Food waste has become a serious worldwide problem. Yearly, almost one third of all human food is wasted and the United States leads the pack. In the US, almost one half of produce is wasted. This totals 60 millions tons worth $160 billion of food. As an American, these numbers sadden me and as a human being, I want to do my part and do something about it. This article will provide some easy to follow tips and guide you on how to reduce food waste at home. You can just start with one tip and build from there.
Let’s start by understanding why Americans waste so much food. The number one reason is because food is cheap here and because it’s cheap, it’s undervalued. Also grocery stores throw away produce that isn’t “pretty” and people have gotten used to pretty produce. It’s normal for fruits and vegetables to have minor blemishes, but the average consumer now has little tolerance for it.
Produce that’s left to rot in landfills contributes to methane emissions which in turn, contributes to climate change.
As individuals, we also waste tons of food in our homes, but we can start today by reducing those amounts. Every little bit counts.
How to reduce food waste at home
1. Grow your own food
Starting a vegetable garden might seem like a daunting task to some, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start small with an indoor herb garden and grow from there. Even if you have a small home with no backyard or deck, you can grow plenty of food in containers. Take a look at this article for small space gardening for some tips.
People who grow their own food, value it more and waste less of it. Other added bonuses of growing your own food is that the food is healthier and tastes better. Plus gardening as a hobby has lots of mental and physical health benefits.
If gardening isn’t something you can or want to do, there are plenty of other things you can do to reduce your food waste at home.
2. Plan your meals
Planning your meals and keeping an accompanying grocery list will greatly help to reduce your food waste. Why? Well, going to a grocery store without a list and a plan can lead to over-buying and when you over-buy, you end up wasting money and wasting food. When you buy something that looks tasty or just because you have a coupon with no plan on what to do with it, that product could end up in your pantry or in the back of your fridge for years and end up going bad. I’ve been guilty of that myself.
You can start planning your meals by making a list of the meals you want to eat for the week. Keep it simple; you don’t need to eat a completely different meal every time you eat. I sometimes eat the same meal 3 or 4 times a week or more. Keeping it simple, makes it easy to keep up with. Next, make a list of accompanying groceries for each meal. You can do this manually or use an app. I myself keep a spreadsheet of my meals in Google Sheets so that I have access to it wherever I go.
Related: How to Eat Sustainably on a Budget
3. Keep inventory
Our next tip on how to reduce food waste at home is to keep inventory of the food you have at home. Ever go grocery shopping to buy something you think you need and discover you already have it when you return home? I’m sure most people have experienced this. This is why knowing what you have at home is important. When you have an up to date inventory list, you’ll know what to add to your shopping list. Again, you can use an app or a spreadsheet for this just like in tip 2. Keep separate lists for your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, cupboards and wherever else you keep food.
4. Don’t stockpile or clutter up your fridge and pantry
I know stockpiling food is big amongst preppers so I’ll add this exception… Don’t stockpile food without keeping inventory. If you can keep inventory so that the food doesn’t go to waste, then by all means, stockpile.
The reason this tip was added to the list is because I know people, relatives included, can buy a ton of groceries and over-pack their fridges and pantries and the food will get lost and go to waste. My grandparents, for example, grew up during the Great Depression and with the mentality that there might be another depression right around the corner. With this underlying fear came a separate stand-alone freezer that was filled to the top with meat. Enough food to feed an army and some of it went to waste because they didn’t keep inventory. This tip goes hand and hand with tip 3. Keep inventory if you plan to stuff your fridges and freezers with food. Also, make sure you have a plan to use the food you buy as in tip number 2.
5. Save and eat leftovers
Whether you have leftovers from dining out or a home-cooked meal, make sure you save it and eat it. Sometimes leftovers end up going bad because we forget we put them in the refrigerator. As a reminder that the leftovers exist, add them to your meal plan / schedule. For example, if you planned on eating a stir fry on Wednesday night and it’s the day before and you have have some leftovers, replace the stir fry on your schedule with the leftovers. It’s just a little reminder to eat it. It’s also a good idea to label and date your leftovers’ food container so you know exactly what’s in it and how old it is.
6. Give away food to gardeners, farms, and food banks
People don’t think twice about throwing away food scraps like fruit peels, egg shells, old coffee grounds, etc. That stuff is great for organic gardening compost. If you don’t garden yourself, consider giving away your food scraps to local organic gardeners. Contact any gardeners you may know or contact a community garden to see if they accept food scraps donations. Also ask what kinds of scraps they accept.
If you do plan on saving scraps to give away to a garden, make sure you have a compost bin with a lid and make sure it doesn’t get too full. Too much food overflowing and uncovered will attract fruit flies. To make it easy on yourself, get a small counter-top compost bin that needs to be emptied regularly.
Other types of high quality food that you could eat, but already have too much of can be donated to food banks to help with hunger relief.
Some farms also take food donations to help feed their livestock. Just do an internet search for food donations in your community and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of options.
7. Store your food properly
Properly stored food stays fresh longer, so make sure you know how to store all the food you bring into your home. If you’re unsure how to store your food properly, here’s an article with tons of tips: The Ultimate Food-Storage Guide