In the United States, over one-third of all available food is wasted. That is money from your food budget and your health that you are tossing down the drain. Wasting less and saving more starts with meal planning. It’s not a one size fits all solution. Every family is different from size to schedule, food, and cultural preferences. It’s important to focus on how many you are feeding and meals you can freeze or repurpose the leftovers. Build into your schedule a time to plan menus and a grocery list at the same time each week. Before planning your menus take inventory of your fridge, pantry, and freezer. Try to use what you have first to keep foods fresh and continually rotated. Use leftovers within 3-4 days or freeze immediately. When you freeze leftovers, make sure to label and date them to help you rotate.
Always shop with a grocery list and avoid impulse buys. If an item is on sale and can freeze or be saved for later, pick it up and work it into next week’s menu. Think about how often you shop, how you prepare food, and are you wasting parts that can be used. Limiting the number of times you enter the grocery store helps decrease impulse buys or extra spending. Incorporating grilling, baking, roasting, sauteing, and stir-frying are healthy cooking methods for fresh food that will be a heart-smart choice. If you are purchasing fresh carrots with their greens, don’t toss them; blend them up into a carrot top pesto sauce to be used as a dip or to top chicken, fish, or pasta.
Select color and variety when choosing your fresh fruits and vegetables, but choose wisely. Use produce like apricots, berries, mushrooms, summer squash within a few days of purchasing. Those with a longer shelf life are apples, beets, carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, and winter squash. Keep in mind some fruits give off a more significant amount of ethylene gas which causes other foods around them to ripen quickly. Examples include avocados, unripe bananas, nectarines, peaches, tomatoes, apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, kiwi plums. Repurpose your vegetable scraps into a vegetable scrap broth. Keep a bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer for up to 3 months, adding as you have them. Examples include carrots, celery, parsnips, green beans, sweet peppers, eggplant, and zucchini. When cooking with fresh herbs, you may not use all you have purchased for the week. Waste less by washing them, chopping them, and adding them to ice cube trays. Cover with water or olive oil and freeze until firm. Once frozen, place in a freezer bag and save to add to soups, sauces, or defrost and use as needed in cooking.
When preparing your meals, practice portion control, which is essential for balance and variety of foods for your health and can decrease wasted leftovers that go unused. If you eat out often for lunch, consider bringing leftovers for lunch. If it’s not a complete meal, be creative and repurpose it into a new meal to eliminate leftovers wasted and save from extra spending on eating out. If you eat out, order a smaller portion, share with a friend, or package a portion to take home. The extra portion can be enjoyed the next day for a meal or frozen for another time to enjoy. Keep an eye for foods that are tossed, what was the reason? Was it an expiration date, forgotten leftover, leftover produce? What can you do in the future to prevent this? Do you notice any patterns? Consider these questions to potentially change your meal planning and grocery lists to waste less and save more. Try out the USDA Food Keeper App. It provides guidance on food shopping, storage, food safety, and current product recalls.