That’s how Frank Yiannas, FDA food policy Deputy Commissioner, describes the issue of food waste in the United States.
Per person, over a pound of food lands in the trash every day, equalling a financial loss of $1,866 per household every year. That wasted food doesn’t decompose — it becomes mummified in the high-plastic, low-oxygen environment of today’s landfills.
The economy-draining, environment-polluting effect of the 72 billion pounds of food wasted every year is enough to make addressing food waste a priority in the U.S. By 2030, the United States aims to cut food waste in half.
It’s not hard to start working toward that goal right now. Reducing food waste can reinspire a connection with your food, save you money, and foster sustainability in our food systems. Start with this list of the top 10 ways to reduce food waste.
1. Start with the right portions
Prevent food waste in the first place by plating less food. You can always go back for more!
Craft a healthy meal by filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit, and the other half with grains and a protein. Once you’ve got your bases covered, feel free to get seconds!
When you’re ordering out at a restaurant, ask to take half your meal to go. Then it’s pre-portioned for you to enjoy the next day.
2. Plan your meals
For a lot of people, meal planning brings up images of bland diet programs and eating the same thing day after day.
In reality, rather than regimented and boring, meal planning can actually be a fun way to add variety, maximize your time, and minimize food costs. At the same time, planning your meals can reduce the amount of food you waste.
Planning your week’s meals ahead of time makes for fewer trips to the grocery store, fewer impulse buys that end up getting tossed, and fewer surprises when you clean out your fridge.
Check out the Top10 guide to meal planning to put together a meal plan optimized for you!
3. Try a meal delivery service
If meal planning doesn’t work for you, a meal kit delivery service gives you all the convenience and virtually eliminates the hassle, and the waste.
You can get exactly enough food for your house as well as the recipes you know your family will eat (check out some examples, like Dinnerly's menu). With the wide variety of delivery services to choose from, you can always find something for your budget, your health needs, and your time.
Plus, there’s no guesswork with how much to buy and you’re never left scratching your head wondering what to do with the ingredients you don’t use up. Food waste becomes a thing of the past when you’ve got a good meal delivery routine going!
For the best meal delivery, make sure it fits with your diet and health goals. Optimize time, minimize waste, and see which meal delivery program gets the best reviews.
4. Learn to preserve foods
Freezing food before it goes bad is the most straightforward way to minimize waste. Blanch vegetables by dipping them in hot water or steaming them for 30 seconds before freezing. This makes them taste fresher and last longer in the freezer.
If you liken yourself to an urban homesteader, roll up your sleeves and try your hand at home canning. Cracking a jar of fruit canned at the peak of ripeness is always a delight months into the cold of winter. Preserved soups are great on the go options, too!
Otherwise, drying, brining, curing, and fermenting have been used to prevent waste for millennia. You don’t have to homestead in the city, just make sure you’re following procedures to ensure food safety.
5. Liven up leftovers
Just thinking about eating the same thing over and over is enough to turn most people’s stomachs. Leftovers go to waste because eating them day-in, day-out becomes monotonous quickly.
Besides preparing smaller meals to avoid leftovers, you can repurpose some leftovers and add variety to others.
Have different salad dressings on hand for leftover vegetables. Different herbs, spices, and hot sauces can invigorate the taste of other day-olds.
If you’ve planned your meals, you may even be able to repurpose leftovers into a completely new dish.
Take the plant protein powerhouse, tofu, for example. If you double a delectable sesame teriyaki tofu recipe, then you can enjoy it on brown rice one night and mix it into a three-bean salad for lunch the next day.
You avoid feeling like you’re eating the same thing and you limit your waste at the same time.
6. Know what the “use by” date actually means
According to the FDA, “confusion over date labeling accounts for an estimated 20% of consumer food waste.”
Use by dates actually tell you almost nothing about food safety — they only let you know when the food is past peak freshness, not when it is unsafe to eat.
Except for infant formula and state-specific regulations on things like eggs, dairy, seafood and premade sandwiches, most food can be enjoyed past its use-by date. Check the FDA Food Keeper app to determine the safety of “expired” foods.
If you do decide to toss expired shelf-stable foods, donate them to your local food drive. Canned food can feed a hungry person safely for a year or more past its “best by” date.
7. Use every part of the plant
Produce is remarkably versatile, but not everyone knows how to make use of every part of the plant.
Seeds from squash and pumpkins can be salted and roasted. Not only do they make a delicious snack, but edible seeds are often the most nutritious part of the plant.
Consider eating the peel of many fruits. For many fruits and vegetables, the peel is full of nutrients. The peel of a potato, for example, has more potassium than a banana!
Stems can be juiced, pureed in a smoothie, or frozen for making veggie stock later. Next time you buy a carton of veggie broth, just think about the ingredients you throw away that could go to making a better version in your own kitchen!
8. Nose-to-tail eating
Using every part of the animals we eat goes back to human origins and fosters sustainable food systems at multiple levels. Organ meats (“offal”), the skin of chicken and fish, and the broth made from leftover bones each provide high levels of essential nutrients that most Americans do not get enough of.
The nutritional powerhouse, liver, contains high levels of every essential nutrient (except vitamin C). Tongue, tripe, and other odds and ends are flavorful additions and are often linked with traditional food ways.
The skin of fish (when it’s not charred during cooking) has more omega-3’s and vitamin D than all the rest of the animal.
Bone broth or homemade gelatin is as local as it gets for a food that flies off shelves at the store. One study shows that the homemade version is twice as packed with nutrients as the store-bought varieties anyway!
9. Buy ugly produce
Forty percent of produce is needlessly wasted because of the way it looks. Fruit and vegetables that have imperfections are just as flavorful and just as safe as their more visually pleasing counterparts.
Instead of picking through produce looking for the most picture-perfect pear, relish in the natural imperfections of the food we eat. Vegetables mixed into a dish aren’t noticed anyway, so stock up on ugly produce for mixed meals.
When you look over the minor imperfections of produce at the grocery store or farmer’s market, you are directly contributing to minimizing your negative impact on food waste.
10. Compost it
There will always be some food that doesn’t get eaten before it goes bad. Composting is a way to harness the natural cycle of decomposition and renewal in your own community.
Compost is almost unmatched for naturally and safely fertilizing grass, flowers, or vegetables.
Participate in your local composting program or start your own to contribute to regenerative urban agriculture. When leftover food goes into a closed loop cycle of composting, food waste becomes a thing of the past and local ecosystems get a chance to thrive.
Reducing food waste contributes to environmental sustainability, cost savings, and a more productive economy. For many people, it just feels like the right thing to do. If you want to do your part, keep in mind the takeaways:
- Planning your meals out a week at a time goes a long way to minimizing spoilage. Know exactly how much you need on your grocery runs, portion the food on your plate appropriately, and repurpose leftovers to stop waste before it even starts.
- Meal planning can get overwhelming fast, though, so try out a meal delivery program if you want a leg up as you get started!
- Preserve what you don’t eat by freezing leftovers. For the more adventurous, try drying, fermenting, or canning unspoiled food.
- Remember that the “use-by” date means little for food safety. If you still don’t want to eat so-called “expired foods”, they can still be donated to a food pantry.
- Use every part of the plants and animals that you eat.
- Close the loop on food waste by composting the food that spoils.