10 Easy Ways to Avoid Food Waste
Updated: Jun 3
Have you ever guiltily thrown away leftovers because you forgot about them? Had limp lettuce or celery that you had to toss? Remembered that you had a few apples in the fridge only to find them soft and wrinkled? Me too. We’re not alone – 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten (Harvard School of Public Health, 2019). When I waste food, it really bothers me – especially when I think about how many people out there don’t have access to fresh produce.
There are ways to prevent this! Plan your meals ahead of time, learn what to do with fruit or vegetables that are wrinkled or limp, and compost or find a local composting center. Buy frozen or canned produce if it’s impossible to keep fresh produce from spoiling. Set your refrigerator for the proper temperature, and store food properly (did you know that you should keep your produce in the packaging you buy it in until you’re ready to eat it?). Read on to learn more details about avoiding food waste in your own home.
1. Limp veggies? Bleh. Place leafed vegetables like lettuce, celery, and herbs in a glass of water to rehydrate them.
Many vegetables are made up of a large percentage of water. If your vegetables start to wilt, place them in a glass of water for about an hour to perk them back up. You can also slice the vegetables and place them in ice water for a faster result, as this results in a greater surface area. This method works well for lettuce, cabbage, herbs, celery, and more!
Do you press your own juice? Use the leftover pulp in your next meal! You can get creative based on your pulp source. Is it from vegetables, such as carrots and celery? Add the pulp to soups and stews as a thickener and flavor enhancement. Have pulp from fruits, such as apples, pears, or ginger? These are great to add into smoothies and muffins. You don’t need to use the pump right away – toss it in the freezer for your future recipes.
2. Make your own vegetable stock.
This is easier than it sounds. Take vegetable scraps (such as celery leaves, slices of onion, stems of herbs, and other vegetable scraps) and save them in a clear gallon bag in your freezer. Once your gallon bag is full, place all vegetable scraps in a large pot with salt and pepper and simmer for a few hours. Then, drain (toss the soggy veggies into your compost). Voila! Your very own vegetable stock! Keep stored in your refrigerator or freezer until you need it. This is also a great gift – people really think you’re part Martha Stewart when you make your own broth! Freeze in plastic Tupperware, tie it with a bow, and give to family and friends as a homemade gift. You can do this all year long and… stock… up!
3. Wrinkled, soft fruit? Chop as you would normally, then add into smoothies or bake as a dessert.
There’s lots that you can do with wrinkled or soft fruit! Chop fruit as you normally would, then add to smoothies or baked goods. I like tossing them into muffins or breads – you won’t notice a different. You can also bake them for a tasty dessert (my favorite way to eat extra pears from our pear tree!). Chop into slices, sprinkle wrinkled apples, pears, or other stone fruits with cinnamon, brown sugar, and lemon juice. You can also spread these in a pie dish and sprinkle with oats for a fruit crumble. Bake at 350°F for 40-50 minutes, then wow your guests with a healthy dessert. Works every time!
4. What should I do with stale bread?
Stale bread, but no mold? Perfect situation for French toast! You can also make a mean bread pudding with stale bread. To make homemade croutons, chop bread into small squares and toss in a big bowl with Italian seasonings and a splash of olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes (people think you are so fancy when you do this!). You can also make your own breadcrumbs by tossing stale bread into a blender.
95% of all food thrown away ends up in landfills and makes up 21% of all waste (Harvard School of Public Health, 2019)!
First, try to avoid throwing away parts of produce that usually get tossed. For example, you can use the seeds of squash and pumpkin by roasting them with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil for a healthy, crunchy snack. You should almost always eat the skins of produce because they tend to contain some of the best nutrients and vitamins (none of that fancy cucumber-peeling nonsense). Did you know you can eat the skin of kiwis!?!?! Don’t throw away that celery stalk or carrot peels! Throw that into the stock you just learned about.
Compost is a great fertilizer for your garden or plants. What is compost? This is simply food scraps that can break down (organic matter) into amazing nutritious soil. Make your own compost easily by keeping a large Tupperware in your kitchen to place food scraps, such as carrot tops, apple cores, coffee grinds, and eggshells. Once your Tupperware is full, take it outside to your compost bin. You can also place yard waste in your compost, such as leaves and grass clippings. Be sure to avoid composting foods that will not break down, such as meats and dairy.
You can purchase a compost bin from places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, or make your own. You’ll be grateful every spring when you have your very own fertilizer for your garden. This is a really easy way to avoid food waste and supplement your garden. If you’re interested in this, there are plenty of resources online for how to get started.
6. Store food properly.
After buying groceries, place your perishables in the fridge or freezer right away. Use the 2-hour rule for leaving items out - don’t allow meat, seafood, eggs, or perishable produce sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Some produce should be stored at room temperature in a dry and dark area, such as potatoes, onions, squash, and tomatoes. Not sure if you should store your produce in the fridge or on your counter top? Check out this website to find out.
If you do see visibly aging produce, use it right away or compost it. It can speed the ripening of other produce by emitting gas (on the other hand, if you want to ripen your avocado, place it in a brown paper bag with a few ripe bananas. It will ripen within 24 hours!). You may also place chopped and prepared fruits and vegetables in gallon bags in your freezer to extend their life. Label the date stored and be sure to review your freezer contents regularly (something I need to work on!).
7. Make your grocery list ahead of time.
Decide what recipes you’re going to use for the week ahead of time. You can use apps or websites to list out ingredients, or just jot down the ingredients yourself. Use a shopping list when you get groceries, preventing you from buying too much produce or impulse buys.
Make sure to fully assess your produce before you buy it-choose fresh, firm and bright produce. Be aware of certain fruits and vegetables that expire more quickly than others - for example, fruits such as apples, avocados, bananas, mangoes, peaches, and tomatoes continue to ripen after harvesting. Place these on your counter at room temperature until they reach the ripeness you want (then store in the fridge).
On the other hand, bell peppers, berries, cherries, eggplant, cucumber, and citrus fruits typically do not ripen after they’ve been harvested – so you can store these in your refrigerator right away. Place new food in the back of the refrigerator and older food or leftovers in the front. I like to label my Tupperware with masking tape that says the date I prepared or cooked the food - this helps remind me to eat that item within a few days. Typically, it’s better to leave your produce in the packaging it came in until you’re ready to use it. However, you can prep and chop vegetables and store in clear view if you’re more likely to use them that way.
8. Buy frozen or canned produce.
If it’s very difficult to keep produced from spoiling, frozen and canned produce are good options to extend shelf life. Surprisingly, freezing food at its peak nutritional value can provide more nutrients than over-ripened fresh produce. It’s also shown to reduce waste - frozen food results in 47% less food waste than fresh. Canned produce in also a good option - just check for the sodium content before you buy it. Many canned vegetables use sodium as a preservative.
9. Make sure your refrigerator is set at the right temperature.
Set your refrigerator for 40°F (4°C) or lower, and your freezer for 0°F (or -18°C). Keeping your appliances at the proper temperature will prevent items from spoiling sooner than they should (I’m looking at you, milk). Even if your fridge temperature is set correctly, consume the ready-to-eat foods first (luncheon meat, yogurt, etc.).
10. Still not sure if you should eat something?
Err on the side of caution. Give it a good smell test – if one whiff at it makes you suspicious, toss it. Bacteria and foodborne illnesses grow on food items after time, and it’s not worth risking your health. Compost what you can and throw out the rest.
Resources for more reading:
How do you avoid food waste?