What if every time you went to the grocery store, you bought five bags’ worth of food, dropped two of them in the parking lot and kept walking? Unconscionably wasteful, right? But researchers estimate that we waste 40% of our food in the U.S.
“We waste about 50% more food per person than we did in the 1970s,” says Dana Gunders, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of the new “Waste Free Kitchen Handbook.”
Gunders is not a chef and not immune to frozen pizza nights in her own home. She set out to learn how everyone can waste less food. “It is money going straight in your trash bin,” about $1,500 a year for the average household of four, she says.
“It is real money, and we don’t see it because it happens in these little bits and pieces. Nobody wants to waste food, and yet it just happens.”
Here are eight ways to waste less without too much effort.
1. Get a wake-up call. Keep a log for two weeks (Gunders has a template in her book) of all the food you throw out, how much, why and its worth. It could inspire a change in habits.
3. Reconsider expiration dates. “They do not indicate the food is unsafe,” Gunders says, but often are the manufacturer’s best guess of when a product is at its best. “Just knowing that is helpful. If you’re someone who lived by those dates, just try pushing them by a day or two.”
4. Make friends with your freezer. Milk, butter, sliced bread and blanched vegetables all can be stored there when you go on a vacation. An organized freezer, with food labeled and the oldest food toward the front, is more efficient too.
5. Give wilted vegetables a new life. Lettuce, broccoli and some other vegetables can be revived with a soaking in a bowl of ice water.
6. Compost. A bin can keep inedible food — as well as peels and cores — from going to landfills, and the result will be great garden soil.
7. Have a party a couple of days after Thanksgiving. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 35% of the turkey (excluding the bones) sold in the U.S. does not get eaten. Keep that from happening in your home by serving it to guests, perhaps in new recipes. (Gunders includes a chart for planning portion amounts for party guests.)
8. Learn to make soup and bread pudding. Among other recipes, these two are great ways to use up ingredients (all sorts of vegetables, stale bread, mushy fruit).