The U.S. generates more than 34 million tons of food waste each year, according to the EPA. Sure, you can compost perished produce, leftovers, and food scraps. But the best way to lighten your kitchen’s impact on the planet is to stop waste at its source. To help, we’ve compiled five simple ways to reduce food waste in your home — without putting a damper on your culinary creativity.
1. Start at the grocery store
If you find yourself throwing away loads of spoiled food each week, you may want to consider revising your shopping habits to cut back on waste.
Start by taking smaller, more frequent shopping trips. This may seem like a bit of a hassle. But shopping a few times per week allows you to wait until perishables are used up before replenishing them, which will greatly decrease food spoilage in your fridge.
To help make the most of smaller shopping trips, write up a list of the specific items you need before leaving for the grocery store. And stick to the list while shopping! Avoid impulse buys, especially with perishable items.
And try to be realistic about the amount of food you buy. If you live alone or have a small family, stick to a limited number of perishables each week. If you have a busy work schedule, don’t shop as if you’ll be making everything from scratch. Buying only what you can use in the near future will save you the hassle of cooking, freezing, or preserving extra food before it spoils.
2. Use it up
When you’re working with whole meats, veggies, and fruits, the best way to reduce food waste is to use the whole thing. Try leaving the skin on veggies like potatoes and cucumbers, and incorporate meat bones and vegetable scraps into stocks, sauces, and gravies.
Think you don’t have time to make stock from scratch? Think again. Save all your vegetable and meat scraps in a reusable container in the freezer until you’ve accumulated enough to make a large batch of stock (at least 8 cups of scraps).
On a lazy weekend afternoon, consult our simple tutorial and whip up some homemade stock with less than 10 minutes of prep time. Use equal portions of flour and olive oil or butter to thicken your stock for gravies and sauces. Finished stocks, gravies, and sauces can be stored in the freezer for up to two months.
For fruit scraps and other leftovers you don’t want to use for stock, check out our handy reuse guide for food scraps, and use your throw-aways for everything from cleaning the kitchen to shining your shoes.
3. Understand sell-by dates
A staggering amount of food is wasted due to customer confusion about "sell-by" labels, the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) found last year. DEFRA published detailed guidelines for food and drink makers to relieve confusion in the U.K., but the "sell-by" date mystery affects shoppers worldwide.
Almost always, "sell-by" dates tell retailers when they should stop displaying goods on shelves. Wary of foodborne illnesses, many shoppers are quick to throw items away after this date. But if stored properly, goods are often safe for several more days.
"Even if the [sell-by] date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality if handled properly and kept at 40 degrees or below," said the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Consult their handy home storage chart to make the most of your perishables and get answers to all your food-safety questions.
When it comes to "expiration" and "use-by" dates, use your senses before throwing something away. If food looks, smells and tastes normal, it should be safe to use even if the expiration date has passed. But once it starts developing these characteristics, it’s time to throw it out, the FSIS said.
4. Finish the leftovers
A half-eaten casserole isn’t always the most appetizing meal option. So, try giving your leftovers a facelift to make them seem a bit more appealing to the family.
Toss leftovers like roasted meats, vegetable sides, and cooked pastas into a crockpot for soups or stews. Wrap last night’s dinner up with some eggs in a breakfast burrito. Or make a sandwich using your Friday fish-fry.
For more recipe ideas, check out Lovefoodhatewaste.com, which provides a database full of delicious leftover-based recipes from top Scottish chefs, or download the free Love Food, Hate Waste app for iPhone and Android for on-the-go meal planning.
5. Store it smarter
Storing your food properly is the number one way to reduce spoilage in your kitchen. Always store perishables in an airtight container, and know when to move foods from the fridge to the freezer.
Always freeze meats that you don’t plan to use within two or three days. Make sure meat is patted dry and placed in an airtight container before freezing to reduce the risk of freezer burn.
If you don’t plan to use fresh vegetables or fruits within the next week, you should also consider freezing to prevent them from going to waste. Not sure how to freeze fresh produce yourself? Check out our freezing and canning guide to get you started.
For product-specific tips, consult this detailed guide from the Colorado State University Extension, which includes preparation instructions for more than a dozen vegetables. For fruits, check out this helpful freezing fact sheet from the University of Wisconsin Extension.
— Mary Mazzoni, Earth911
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