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Eating Green: 6 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Did you know that in the United States, we throw away a ton of food? Roughly 30% of all the food we make ends up in the trash – that's about 133 billion pounds annually!

It’s not just about the food itself, either. Food waste causes problems for our environment, our health and our wallets.  

“Discarded food increases greenhouse gasses and wastes water and land resources,” said Susan Welter, a registered dietitian with Banner Health. “Not only that, a large portion of wasted food contains vital nutrients that people need to survive.”

Most of the food that is wasted is fresh from fields, farms and seas, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and seafood. These lost nutrients are essential for healthy diets, and some – like potassium, fiber, calcium and vitamin D – are under-consumed by Americans. 

“Not eating enough of these vital nutrients can lead to chronic health problems,” Welter said.

Six ways you can reduce food waste

While food waste is a big problem, we can all act by changing the way we shop, cook and plan our meals to avoid wasting food, money and resources. 

Here are some easy ways you can reduce food waste in your home.

Preplan your meals

One of the keys to minimizing food waste lies in thoughtful meal planning. Plan your meals around the foods you already have at home. 

“Look in your refrigerator, then pantry and freezer for foods close to their expiration dates and use those first,” Welter said. “Look for recipes that use those ingredients. Designate one meal a week as a ‘use it up’ meal.”

Keep to your shopping list

When making a shopping list, only include the items you  need and the amount required. 
Bring your shopping list to the store and only purchase the items on the list to reduce the temptation for impulse buying. 

“Think before you buy,” Welter said. “Just because a product is advertised as ‘buy two, get one free’ -- if you don’t plan on using all three items before they expire, it’s not worth it.”

People often mindlessly shop, purchasing the same items over and over. Welter said to pay attention to what you usually end up throwing away. It might help you buy less next time or skip something altogether. 

“Also, make sure you have a meal or snack beforehand, so you don’t shop on an empty stomach and are tempted to buy what you don’t need,” Welter said.

Check out “A Dietitian’s Guide to Grocery Shopping” for more helpful tips.

Buy ugly fruits and veggies

Many people prefer their produce to look a certain way, without blemishes and other imperfections. This means some fruits and vegetables that are misshapen or the wrong size get tossed in the trash. 

Don’t be afraid to buy the wonky or imperfect carrot versus the “perfect” one. It is just as tasty and nourishing and provides the same nutrients as its cosmetically perfect cousin.

Store for success

Sustainable practices go beyond your shopping cart and into your pantry and fridge. 

Place fresh groceries behind products nearing their expiration dates in your pantry so they are closer and more visible.

“Store most of your produce in the refrigerator, but keep fruits and vegetables in separate crisper drawers,” Welter said. “If you don’t plan on using fresh meat within the first few days of purchase, stick it in the freezer.”

Do you have wilted spinach or brown bananas? Welter suggests trying recipe “experiments” by repurposing produce that is starting to brown or wilt. If food has spoiled, compost it versus tossing it.

Compost when you can

Recycling food into compost is an excellent way to turn scraps and organic waste into valuable fertilizer for soil and plants. Instead of throwing away things like spoiled or moldy fruit and vegetables, stale bread, eggshells and coffee grounds, collect them in a compost bin or pile. 

If you don’t have your own bin, find out if your community has a composting program where you can take your scraps.

Get creative with scraps, stems and stalks

“There are a lot of nutritious plant parts that are thrown away, such as leaves and stems,” Welter said. “Try repurposing food scraps before they reach the compost bin.”

Getting creative with kitchen scraps can reduce waste and add unique flavors and textures to your meals.

Welter shared some  ideas:

  • Save vegetable scraps like carrot tops, celery leaves, and onion peels and use them as a base for soups and stews.
  • Gather herb stems, such as parsley or cilantro, and blend them with garlic, nuts, cheese and olive oil to make a tasty pesto.
  • Instead of throwing away broccoli and cauliflower stems, peel, slice, or shred them and use them in soups and salads for added color and nutrition.
  • Blanch and sauté the tough center stems from kale or Swiss chard and add them to a stir-fry.
  • Use citrus fruit peels to add a zesty kick to smoothies (make sure they are thoroughly washed!).
  • Season and bake potato peels to make crispy chips.

Bottom line

As we all strive for a more sustainable future, Welter reminds us: “Be mindful that the food items you end up tossing into the trash are not only wasting your money but also wasting our environment.”

Each intentional choice we make in the kitchen to reduce food waste has a ripple effect, contributing to a healthier planet and, ultimately, a healthier us. 

For more helpful food and nutrition tips, check out:

Nutrition Wellness