In 2019, CNBC reported that the average American family throws out nearly $1500 worth of food every year! That’s $165 million as a nation – every year! If that doesn’t curl your hair consider that the New York Times stated in 2017 that “globally we throw out about 1.3 billion tons of food a year or a third of all the food that we grow.”
The most serious offenders are first world countries – where nearly forty percent of wasted food is not thrown out by businesses or restaurants, but by individual consumers.
What do we throw out?
Statistically, fruits and vegetables come in first place in the “waste race” – with dairy and then meat coming in at second and third place, respectively.
I’m not throwing stones. It happens to the best of us. Yet, these statistics beg us to ponder several questions.
- What can be done to greatly reduce these startling statistics?
- How can my family actively become part of the solution?
- How much is food waste impacting my food bills?
As individual families, the solution begins in answering those important questions. I’d like to propose that you start with over a dozen important strategies that my family has implemented to help us reach as close as we can to zero food waste.
How much money does the average family throw out in food waste.
According to the most recent USDA estimates, the average family of four spends about $1000 a month on groceries every month.
The amount of food wasted by the average American family is like taking $1000 to the store and then throwing a couple of $100 bills out the window on your way to the store.
No one would do that. Yet, that’s what most people do when they buy food and then wind up throwing it out.
Is Zero Percent Waste Possible?
I have to say, “no”. Even as careful as I am, I, too, occasionally throw out food.
However, for years now our family has had a written 3% food waste goal, meaning that we use nearly every single scrap of food that comes into the house.
I hate wasting food.
If you want to stop that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach as you scrape rotted food into the garbage can, then I’d like to offer you some practical tips that have actually worked for our family.
I’ll list all 14 ways we avoid food waste. If you’d like to learn more information about each tip and hear me give personal examples from our home, then be sure to watch our YouTube video on Zero Food Waste, below.
Here are 14 Ways You Can reduce Food Waste
1. Store food correctly
Articles abound on avoiding freezer burn, reconstituting dried out cheese, and positioning produce to extend shelf life.
The problem of rotting food covers the entire spectrum of what comes home with us from the grocery store, farmers market, or local co-op. At its heart, the quandary of slimy, overripe, or shriveled food begins with improper storage.
Knowing where to put food to make it stay fresh for as long as possible is the first step in avoiding scraping formerly edible food into the garbage can.
2. Know what you have on hand.
Inventory what you have and devise a plan to use it! As soon as I get back from the store, (or pick up our weekly CSA share) I look at the produce and list it in the order in which I need to use it.
For instance, I know that I need to use leaf lettuce early in the week, but cabbage will easily weather the distance from Monday to Saturday and still be edible. Each week, create a mental, or preferably written, prioritized list of all available, perishable food.
3. Organize Your Pantry and Freezer
Here are some simple strategies to help you not only easily find what’s in your pantry and freezer, but also to avoid wasting items that get buried in the darkest corner of the pantry or fall to the bottom of the freezer and never get used.
Group similar together.
I create sections in my food storage areas, just like a store. Look at your food and then think of it in terms of broad categories, like: fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, condiments, baking supplies, and sweeteners.
Place boxes, bags, or cans that belong in each category right beside one other on the shelves. This allows you to quickly see what you have on hand and what you need to buy at the store. You’ll avoid overstocking some items, while running low on others.
Place taller items at the back.
Avoid placing shorter items behind taller ones. You won’t lose sight of those shorter items and prematurely replace that small jar of mustard or pickles, thinking that you have run out of them.
Label and Date Items.
Part of effective food storage, is knowing how long each item has been on your shelf. Using a black, permanent marker, write the date on the top of cans or the side of bags.
If you have broken up bulk food into smaller bags before storing, be sure to label the bag so you know what’s in it. Trust me, sliced peaches look an awful lot like apples when they have been in the freezer for a while.
Explore More Posts and Videos Related to Food Storage
- 3 Hacks for Organizing Your Pantry (post)
- Step-by-Step Freezer Organization and Inventory (post)
- How to Know What’s In Your Pantry in 30 seconds or Less (video)
- Organizing Your Freezer (video)
4. Clearly Label and Dates Leftovers
To ensure that leftovers are consumed in a timely fashion, you need to have a standard procedure which allows each family member follows to appropriately repackage food that is left on the table or in the pot at the end of each meal.
Essentially, you should be able to look in the fridge and know immediately the contents of each container and how long it has been in there.
Communicate really clearly about what food is in the fridge. When my boys clear the table each night, they put the leftovers into rubbermaid or other plastic containers.
They label the top of each container with a black dry erase marker. The name of the dish goes on the top. Writing the date on the container is a must. They then tell me what containers they put the leftovers into and how they labelled them.
Then, have a plan to use those leftovers! This insures that you eat leftover food up before it goes bad.
5. Serve Planned Leftovers
Leftovers don’t always need to be unexpected. Planned leftovers allow you to serve half of a dish one night, and then deliberately keep the other half back for the next meal.
You can make leftovers more interesting by serving them in a different form. For instance, mix leftover homemade chili with macaroni to create chili mac for a second meal or mix leftover rice and beans with salsa and then roll the mixture up in tortillas for lunch the next day. In this way, you’ll be able to stretch small amounts of leftover food to feed your family for a second time.
6. Use scraps to make broth
People often throw the ends, stems, cores, and seeds of produce into the garbage can. However, much of it can be saved and then used to create a delicious, nutritious vegetable broth.
Basically, homemade veggie scrap broth costs you nothing, since you are creating it using plant parts that you would otherwise have thrown away. Not only does it help you come closer to zero food waste, it also is quite easy to make.
7. Create a Mulch Pile
Backyard mulch piles are super easy to set up. A set of four tomato stakes can be driven into the ground to create a square area and then surrounded by chicken wire. Voila! You have an instant mulch pile which will receive enough oxygen to help plants safely decompose, creating a rich soil for gardening.
8. Bulk Cook
Bulk cooking saves both time and money. It also allows you to use perishable items when they are at their freshest. My son, Daniel, and I regularly bulk cook together. Spending six hours in the kitchen once a week saves us a lot of time and effort later.
From experience I can tell you that you’ll end up throwing far less rotted food into the garbage can with regular bulk cooking. Not only that, when I started bulk cooking regularly, I was able to cut my grocery budget nearly in half.
9. Freeze Meal-sized Portions of Leftover Food
Another surefire zero waste strategy is to freeze meal-sized portions of food immediately after cooking. If you think in terms of making five, noontime meals, you can easily plan and freeze a week’s worth of lunches, using leftovers.
You’ll be able to grab one container on your way out the door each morning and have a quick, easy, inexpensive lunch, which took you no extra time to pack.
10. Preserve food for later use
If you know it will rot before you can use it, then freeze or dehydrate it!
A huge amount of produce is freezable. I realize that there are exceptions. Don’t freeze celery. (I’ve done it. It doesn’t end well.) But, much of what we buy can be frozen for later use.
Herbs can be frozen by chopping and placing the pieces into small yogurt containers. Pour in just enough water to cover the fresh herbs. Place in freezer. When firm, pop out your herbal ice and place in freezer bags.
Green onions can be chopped and placed in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the freezer. When the green onion pieces are firm, remove them from the tray and place in freezer bags. Since you froze them singularly, they won’t stick together in a clump. You can pour them right out of the bag to use them and they will come out in beautiful single pieces.
Grapes and berries can be frozen in the same way. Frozen grapes are a great, low calorie treat on a hot summer day. This is also a great way to save produce, which has been purchased at rock-bottom prices.
11. Shop with a grocery list
Although this may not seem like a no-waste strategy, it actually is. When we shop with a list (and stick to it) we are less likely to buy more food than we can comfortably eat before it rots.
Ultimately, getting “in” and “out” of the grocery store saves time and money. In fact if you limit trips to buy food to no more than four times a month, your average savings will go even higher.
If you can menu plan and extend the length of time between grocery hauls to every other week or even once a month, then, statistically, you’ll make even deeper cuts to the bottom line of your food bills.
12. Plan Regular “Clean Out the Fridge” Meals
This is one of my favorite things to do. Once a week I pull every perishable item out of the fridge, make a list of them, and then create a menu plan centered around items that I already have in the house.
When you do this regularly, it plummets your food waste and allows you to stop throwing out unusable items for which you’ve already paid good money.
For more inspiration, read these related posts and watch these videos:
- Step-by-Step Guide to Making Easy Veggie Broth from Scraps (post)
- How to Quickly Freeze Produce (post)
- Easy Zero Waste Menu Planning (post)
- Freezing Fresh Herbs for Long Term Storage (post)
- Bulk Cooking Tutorial (video)
- Zero Waste Menu Planning (video)
13. Make Soup with Leftovers Once a Week
Some call it “kitchen sink soup”, while others give it the name “Everything Soup”. Whatever you call it, a big pot of homemade soup is one of the easiest ways to use up items in your fridge before they go bad. Not only that, it’s a kind of culinary adventure, which brings about new and interesting combinations every time.
It’s so easy to do. Toward the end of the week, simply put leftover produce on the counter and then begin strategizing how you can combine these items to make a homemade soup.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
14. Make Zero Food Waste a Family Challenge
Food waste needs to be a stated, written goal. When you write a goal, there is a 70% greater chance that you will meet it.
Our family has pledged to one another that we will waste no more than three percent of what we buy. That leaves room for an occasional “oops” and basically allows us all to be human.
However, this also puts in writing that we are working toward eliminating needless waste, practicing a grateful heart for the blessing of having food to eat, and making the most of every single grocery dollar.
How do you waste less food in your house?
Leave your tips in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.