This month the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages us to achieve the numerous benefits healthy eating habits offer, but it also urges us to find ways to cut back on food waste. As dietitians we spend a lot of time educating others about the benefits of healthy eating but not as much time on food waste…but we should. Learning how to manage food resources at home can help us eat better AND save money which definitely helps us “Go Further with Food.”
It is estimated that the average household throws out about $640 of food each year. Among the most wasted foods being fruits and vegetables. Now I don’t profess to understand why, but I’m fairly certain most of us didn’t set out to buy and then toss food on purpose. So how does this happen?
According to multiple studies, Americans waste more food than any other country. The reasons include our obsession with the aesthetic quality of food, the easy access to inexpensive food and because, well, we don’t know any another way. So, in honor of National Nutrition Month, let’s try to find a way… to “Go Further with Food.”
The most common issues that influence food waste:
A 2013 report found by Harvard University and the National Resources Defense Council found Americans throw away tons of food simply because we’re confused about food expiration dates. You know what I mean, “sell by,” “use by,” or “best before.” If you are like me, you look at “expired” items and think “will it poison me or is it still ok?” Sometimes it’s hard to know, so we go with the old adage of “better safe than sorry” and toss it.
The expiration date solution? Treat those dates as guidelines. So, when in doubt, don’t automatically throw out! If a perishable product is well-expired, or if it looks or smells bad, then trash it. But if you have foods that are only a few days “past date” and they pass the smell test, they are likely to be just fine. Or, if you see a product is looming towards “the end” without a plan in sight, throw it in the freezer to prolong its life. Curious about the shelf life of food? Then check out http://www.eatbydate.com/
A 2016 study published by Ohio State University found that we waste more food when we buy in bulk or purchase items because they are on sale. Waste in bulk is attributed to spoilage and often boredom/lack of variety. That 10lb bag of sweet potatoes – hundreds of uses, maybe? Also, we are often more impulsive when we see items on sale. 10 for 10 avocados? Yes, please.
The overstocking solution? Unless you have a plan to use or freeze your bulk purchase before it expires, avoid buying perishables in bulk. Or, consider changing the way you buy perishables. Frozen and canned foods are just as nutritious as fresh, have a longer shelf life, and are often on sale. Just be sure to look for no salt added or sugar added (sorry had to add a nutrition note there.) And if you don’t have a plan, you don’t need that impulse purchase!
Each food item has an ideal environment to prolong its freshness and encourage its use. So, reducing food waste can be as simple as altering your food storage methods.
The storing solution? Store your purchases correctly – if you are uncertain how, check out https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/ . If you need long term storage, consider investing in high quality storage containers or a vacuum sealer. And remember, out of sight out of mind is not a good food storage tactic. So move the older products to the front when new groceries come home.
Failing to Plan
When we are shopping, we often grab foods we know are healthy with good intentions. But, without a plan, these intentions often go south.
Planning Solution? You guessed it, make a plan. Planning your meals will ensure you are eating balanced and that you are using what you have on hand and only buying what you need. Also, don’t forget to plan (or not plan) for leftovers. Over-preparation is a major contributing factor to excessive food waste. Planning for leftovers means a night off from cooking, but if you’re not storing properly or eating those leftovers, you may end up with half a pan of lasagna in the trash. We’ve all been there, and it’s a horrible feeling.
Did I describe any of the things happening in your kitchen? If so, then I hope these tips will help you “Go Further with Food” not just this month but every month. Because food saved is money saved.