You Might Be Throwing Away $1,800 A Year In Food Waste!
Have you ever thought about how much food you waste? I didn’t until I recently when I took part in a Rethink Food Waste Challenge run by my local environmental center.
Did you know:
- The average family of 4 in the US spends $150 each month on food they throw away.
- In the US 40% of food goes to waste, at a total cost of $218 billion (yes, with a "b") each year.
- At the same time that we are wasting all this, over 40 million Americans do not have access to enough food
- In the UK, it’s £11.8 billion of food that is wasted each year.
- Globally, about 1/3 of the food that we grow is lost or wasted – that’s about 1.3 billion tonnes of food.
- 10% of our global energy supply and 25% of fresh water is used to produce food that is never eaten.
I was shocked by these numbers, but taking part in the Rethink Food Waste Challenge really helped me to take positive, proactive steps to reduce the Frugalitude household’s food waste.
The Rethink Food Waste Challenge ran for 4 weeks. I'm still waiting to hear how much we reduced our waste during that month, but between the first and second weeks we reduced our food waste by 40%! All it took were some simple changes - check them out below.
Collect data on the food that you throw away
The first week of the challenge was Do As You Normally Do. We had to keep to our usual routine and not make any changes except collect and weigh all wasted food.Now I’m not suggesting that you weigh the food like we did, but it is very useful to understand the kinds of food that you routinely throw away. Once you have a clearly picture on your specific food waste, then you’ll be better prepared to know which tips will help you the most.
Just to be clear, wasted food is not the scraps that cannot be eaten – e.g. bones, egg shells, etc. Wasted food that was edible at some point like:
- Edible peelings like carrot or apple
- Moldy bread
- Sour milk
- Rotten fruit or vegetables
- Leftovers that have gone bad
Clear out old food from your pantry, fridge and freezer
It may seem strange to suggest throwing away food in a list of tips on how to reduce food waste, but there is a good reason for it. This old food is food that you will never eat. Perhaps it’s moldy or sour or way past it’s use by date (I may have thrown out a couple of things where the use by date was over 4 years ago). Getting rid of it now will help you in the long-term. You can’t feel virtuous about how much food you no longer wasting when that rotting lettuce or moldy cheese is still there, mocking you!
If you're cleaning out your freezer, then you may also want to do #5: Inventory your Freezer at the same time.
Plan your meals for the week
Taking some time to plan your meals for the upcoming week has a number of great benefits:
- Saves money and time: as you can plan meals using ingredients you already have, make enough to last a few days, and factor in any leftovers and how they will be used up.
- Eliminates stress: who enjoys getting home after a long, hard day and then having to decide what to cook? Especially with hungry family members wanting to know when dinner will be?
- Helps prevent unhealthy choices: when we're tired and hungry, our willpower is low and that is when we can succumb to less than ideal meal choices. With a meal plan you've already decided what to eat, which reduces the risk of eating unhealthily.
You can find many different meal planning templates on the web, just google it. But if you don't have time, here's a simple one to get you started.
Create an “Eat First" basket in your fridge
Organize your fridge and add all food that needs to be eaten soon to an "Eat First" basket. Make sure you check this basket first when snacking or cooking or meal planning.
If you are unsure how to use up what's in your "Eat First" basket then there are plenty of sites that will help you find recipes based on your ingredients. Here's a few:
Like the cute label in the photo? Then print one for yourself here.
Inventory your freezer
Freezers, especially the big chest freezers, can become a black hole of old food. We put frozen food and leftovers into them with the best intentions of using them at a later date but as time goes by it's easy to forget what we have.
So now is the time to change that! Take an inventory of everything you have in your freezer.
Like the meal planner there are plenty of freezer inventory templates available on the Internet. Here’s one to get you started if you don’t have the time to search one out for yourself. It’s very simple to use just add:
- Expiration date or date the food was added to the freezer, whichever is more useful to you
- Quantity. There are 5 quantity columns so you can easily update the amounts without having to rewrite the whole list.
Before buying, shop your fridge and pantry
So you have your meal plan for the week and your list of what you need but before you go out to shop take a look at what you already have:
- Check what’s in your Eat First basket
- Look at your freezer inventory
- Check your pantry
Buy only what you need
One great way is to make a list…and stick to it as much as you can!
But be wary of sales or bulk deals – especially for produce. Buying root vegetables like potatoes or onions in bulk is OK because they will last well if kept in a cool, dark place. As for greens like lettuce or soft fruits, buy less of these unless you know that you’ll use them.
Remember: if it gets wasted, it's not a bargain!
That said, sometimes you'll find a great deal that you can't turn down so it's good to have a plan on how you'll use it, and to make sure you have all you need for the recipe you have in mind. Before you go shopping, use your phone to take a “shelfie” of what you already have in your pantry. That way you'll know what you already have, and what else you'll need to buy.
Cook Bigger Batches
Cooking bigger batches of food ahead of time can be a life-saver during the week when you have less time. Soups, stews, pasta sauces are all great candidates, plus soups and stews can help you use up leftover meats and vegetables.
You can make a big batch and then divide it up into servings to either store in the fridge or freezer. When I add leftovers to the freezer I stick a bit of masking tape on the container with the date and what's in the container so I don't forget what it is and when I made it. Don't forget to add it to your freezer inventory too!
You can also get more creative and repurpose some dishes – for example a chicken soup could easily become chicken pot pie with a little thickener and a pastry crust.
Know how to store the food you buy
What’s the best way to store the food I buy? Should it be in the fridge or not? How long with it last? Can I freeze it? So many questions and the answers depend on what type of food it is. But don’t worry! Save the Food have a great guide on how to store all types of food.
Get creative to use up your leftovers
Over the course of the challenge month I found that despite being careful about what I bought I did have leftover food so it was fun to think up different ways to use it up.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Old bread = breadcrumbs or stuffing
- Bananas = banana bread or smoothies
- Leftover vegetables = add to soups, frittata, stir fries
- Cheese rinds = add to flavor soup
- Leftover meat = add to soups, stews, pies, stir fries
- Day-old rice = fried rice
If you have other great ways to reduce food waste please share as I would love to hear them.
One last thing before I go. For those of you that have kids, reducing food waste can be especially challenging. So you may want to check out some great tips from I Value Food, Little Sprouts and the Food Hero resources from Oregon State University.