Updated: Nov 19, 2022
So you can eat more for less money
If you've ever tossed out a container of yogurt approaching its date, discarded veggies that have gone limp, or thrown out a salad that's just starting to turn a bit brown around the edges, you're not alone. While food waste is a worldwide phenomenon, the U.S. is a significant contributor.
The food we throw away in the U.S. fills up landfills more than anything else! Up to 40% of the U.S.'s food supply goes to waste. That's almost 20 pounds of food per person every month.
It's true that food is wasted at every level, from farm to fork. Farms, manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants all waste some of their food, but household waste accounts for about 43% more than all the food services combined! Shocking right?
Before diving into the solutions, let's discuss the benefits of reducing waste.
⌛ Saves time
Leftovers may not be the most glamorous meals, but they allow you to cook once and eat twice. As a result, you don't have to spend so much time deciding what new meal or snack to make and then preparing it. Plus, leftover meals mean less time in the kitchen and less stress.
No one wants to spend money on something they're not going to use, yet the average American family of four wastes about $1,600 per year on produce. Imagine what you could do with that money by simply buying what you need and are going to eat without unnecessary excess.
🌎Saves the environment
Throwing food away wastes not only the water and energy that went into all the steps needed to get the food to you, but when it's in a landfill, food waste releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 95 percent of discarded food ends up in landfills instead of the compost.
Your Food Waste Solutions
1 - Freeze food and enjoy your leftovers
Sometimes we buy or make too much food to eat in one day. As a nutritional practitioner, I don't suggest forcing yourself to eat more than you need to reduce food waste. Instead, store uneaten food in a sealed container in your fridge or freezer to enjoy it another time as a leftover.
Leftovers can save time and money when you're super busy because you can quickly take a meal out of the fridge or freezer without spending time and money preparing or buying a whole new meal.
🧑🍳 Pro tip: Pack up and store perishable food within 1-2 hours if it's been sitting at room temperature.
2 - Know your dates
Food is thrown away most often because people believe it has spoiled. Manufacturers often use different dates on their packages, which can make determining the freshness of food confusing; therefore, the U.S. FDA is recommending the use of:
"Best if used by" describes the quality of the food (not its safety); the food may not taste or perform as expected, but it's still safe to consume as long as it is stored properly.
"Expires on" is mainly reserved for infant formulas which should not be used beyond that date.
3 - Don't discard the "imperfect" or "ugly" food
Food is often discarded because it isn't pretty enough for sale. Looking for imperfect foods or ones that are approaching their best by dates helps to reduce waste. Some grocery stores even put these gems on sale, but many of these foods can still be used in smoothies, soups, and baking. Of course, check to ensure the imperfect foods are still safely edible and not spoiled; then, prioritize freezing or eating these foods first.
4 - Share extra food
If you have food approaching its prime, think about having friends over for dinner or bringing a dish to work to share with coworkers.
Another great way to use up food is to locate a food bank or shelter in your area and see what food they accept. If you have extras of those, donate them.
5 - Maximize your fridge and freezer
Be sure to keep an eye on the food that may be reaching the end of its useful life in the refrigerator and freezer by bringing the ones close to their best buy date to the front of the shelves, so you grab them first.
👩🏻🍳 Pro tip: Keep your fridge set to a maximum temperature of 40°F and your freezer to 0°F or lower to keep your food fresh as long as possible.
6 - Start composting or use organic collection programs
The U.S. EPA estimates that just 4.1 percent of wasted food is composted, so composting is a vast opportunity. That is a great place to start if you have a backyard and can compost food scraps to make nutrient-rich soil.
7 - Use a grocery list and meal plan
Whether you make the plan yourself or invest in one that works for you, a method for your meals is a great way to reduce your food waste and stretch your dollar. That's because when your meals are planned out, you can create a grocery list of the foods you need for that plan. Double-check your pantry, fridge, and freezer before adding something to your grocery list. Stick to the list when you're out shopping, so you buy only what you need and plan to eat.
Meal planning can help you create substantial and sustainable changes for your health. For example, a recent study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine looked at people who joined a weight loss program. They found that participants who planned more meals lost more weight than those who planned fewer meals.
For the skimmers!
By reducing food waste, you can save time and money, reduce our environmental impact, and even build relationships and communities. It truly is a win-win-win situation.
One of the best ways to tackle this problem is by using a meal plan. Meal plans can guide your grocery list and reduce the amount of extra food purchased. Suppose you find it challenging to create healthy dishes that fit within your goals or need help putting your planner together; I'd love to help you out. Click here to schedule a free consultation.
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Food waste. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sustainability/food-waste/
Hayes, J. F., Balantekin, K. N., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., Jackson, J. J., Ridolfi, D. R., Boeger, H. S., Welch, R. R., & Wilfley, D. E. (2021). Greater Average Meal Planning Frequency Predicts Greater Weight Loss Outcomes in a Worksite-Based Behavioral Weight Loss Program. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 55(1), 14–23. https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kaaa021
RTS. (n.d.). Food waste in America in 2022. https://www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2019, May 23). Confused by date labels on packaged foods? https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/confused-date-labels-packaged-foods
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2022, February 17). How to cut food waste and maintain food safety. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/how-cut-food-waste-and-maintain-food-safety
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2022, February 17). Tips to reduce food waste. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/tips-reduce-food-waste