Many of us do not realize how much food we waste on regular basis from it being uneaten to spoiled. You can reduce food waste at home in so many ways. Have you ever thought about the possible benefits of reducing your food waste at home? Benefits include saving money, reducing methane emissions, conserving energy and resources by preventing pollution from the manufacturing, transportation, and selling of food; and supporting your community (1). Roughly every year, about 1.3 billion tons of food meant for human consumption valued at USD $1 trillion is wasted or lost (2, 3). That is a problem considering how many people are malnourished and/or starving across the world despite having some much money to spare.
A fair amount of problems could be minimized and solved by preventing or addressing the issues in our own home first. Reducing food waste in our own homes is one of the problems. For this reason, I have come up with a list of things you can do at home to reduce food waste.
Make a Smoothie
Instead of just disregarding food, make a smoothie with the leftovers. I personally recommend you do this with your fresher ingredients when preparing a meal or snack. An example would be when your kids do not want to eat the edible skin of fruits or when you are chopping up vegetables and have part of the vegetable still left. Take those pieces and freeze or save them for later to make a smoothie. If you are in need of a great blender consider a Vitamix, NutriBuillet, or Ninja. They are great value products that will last.
Make a Broth or Stock
Take the bones and vegetables to make broth and/or vegetable stock to be used for another meal. Depending on your state laws, make batches of broth and/or stock, then sell them at your local farmers market or online. Make money from something you would usually disregard.
If you have a garden, I highly recommend you compost any leftover food scraps. You can easily make your own compost bin for scraps with a simple 5-gallon bucket or buy a container. Be sure to have a top on it and empty it into a larger compost pile or bin outdoors regularly to prevent flies and maggots from spreading in your home. When composting, stick to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of browns to greens. Browns would be the following: old leaves, paper, cardboard, old wood chips, sawdust that add carbon. Greens would be the following: food scraps, manure, grass clipping, weeds that add nitrogen. If you want to skip that whole process and make it easier, you can always purchase an electronic composter such as the one Vitamix offers.
Feed it to Your Livestock or Pets
If you have chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, rabbits, or so forth, feed them the leftover vegetables. They do not care if the food is not perfect. I suggest you feed them whole and unprocessed food. They deserve good food to eat as well. Also, by you feeding them, they can make manure for you to put in your garden once properly aged. If you are raising livestock to eat, this can help with the overall quality of the meat. In some instances, I have actually seen some gardeners feed their pets vegetables which some seem to really love. I used to feed my pet turtle and rabbit my fresh vegetables all the time when I was a kid when I had some. Of course, I did not share with them literally bite for bite. They would have theirs and I would have my own.
Bury your food scraps in our yard somewhere you lack grass or better yet in your garden. When applying this method to your garden, it is referred to as trench gardening. Once you bury the scraps, worms will eventually eat it and excrete castings, and/or it will breakdown itself, enriching the soil in your garden. Afterward, you would sow your seeds or plant your transplants in the soil you cover the food with. I actually did this with a big pile of compost I had sitting in my compost bin. My cucumbers loved it and I am quite sure heavy feeders like squash would as well. Be sure to bury those scrap at least a foot deep to deter other critters from digging it up.
Believe it or not, there are some foods you can regrow from the scraps. These foods include lettuce, onions, ginger, leeks, shallots, celery, potatoes, carrots, and more. I noticed if the crop is a root, a bulb, or have some type of base the leaves grow from, it can be regrown. Most of the time, you can place the food scrap in shallow water until new roots, leaves, or stems form. Then transplant them back into soil but you can also just plant some straight back into the soil as well. Sometimes, transplanting certain vegetables such as green onions back into the soil is not necessary, it will regrow several times right there in the water. Make sure the scraps still get some sunlight if you place them in the water near a window. Once it no longer re-grows, compost or bury it.
Properly Preserve Your Food
Learn to preserve and store your food. This is especially helpful if you harvest an abundance of produce from your garden or are given some. There are serval methods for preserving foods such as freezing, chilling, drying, canning, pickling, smoking and salting, pasteurizing, storing, and chemical preservatives. Out of all these methods, canning is the best due to the fact that it blocks sunlight, oxidation, enzymes, and microbes/bacteria from affecting the food followed by freezing (4). You can most certainly try other methods I listed above to suit your taste. The whole point here is, that you have options when it comes to preserving your food. The app “Foodkeeper” can help you understand food and beverages storage to maximize the freshness and quality of items.
Label It and Date it
This is what I do for my household. I simply keep a dry erase marker on the fridge. Every time my wife cooks a meal, I store the leftover inside a container write what the food is and put the date it was made and the date it will no longer be good to eat on it. Doing this gives me a timeframe of when we need to eat the food.
Understand the Dates on Food
Usually, you will see phrases such as “sell-by”, “Best if Used By/Before”, “Use-By”, or “Freeze-By” with a date on food packages. Those dates do not mean the food is no longer good to eat with the exception of baby formula. Rather it refers to when the food is at its best quality, not safety (5). If the current date is past the labeled date, look for signs of spoilage such as a weird texture, smell, off-color, molds, yeasts, and bacteria. In terms of spoilage for meat and poultry refer to here. Again, I suggest you use the Foodkeeper app to help assist you. If, deep down in your gut, you feel it is a bad idea to eat, do not eat it. Better safe than sorry, eating spoiled and bacteria-filled food is a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes you may have bought too much food or possibly bought the wrong thing. Instead of throwing it away consider donating it to a local food bank. Food banks usually have guidelines on what they will accept, so check before beforehand. There are always people out there in need of food. Let’s say, for instance, you cook more food than expected if you know someone that trust your cooking, offer the extra food to them. I strongly suggest that you know this person very well. Do not go around giving out homemade food to random strangers. A perfect time to do this around the holidays, birthday parties, or family gatherings. People love their take-home plates.
I strongly recommend this to reduce food waste, start meal planning. Think ahead of time about what you and/or your family wants to eat. I suggest taking notes of what you and/or everyone likes to eat to create a menu for the house. This way, you will not have to think or stress over what to feed yourself or everyone else. You can generate a basis a regular grocery list off this. Plus, when you go shopping, you will not buy a bunch of extra food. This will help you stick to your shopping list.
Organize your pantry and fridge by having your most recent food bought put towards the back and older food towards the front so that it can be eaten first. Restaurants use this method of organization which is called FIFO meaning “first-in, first-out”. This is another way to make sure the food is being used and not getting spoiled and wasted. You can also label the shelves in your fridge if you’d like to help you keep in mind when food was bought or cooked. Set up a system that works for you.
Portion Your Meals
Buy meal prep containers to portion out the amount of food eaten. This will help to prevent you from overfilling your usual plate and throwing out excess food on it once you are full. Getting meal prep containers with portions you know you can eat comfortably could be of great assistance. In addition, this may help you with weight loss and eating more mindfully.
I know several people who do not eat leftovers for some reason. They could have even cooked the food themselves. If this is you, money and food are being tossed in the trash going to waste. Consider, eating the same meal later that day or packing it for lunch the next day for someone who will eat it. If the texture is an issue, consider re-warming the food in the oven instead of the microwave. Sometimes texture may be the reason you do not like leftovers. Experiment with different ways to make leftovers more appealing to you.
I know for myself personally, money is a big motivator in reducing food waste. I have a frugal personality when it comes to certain things and would rather allocate my hard-earned money wisely than see it go to waste. Also, considering what happened during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when grocery stores were running out of food and had to limit the amount you could buy, hopefully, it made you think more of others that could have used the food that was wasted. This is not to make feel bad but to encourage you to be more mindful and aware. With this newfound knowledge, start making a difference today by being part of the solution in reducing food waste worldwide.
Before you leave out, be sure to visit my healthy lifestyle shop where you can find more gardening products and my resource page to further aid you in your health and wellness journey. Good health starts at home, build an environment conducive to it.
Be Healthy, Be Balanced, Be You
- (2017). How Food Works. DK; Illustrated edition