Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sponsors National Nutrition Month, an education and information campaign that focuses on the importance of a healthy diet, making informed food choices, and engaging in physical activity. This year’s theme is “Go Further with Food,” with a focus on finding ways to reduce food waste.
The United States Department of Agriculture defines food waste as an edible item that goes unconsumed. This includes:
- Unfinished meals at home or in restaurants
- Purchased and uneaten food at home
- Food discarded from groceries stores for the way it looks
- Food that went unpurchased by its “best by” date.
In 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report concluding that the United States throws out nearly 40 percent of the food that we grow, raise, and cook. That’s billions of pounds of food thrown away each year in America.1 Consumers are the number one contributor of food waste in landfills. We throw out roughly 19 percent of vegetables that we buy and 14 percent of fruit. Food waste has a negative impact on the environment, including wasted resources like fresh water. Additionally, landfills are responsible for 20 percent of all methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Food waste affects us on a personal level as well. We lose money and nutrients when food is tossed out, whether “plate waste” or spoiled. Here are seven realistic ways to reduce food waste at home.
1. Plan Your Meals and Buy Only What You Need
Before you head out to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week. It’s easier than ever with our handy dandy Meal Planner. Check out what is already in your pantry and freezer and plan your meals around those items—it will cost you less and you’ll use what you already have. That’s a real win-win.
2. Save and Reinvent Your Leftovers
“Cook once eat twice,” is a motto to live by. Dinner leftovers can make a delicious lunch the next day. In fact, many dishes taste better the next day when the flavors have had time to meld. Getting creative with leftovers can transform meals into soups, frittatas, or sandwiches. If you’ve made too much or you’re cooking for one, you can freeze your leftovers for a simple defrost-and-eat meal in the future.
3. Store Food Properly
Fresh fruits and veggies ripen at different times and in different ways. Avocados, tomatoes, whole watermelon, peaches, and bananas don’t require refrigeration. Potatoes, onions, and garlic can last up to a month when stored in a cool dark place. Don’t store the onions and potatoes together, however, because gases from the onions will speed up sprouting in potatoes. For more storing tips, check out this infographic.
4. Reduce Clutter in Your Fridge, Pantry, and Freezer
Not only is reducing clutter good Feng Shui, but it also avoids the out-of-sight-out-of-mind adage, which leads to moldy items in the back of the fridge. Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. Store food using the FIFO (first in, first out) principle instead: place the oldest in the front and newest in the back, ensuring you (and your family members) reach for and use what’s oldest first. Also, keep in mind that freezing doesn’t mean it’s good forever: most soups and stews will stay good for 2-3 months. For more times, check out this list.
5. Know Your Labels
There are several different dates that can be on food items that are not necessarily expiration dates. “Use By,” “Best By,” and “Best Before” dates can be found on condiments that, if stored properly, can be safely eaten beyond the stamp date. “Sell By” dates are found on perishable food, such as meat and dairy products. These foods may be good for up to a few days past the date, as long as they were stored at a safe temperature.2
6. Donate Excess to Food Banks
Forty-one million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from; 16 million of whom are children and more than five million are seniors. Non-perishable items like canned tuna, dried beans, and cereals are always welcomed, but you can donate fresh food too. Find a food bank near you.
Food scrapes comprise 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away and can be composted instead. If you have a garden—or even some herbs in a planter—composting is an eco-friendly way to produce your own nutrient-rich soil. Learn about composting basics here.
Staying active (to avoid mindless eating) and being mindful of portion sizes will also help you go further with food this month, and all year long. For more information on National Nutrition Month as well as an endless supply of useful nutrition tips for all ages and health goals, visit www.eatright.org.