instead I have a counter top compost bin (it’s a separate trash can for just vegetable and fruit scraps) to help me collect my weeks scraps then transfer it into compost bin in the backyard. It’s a great way to redirect your trash from ending up in a landfill into your backyard + helps nourish your soil free of cost. Many of the landfills in North America is filling up very quickly so if possible so composting alone can help divert 30% of that trash away from the landfill. .
I’d love to hear your thoughts on food waste….What are some of your challenges? Do you have some practical tips on reducing food waste? Please share away.