We can all help to reduce food waste at home. Check out some of our Canadian stats…
- we waste $31 billion of food per year
- 40% of the food we produce is wasted – ie. not eaten by anyone
- the average household throws out $1,500 of food per year
- 47% of food waste occurs in homes
What!? I knew it was bad, but how could we be tossing that much food! And more importantly, what can we do to reduce food waste in our homes?
According to researchers at the Guelph Food Waste Project the first thing we need to do is be aware of our habits and think about food waste. So let’s get started by thinking, talking and tweeting about food waste. You can start right now by tweeting this!
The more people think about food and waste, the less food they waste. TWEET This
It’s true, ever since I’ve been thinking about this topic and preparing for Fruit Share’s screening of Just Eat It (a Canadian documentary about Food Waste), I’ve been much more conscientious about food waste in our house – and I thought I was already pretty vigilant!
Once we start thinking about it, what else can we do? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for reducing food waste in your home. Here are some tips I shared on CTV Morning Live.
1. Plan Ahead
Make a meal plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just grab a piece of paper and jot down five meals you want to make for the week coming up. Why five not seven? Chances are you’ll go out, have leftovers, or have a “make whatever you want night” so five meals is usually enough). Then make a shopping list based on those ideas and what you already have on hand.
When you have an idea of what you’re going to make, life goes a little smoother. Shopping is easier, meal prep is easier, anxiety about “what am I going to make tonight” is reduced and food waste is reduced.
If you don’t yet have a favorite meal planning tool, try the one below. Print this Meal Planner (PDF).
2. Store Food Properly
Here’s the irony. We know we should be eating more fruits and veggies, right?! So we go and buy them. We even grumble and groan about the high prices of fresh produce. Nonetheless, we buy fresh produce to feed our families healthy food.
And then? Then we end up tossing a good chunk of them out. Money and nutrients down the drain.
Yup, fresh fruits and veggies top the list of food we toss most often. Followed by dairy, meats and grains (bread). In its report, the National Resources Defense Council, 2012 shares what foods are most often tossed.
Why do we throw out this healthy and expensive food? While there isn’t complete research on exactly why, researchers believe it’s because we buy too much, we don’t use it quickly enough, we don’t store it properly, we’re confused by Best Before Dates and we’re just not really aware of what how big an issue it is.
This article, posts on food storage and preserving and some of the workshops I lead, are my attempt to help us become more aware and provide tips on what to do.
Knowing how to properly store our fresh produce and not buying too much in the first place is critical. Here’s some tips to get you started.
Make a bouquet of fresh herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro.
Chop off the ends of green onions, put them in water and watch them regrow for you to use.
The University of Guelph Food Waste Research Project has one of the most practical lists of handy food storage tips I’ve come across. Take a look.
3. Be “Best Before Date” Savvy
Just because you’ve reached the Best Before date doesn’t mean you have to throw the product out.
Did you know “Best Before” dates do not guarantee product safety? They provide the manufacturer’s recommendation for the amount of time that an unopened food product under appropriate conditions will keep its freshness, taste and nutritional quality. Think about it, the minute you open your milk jug, the best before date is invalid, so why pay attention to it – use your judgement!
By law, “Best Before” dates and proper storage instructions must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less, and are packaged at a place other than the retail store from which they are sold. Items that can be stored for 90 days or more (eg. pasta, nuts, canned goods, etc) do not actually require a Best Before date. Sometimes I wonder if manufacturers are encouraging us to toss and rebuy food by adding Best Before dates – what do you think?
Best Before does not mean Toxic After. Understand best before dates. TWEET This
Your judgement is a much better indicator than the Best Before date of whether or not a product should be tossed.
In Canada, Expiration Dates are only required on liquid diets, meal replacements, nutritional supplements and infant formula. When these food products reach their Expiration Date they should be discarded.
4. Buy Less
The other day I saw a package of 6 romaine lettuce heads for under $4. Wowsers, what a deal!! But is it really a deal? There’s no way my family will eat 6 heads of romaine lettuce before they go rotten in the fridge. Practicing restraint and only buying what’s needed and what can be reasonably stored and consumed is another way to reduce food waste.
As for my romaine lettuce dilemma – I opted for one romaine lettuce at $1.99. Yes, the price per head is triple the cost, but I know at least 4 of those heads would be wasted – I’d be throwing out at lest $2.68. I’d rather keep that money in my pocket.
5. Reduce or Use Leftovers
What are your thoughts on leftovers? Do you love them and can’t get enough of them? Or, do you end up with leftovers that no one ever eats? For example, these leftover mashed potatoes make great patties that can be frozen and reheated any time.
I’m a lover of leftovers and often make extra food to make sure we have leftovers. But if I don’t think about them or plan ahead, they can get lost in the back of the fridge. So, leftovers become part of my meal planning – prepare a huge pot of spaghetti sauce Monday, turn it into chili on Wednesday. Or freeze leftovers right away before ie. make two meatloaves at once and freeze one for a busy day ahead.
Use leftovers to reduce food waste, not to add to it!
6. Make Soup
Soup is the ultimate strategy for using up food. In fact, I rarely ever make the same soup twice since I make soup with whatever is in the fridge that needs to be used up. It starts with the aromatics (onions, celery and garlic), then hard veggies that need to be cooked the longest (carrots, potatoes, winter squash, parsnips, etc.). I add some sort of stock and let that simmer until the veggies are tender. Then I add whatever leftovers, meats and saucy things are in the fridge (half jar of salsa, leftover chili, leftover chicken, cooked ham, leftover rice or spaghetti, jar of tomatoes, etc). Finally, when that’s been cooked I add herbs, tender greens and cream (if available). I may or may not puree the whole thing.
I’m pretty sure that’s how our grandmothers used to it.
7. Preserve Food
Instead of throwing good food into the trash, throw it into the freezer. If you don’t have the proper storage space for all your produce, have too many leftovers or know you’re never going to use produce before it turns wonky – freeze it. While frozen food will last quite a while, get in the habit of eating frozen leftovers within one months time – just so it doesn’t get forgotten. The idea is to reduce food waste, not delay it!
Did you know that you can freeze onions?
You can also freeze ginger and grate it without thawing.
These are just a few ideas that we can easily do at home today to reduce food waste.
There is no doubt, that we also need to make bigger changes throughout the entire food chain. Every sector has a role to play if we’re going to make a difference. Here’s where food waste occurs in Canada according to Value Chain Management Report.
And oh yeah, let’s stop our obsession with perfect fruits and veggies. Even funny, large or small shaped produce is delicious and nutritious. Big or small, twisted or gnarly, let’s eat them all!
There are tons of things we can do to stop food waste at home. I bet you have a few tips and techniques too! I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you end up throwing away? And, what do you do to reduce food waste?
Univerity of Guelph Food Waste Research Project
Value Chain Management Report,2014 Gooch & Felfel
National Resources Defense Council, 2012
Hunger Count by Food Banks Canada
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Note: Another great source for how to reduce food waste is the LoveFoodHateWaste project by MetroVancouver. Check it out for great info, tips and tools.
Want to learn more? How about a Reduce Food Waste workshop with Getty? Or talk to Getty about hands-on workshops for your group. Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.