Plan ahead to reduce food waste during the holidays

food gone bad
© USDA

If shoppers, cooks, and eaters all contributed a bit more forethought and planning to the contents of their kitchens, much of the 35 million tons of food wasted annually by Americans could be diverted from landfills to human nourishment.

Americans throw away 35 million tons of groceries annually at the hefty cost of $124 billion per year, according to The Atlantic. This terrible waste, which makes up 20 percent of landfill waste, is the result of poor planning. At one point, those groceries were purchased by shoppers who intended to eat them, but somehow they got forgotten, went bad, were cooked improperly, or failed to appeal as much at home as they did in the store.

Food waste is more than an ethical issue; it’s also an environmental one. “Landfills are the second largest human-related source of methane. Food is the second largest component of landfills. In a sense, we’re aiding global warming when we throw food in the garbage,” says author and food waste expert Jonathan Bloom.

Value of wasted food in billions of U.S. dollars:

© USDA via The Atlantic

During this holiday season, when food fills most of our (very fortunate) lives with an abundance of food, it’s more important than ever to take stock of what is being purchased, consumed, left over, and stored for future meals. There are straightforward ways to reduce food waste and save money, provided you can implement the very planning that is needed to eradicate food waste.

Cook from the fridge.

Start with the perishables before looking in the pantry. If you have fresh ingredients, use those first. Make a meal with what you’ve got, instead of running out to the grocery store for something else; you’ll probably save more time using what’s on hand, anyways.

Learn to read the ingredients.

Contrary to what paranoid health and safety folks might say, best-before dates are more guidelines than hard-and-fast rules. Learn to recognize the different stages of food degradation and know what foods are good for, i.e. black bananas are fabulous for baking, limp vegetables are good in soups and stews, stale bread can be turned into versatile crumbs.

Use that freezer.

The freezer is a huge help because it can do double-duty – storing fresh foods until you’re ready to cook them, then storing the finished product until you’re ready to eat it. It’s also the best place for excess holiday leftovers. Keep a roll of masking tape and a marker nearby, so it’s easy to label and date containers and reduce the likelihood of them getting forgotten.

Shop with a detailed list.

Planning meals ahead of time so that you know exactly what to buy goes a long way toward reducing food waste because you’re less likely to buy awesome-looking items on a whim and then fail to cook them later. The biggest problem I encounter with this is that I don’t buy enough ‘other’ food, i.e. healthy snacks to eat during hungry spells outside of meal times, which I suppose is a relatively good problem to have.

This list is far from comprehensive, so please feel free to share any of your own food waste reduction tips in the comments below.

Tags: Food Safety | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables | Waste

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