Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste and Save Money
According to the USDA, between 30 and 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted. You might think that you personally don’t waste all that much food. Surely, it’s the farms, manufacturing plants, and grocery stores that contribute the most to food waste, right?
Households are the place where the largest percentage of food waste happens. In fact, the average person throws away around $1800 of food each year. While this is just an average, chances are that you are throwing away more food (and money) than you are aware of.
Impacts of Food Waste
Besides the financial impact, the three main concerns that food waste contributes to are greenhouse gases, energy waste, and water consumption.
While uneaten food can be composted, most uneaten food ends up in landfills instead. Due to the way landfills are set up food in landfills releases methane. This greenhouse gas has a negative effect on the climate.
From the energy necessary to run the equipment used to plant and harvest to the physical labor of the people who work on farms, producing food requires a large amount of energy. Once food leaves farms, there is additional energy used for processing, transporting, and selling food. When food is not consumed, all of this energy is wasted.
You probably already know that growing food requires water, but did you know that 80% of the water used in the U.S. is due to agriculture? You may remember learning that it is important to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth in order to save water, but preventing food waste has an even bigger impact on conserving water.
Preventing Food Waste in Your Own Home
Whether you’re motivated by financial or environmental reasons (or both), there are some relatively easy ways to reduce your contribution to the food waste problem.
You don’t even have to make drastic changes like composting. Although once you become more aware of the food you bring into your home and the impact that wasting that food has, then you might begin to consider that step in the future.
Clean out and organize your fridge
I know, we just said that throwing out food is a problem, but listen. If there are items in your fridge that have already gone bad, then you need to get those items out of the fridge so that you can see and use the good stuff that is in there.
Once you can see all of the items, group like items together. Keep dairy with dairy, veggies with veggies, and so on. If possible, have a shelf dedicate to leftovers. When you are able to see the same kinds of items together, it is easier to realize that you need to use up that last scoop of sour cream before opening a new container.
Plan your meals in advance
You don’t have to plan out an entire week of meals at once. In fact, overplanning can lead to food waste. We’ve all gotten too ambitious and ended up with half a week of meals that never even made it out of the fridge.
Instead, look at the food items you already have in your kitchen. Start planning around the ones that will go bad soon and decide on a few meals to make the following week.
It helps to have one simple meal that you make every single week so that you have one fewer decision to make. Be aware of your comfort level in the kitchen. Unless you always cook 2–3 new recipes every week, don’t think that you will suddenly be able to maintain that enthusiasm just because you planned those meals earlier.
Take a list when you shop for groceries
We all know that we should make a list before going grocery shopping. It saves time at the grocery store and helps prevent impulse purchases which saves you money.
In addition, making a list can also keep you from forgetting the ingredients you need to make meals. If you forget an ingredient you need for dinner, then you’re likely to change your plans and let some of that food you bought go to waste.
Don’t worry about keeping up with a pencil and paper list. Instead, use the notes app on your phone. You can easily add items when you think about them and you can even share your notes so that other members of your household can add items.
That list can also potentially allow someone else to go grocery shopping instead of you. Priorities.
Use your freezer
You can freeze most foods in order to extend their shelf-life. While most foods need preparation in order to be stored in the freezer for long periods, you can use a resealable plastic bag to temporarily store food that is about to go bad.
This strategy works well for bread and for leftovers that you know you won’t get to right away. For these items, you can simply reheat the food a few days later.
You can also use your freezer more frequently to prevent waste in the first place. Let’s say you want to eat more fruits and vegetables but notice that these types of foods tend to sit in your fridge until they rot.
Instead of convincing yourself that you have to buy fresh produce, buy frozen produce instead. Produce from the freezer section of the grocery store is frozen soon after the produce is harvested and usually retains as much, if not more, nutritional value as the fresh produce you would find in the grocery store.
Keep an easily prepared meal on hand
You may have the best intentions at the beginning of the week, but by Thursday it’s a different story. Have an easy-to-prepare dish on hand for the times when you don’t want leftovers again.
You can keep a frozen pizza or another simple item like a can of soup tucked away for these times. While the oven preheats or the stove warms up, you can scan through the kitchen for other ingredients to supplement your dish.
Chop up that single chicken tender left from Tuesday and add it to your pizza. Or, toast those last two pieces of bread and serve them with your soup. The key is that this dish has to require no thought or effort so that you can put a few minutes into using up at least one other item before it goes bad.
If you’re very ambitious you could, of course, cook several freezer meals designed to be stored away for these times. I have yet to be that motivated, but if you are, I applaud you.
Try a pantry challenge
A pantry challenge is a period of time where you eat only from what you have at home. Usually, pantry challenges focus on saving money, but the added bonus is that trying a pantry challenge also cuts down on food waste.
You can modify a pantry challenge to work for whatever situation you are in. Some people set a goal for a month or more, but you could choose to try for a week or even a few days.
A pantry challenge is not for everyone. However, if a pantry challenge sounds up your alley, two of the popular ones are The Pantry Challenge from Good Cheap Eats and The Shelftember Challenge from Shelf Cooking.
Give yourself grace
It is almost impossible to completely eliminate all food waste in your household. Remember that your goal is to reduce your food waste.
Sometimes you will forget to use up food, and it will rot. Sometimes you will go to the grocery store without a list and throw every item that looks good into your cart.
Don’t worry if there are circumstances that make it difficult for you to take certain steps to reduce food waste. Just do what you can when you can.
Let’s Talk Trash — This resource is part of the USDA’s Choose My Plate website. It features practical steps to help consumers be more mindful about their food.
Food: Too Good to Waste Toolkit — Developed by the EPA, this resource covers everything from tracking how much food you are wasting in the first place to how to best store specific fruits and vegetables.
Savethefood.com — Aimed directly at consumers, this site offers a wealth of information. You can plan portions for dinner parties, build meal plans, and explore recipes to use up your less-than-desirable foods.
Foodprint.org — Once you are ready to explore food waste in society overall, this is your resource. Some information is aimed just at households and individuals. However, the site explores broader issues within agriculture and the food system.