What if I told you that you could save money, eat healthier, and even help the environment with one easy hack?What if I told you that you could save money, eat healthier, and even help the environment with one easy hack?
It’s a promise that speaks to any eco-conscious, Pinterest-loving heart. But the problem is, this hack isn’t all that sexy. In fact it’s a bit cold. And wilted. And sitting in the back of your refrigerator.
Between the farm and the fridge, up to 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten. Waste occurs at every step – from produce left in the fields, to food spoiling during shipment, to grocery stores throwing out food that doesn’t get sold. But most food that goes uneaten is tossed after it reaches the kitchen.
Leftovers account for most of the edible food in our trashcan, according to a new study from the National Resources Defense Council. Over 1,100 households in New York City, Denver, and Nashville kept food diaries of what they tossed (and let researchers verify by digging through their trashcans). The researchers found that the average household tossed 8.7 pounds of food each week, 6 pounds of which was edible.
Our attitudes towards leftovers seem to change as soon as they hit the fridge. While the best of intentions might have us scooping that chicken and rice into the Tupperware, that goodwill seems to evaporate when we are deciding what to eat for lunch the next day. Participants in the study cited simply not wanting to eat leftovers as one of the most common reasons for tossing edible food. (Food having gone “moldy” or “spoiled” was cited as the main reason, which in my experience, is what typically happens to leftovers that you don’t want to eat).
Growing and buying food that never gets eaten has unfortunate consequences. The average household spends $120 a month on uneaten food. Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted each year. Producing that much wasted food creates 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases and requires as much water as the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, according to a report by the United Nations.
Despite the size of this problem, many of us are in denial about our food waste problem. Three out of four of the participants in the NRDC’s study believed they wasted less food than the average American. Seventy percent felt that they could do little to nothing to reduce the amount of food that they waste.
For parents who are familiar with the “Ugh, I don’t want leftovers again!” battle, this despondency might feel familiar. But there are a few easy ways to reduce the amount of food you throw away, and in doing so, benefit your budget, waistline, and the environment.
1 | Eat leftovers within four days
The Mayo Clinic recommends eating leftovers within three to four days. If you won’t eat it before then, freeze the remainder. Committing to finishing off leftovers by then will help keep mystery containers from growing mold in the back of the fridge. But take heart – you are unlikely to get food poisoning from old food. Food poisoning typically is caused by E. coli, salmonella or listeria contamination – not the microbes that cause food to rot.
2 | Save odds and ends for children’s lunches
Study respondents reported throwing out food because it was too little to save. But because young children are unlikely to eat more than a few peas anyway, it can make sense to save small portions for their lunches. Toddler serving sizes are only about a tablespoon, and its one less dish you have to prepare.
3 | Peel less
Potato peels and apple peels made up for a large portion of edible foods researchers found in participants’ trash cans. Peeling fruits and vegetables not only creates more work for you, but it also strips the food of its most fiber-filled part. Skip this step to create healthier meals with less work.
4 | Use clear containers
Kudos to you for reusing that old yogurt tub, but there’s no way you remember what you stored in it. Clear containers help you see at first glance what you have and what needs used up.
5 | (Actually) eat your fruits and vegetables
Produce made up for the second largest portion of edible food that researchers found. The irony here is that most of us still aren’t eating our suggested daily intake of fruits and vegetables. You are a lot less likely to waste a loaf of bread or cut of meat, so plan your meals around which vegetables need to be used up. You’ll be healthier too.
6 | Make stock
So your partner came home with a Costco-sized bag of celery and you aren’t sure how to use it before it goes bad. Try making a simple vegetable stock with celery, carrots, and onions that you won’t use before they go bad. You can also keep a bag in your freezer to throw odds and ends into – bell pepper tops, mushroom stems, celery leaves – and make stock from when it gets full. Cover vegetables with water, then simmer with bay leaves, herbs, salt and pepper for about thirty minutes. Strain and freeze.
7 | Make food that tastes better the next day
If you are stuck in a make-save-toss cycle, try making larger batches of food that tastes even better the next day. Chili, lasagna, stews, curries, and soups all fit this category. A day in the fridge gives the flavors a chance to meld and saves you from having to make dinner the next night.
8 | Don’t follow the recipe
Sure, the recipe calls for two carrots. But if you have three, go ahead and throw the last one in. Feel free to add mushrooms to your pot pie, or half a can of beans to your tacos. Maybe you’ll improve it, maybe you’ll never notice. Either way, the landfill thanks you.
9 | Get creative with odds and ends
Have a quarter can of pumpkin leftover from making pumpkin bread? Swirl a few tablespoons into applesauce or oatmeal. Whirl bread ends in a food processor and store the crumbs in the freezer for the next time you need bread crumbs. Just finished off a jar of salsa? Add some olive oil and lime juice, shake, and you have a spicy salad dressing. Throw cheese rinds into soup for a deeper flavor. Use up sour milk in pancakes (it won’t make you sick).
10 | Buy the ugly fruit and single bananas
A single banana is the ultimate wallflower of the produce aisle. Shoppers are much more likely to grab their bananas by the bunch, leaving the singles to get passed over and ultimately tossed. So scoop up any loose ones you can find next time you are at the store. Same goes funny shaped produce.
With a little conscious effort to use up what we are buying, we can save money, eat healthier, and help reduce greenhouse emissions and landfill waste.