It is a common sight to see, opening the fridge and noticing old leftovers or produce that has gone bad before being able to eat them. These foods inevitably get tossed away and replaced, creating a lot of waste over time. Food waste is a global issue. In the United States, 30-40% of all food produced is wasted and 76% of food waste goes into landfills. (1) This is roughly $161 billion in food. (2) Although decrease food waste is challenging, our actions can help battle food waste. A benefit of reducing food waste at home includes saving money as well. When we only buy what we need, and only use what we bought, we decrease the amount of money wasted when having to throw away unused food. We have written a number of articles on ways to increase sustainability with our food choices. Now we will continue the conversation by discussing the actions we can take to prevent food waste at home, and share some fun recipes along the way.
Decreasing your food waste starts before you go to the grocery store. Make a plan! Print out some recipes you want to make and write down what ingredients you need. It sounds simple, and it is! This will also help in preventing too many impulse purchases. We’ve all been there- buying an interesting vegetable or item at the store without knowing how to use it, where it ends up going bad and having to be thrown out.
Once you are at the store, check out the produce section. Do you notice any fruits or vegetables that don’t look “perfect”? Maybe the carrot is a bit wonky, or the strawberries have interesting shapes. Instead of passing them over for their “perfect” counterparts, put the imperfect ones in your basket. They are equally as nutritious! This kind of product is often overlooked in grocery stores. Some grocers will throw these foods away before their customers can see them as they know those items won’t sell. By purchasing those items you ensure that they will not be discarded.
After coming home from the store there are a few tips to help maintain the longevity of your foods and to prevent food waste.
Storage: Make sure your produce is stored appropriately
o Store your herbs in the fridge with their stems in water
o Try cutting carrots and celery into sticks, storing them submerged in water (in the fridge).
o Pantry Produce includes garlic, onions, potatoes, and hard squash
o Countertop Produce includes, bananas, tomatoes, citrus fruit, and stone fruit
o Citrus can be stored on the counter but can last longer in the fridge
Check your inventory: It is easy to miss that lonely bag of lettuce in the back of the fridge if you can’t see it. Try reorganizing your pantry and fridge so that the oldest items are the most visible. (3-5)
Mix up Meal/Food Prep: Meal prep no longer means having to spend hours preparing meals for the entire week. As busy parents, that is a hard task. Meal/food prep can be as simple as washing and chopping produce to make for quick meals, or preparing an extra portion at dinner for lunch the next day.
Utilize your freezer: If you notice produce about to go bad, chop them up, put them into a freezer-safe container, and throw them in the freezer for later use. For examples: Did you make a big batch of soup? Storing batches in the freezer can make for a quick school night dinner (med news today)
Try making vegetable broth at home! You can save your vegetable scraps like carrot peels, onion skins, and more to create your vegetable broth that is customized to your flavors. (Healthline, med news today) It is an easy process. Check out this easy vegetable broth made from veggie scraps: https://frommybowl.com/homemade-vegetable-broth/
Use up those leftovers. They can be repurposed in a variety of ways. For example, have leftover rice? Make fried rice. Leftover macaroni noodles? Try a pasta salad.
Our favorite tip includes using one ingredient in multiple dishes throughout the week. This ensures that you not only use up the ingredients that you bought, but that your taste buds get something new!
One versatile ingredient is: Cauliflower
Cauliflower is a mild-tasting vegetable that takes on the flavors of whatever seasoning you use, making it one versatile veggie! Cauliflower is a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and B Vitamins as well as fiber and antioxidants. (6) Cauliflower also comes in a variety of fun colors: White, Purple, Green, and even Orange!
Some of our favorite ways to use cauliflower include:
- On their own as cauliflower bites. This is one of our favorite preparations and a fun alternative to chicken nuggets. https://www.instagram.com/reel/CNXSWX9l-ol/
- Blended in creamy soups
- Roasted and added as a side dish to your meals
- Sauteed with other vegetables for veggie tacos and more!
Make sure to check out @icookafterschool on Instagram for more ideas on using ingredients in multiple dishes and tips on preventing food waste!
About the Author: Kaitie Chakos is a dietetic student and intern currently earning a master’s degree in nutrition science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
1. “Be A Food Waste Warrior.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, https://www.worldwildlife.org/teaching-resources/toolkits/be-a-food-waste-warrior.
2. “Food Waste FAQs.” USDA, https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs.
3. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Tips to Reduce Food Waste.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/tips-reduce-food-waste.
4. Kubala, Jillian. “20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 20 Nov. 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste#TOC_TITLE_HDR_22.
5. “16 Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home, School, and More.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327325#organizing-the-kitchen-with-fifo.
6. Elliott, Brianna. “The Top 8 Health Benefits of Cauliflower.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 14 Apr. 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-cauliflower.