Research in the United States estimates that at least 14 percent of purchased food ends up in the garbage. Some may view this as a call to return to the “clean your plate” mentality emblematic of the mid-20th century, but this would be unwise. With a skyrocketing obesity epidemic and a mounting national health crisis, it’s time for a new approach: These statistics can motivate eaters to reduce waste, cut grocery costs and safeguard Americans’ health by shopping and eating smarter.
Aside from the costly operating budgets of these facilities, the environment is paying the real price. As organic materials (like vegetables, fruits and grains) decompose in landfills, they release the greenhouse gas methane into the environment. In fact, landfills are the largest source of methane emissions in the country. While composting plant foods, which does not produce methane, is one solution, strategies for wasting less food should also be explored.
According to a government-funded survey in the United Kingdom, one major source of food waste is “over shopping.” Buying more food than needed is easy to do when shopping without a list or when “buy one, get one free” offers tempt buyers to pile food that will often go to waste into their grocery carts.
The solution: shop smarter. Check the refrigerator to see what needs to be used or frozen before it spoils. Check the calendar to see if there are meals already scheduled to be eaten away from home. And before going to the store, decide how many days’ worth of food is needed. Then, take a few minutes to formulate a shopping list. Don’t make things complicated – no need to decide what will be served each day – just plan enough breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to last until the next grocery run.
Be flexible when shopping – it’s OK to adjust the list if something is on special. For nonperishable foods like cereal and pasta, only buy sale items that are sure to be used. If perishable items are on special, choose them as a replacement for something else that was on the list, or buy and freeze for later use. Foods that the family doesn’t like or that are unhealthy are no bargain – regardless of the sticker price.
What to do with leftovers
What if there are still leftovers? If more food than needed is consistently prepared, the simplest solution is to cook less. While this may seem obvious, many continue to cook the portions they always have, even when households shrink in size or when they stop eating as much food as they used to.
Another approach is to plan ahead to repurpose leftovers as the basis for one or two new meals each week. The money saved from purchasing fewer meals will add up substantially. Leftover chicken can go on pizza, a burrito or in chili or soup. Extra fish or seafood is a great addition to a salad or a pasta dish. And already cooked vegetables (or fresh veggies that won’t last much longer) can be combined in a stir-fry, soup or chili. Before fruits go to waste, add them to a morning cereal bowl or a green salad.
To make sure leftovers are safe, follow these rules: Refrigerate cooked food within two hours. Clearly label and date leftovers. Reheat solids to 165 degrees and bring soup to a rolling boil. And when reheating in the microwave, cover and let food stand for five minutes to let the heat distribute throughout.
Source: American Institute for Cancer Research