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While it's common for many people to trash a few pieces of produce that have almost reached their best-by date, that seemingly insignificant habit is having a major impact on global food waste.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30 to 40% of America's food supply is wasted each year — which amounts to over 133 billion pounds of food. Not only does this habit squander good eats and billions of dollars, it also contributes to excess garbage that releases methane, a greenhouse gas known to contribute to climate change.
But all is not lost. Small steps add up to big rewards when it comes to cutting back on food waste. Obviously helping to save the planet is great but, as an added bonus, by cutting down on waste, you'll likely save a ton of money. According to Save the Food, a family of five can save up to $1,875 a year by following a few simple steps to cut down on food waste.
Whether making an environmental impact is on the radar for Earth month or coupon cutting just isn't, well, cutting it, here are five easy ways to save food — and money — from being wasted.
1. Stop throwing away produce peels, skins and bones
Most fruits and veggies have edible peels. Even ones we usually throw away, like banana, kiwi, citrus and watermelon, can be used to flavor recipes. Plus, many fruit peels — like the skin of an apple — have additional health benefits not found in the flesh.
Bones from beef, chicken or even fish can be used to create homemade broths (which is one of Ina Garten's favorite ways to enhance the flavor of any dish) for soups and stews. These broths can be frozen for months, making them a handy way to extend the life of any meal.
2. Use a countertop composter
My mom used to collect food scraps in a milk carton, but that stunk up our whole kitchen. I resisted saving my food scraps inside for quite some time. I thought it would be messy and attract fruit flies, but today’s countertop composters actually make it easy to turn everything from eggshells to corn husks into compost that can be used in the garden or picked up by your local municipality alongside the trash and recycling.
I finally got on board with composting on New Year’s Day in 2018 and quickly fell in love with my little green countertop pal, which cost me less than $30.
- Full Circle Fresh Air Odor-Free Kitchen Compost Bin, $25 (usually $30), Amazon
It doesn't smell at all and the more I used it, the better I felt. The hardest thing was just reminding all of my family members to put their fruit peels into the compost instead of the trash. However, now that everyone's in the habit, we've definitely been cutting down on how much trash we accumulate each week.
Composting has helped reduce the actual amount of trash we create by about 30% each day. For our family of five, that means one less bag of garbage has to be taken to the curb each week.
And food scraps aren’t the only things you can compost. You can also throw in uncoated paper plates, dead flowers, house plants and yard clippings.
3. Take a fridge inventory every week
I often used to place my online grocery order before taking stock of what I already had in the house. While many of us go shopping for things we think we need, it definitely pays to keep track of what you already have. I often ordered duplicate items, which caused our fridge to be jam-packed and harder to navigate. It takes a little extra time, but taking a quick inventory before shopping can dramatically cut down on waste.
In addition to buying too many extras, you can move older items and dinner leftovers to the front of your fridge — which will encourage you to use them instead of waste them. Next, keep track of what you have by using clear, resealable containers, as opposed to opaque ones. I learned the hard way that if I can’t easily see what’s in a container, I’ll rarely remember what’s inside until it becomes an unrecognizable moldy lump.
An easy way to track staples is with a simple list in the notes app on your phone or with a dry erase board on your fridge. Older kids can also help you keep track of their favorite foods, as well as items your family usually keeps on hand, such as eggs, milk, cheese and fruit.
4. Plan out your meals
Meal prepping has become quite trendy recently with numerous instagrammers turning their pre-portioned salads and weekly food hauls into drool-worthy posts. While there are plenty of benefits to meal prepping (including helping folks stick to healthy portions), it can also help to cut down on food waste because you’re making a plan for every ingredient you shop for.
If prepping each meal of the day feels too daunting, try shooting for one a day.
Not sure where to start?
Before your next grocery shopping trip, take 10 minutes to review your week. Figure out how many nights you have time to cook and how many nights you’ll be out, then plan specific meals for your cooking nights. Even if you can't prep an entire meal, you can certainly make some headway by getting certain ingredients prepped in advance, such as whole grains, vegetables or other sides.
5. Make friends with your freezer
Didn't get around to making that pan-seared salmon recipe you shopped for on Monday? Don't fret. Almost anything can be frozen, as long as the food isn’t past its use-by date. Here's a short list of some surprising things you can freeze:
Avocados: Don't be afraid to buy more than you can immediately use. If your family loves them and you spot a sale, just buy a bunch. At home, just take out the fruit, mash it in a bowl, stir in a bit of lemon or lime juice, and place it in a zip-top bag (don't forget to squeeze out all the air before sealing). Depending on how they're stored, frozen avocados should last up to four months.
Butter: If you just know you're not going to be baking any time soon and you have plenty of butter in the fridge, just pop a few wrapped sticks into the freezer. If you've already unwrapped it, simply wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then pop the butter into a zip-top freezer bag for an extra layer of protection before putting it into the freezer. Well-stored butter can actually last up to six months.
Pasta: Leftover cooked pasta doesn't do that well in the fridge past a day or so. If you'd like to keep it longer, freeze it. Once your leftover pasta is cool, transfer it to an airtight freezer bag. When you're ready to eat it, simply microwave it or toss it with some hot tomato sauce or pesto.
Before you store anything for the long haul, use a black permanent marker to write the date you put it into the freezer. Use it to write on aluminum foil, zip-top plastic bags and reusable plastic containers. Be sure to include what the food is and whether it's raw or cooked.