How to reduce food waste at home

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spaghetti

We’ve all heard the statistics related to the increase of food insecurity in the United States as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — the percentage of households that lack the resources for a stable food supply has doubled; one in six people, including one in four children, experiences food insecurity today; the current rates of food insecurity in the U.S. are higher than any point since data started being collected and tracked.

On a personal level, I have never experienced going to the grocery store to find empty meat shelves or signs informing me to purchase limited quantities of milk. I have been fortunate to not have to go without; however, I’ve frequently wondered how larger families have managed to keep the fridge stocked and put dinner on the table every night.

Will the next generation remember this time and have a different relationship with food because of COVID-19?

Growing up, I remember my grandma telling me about depression-era staples like ketchup sandwiches and endlessly hassling me for not eating the crust of my pizza or sandwiches.

“If you don’t eat your crust, your hair will never get curly,” she’d say, jokingly.

Well, grandma was right, my hair is naturally straight. However, my eating habits have changed a lot since those family pizza parties every Friday. There’s no much I don’t like or can’t find a way to prepare so it’s not so bad. And I absolutely, love leftovers. I can’t understand the people that throw them out.

Reducing food waste

There’s a good possibility I don’t waste much food because of my upbringing. Both my grandma and my mom instilled the importance of eating what’s going to go bad first and trying to use a variety of preparation methods to consume as much of a steer as possible — cow tongue sandwiches were not a win.

I realize not everyone grows up on a farm, understands what goes into producing the items on grocery store shelves and values food the same way as I do. However, now is a good time to start and the first step is minimizing food waste in your home.

Use these tips to reduce food waste:

  1. Get creative with imperfect produce. Rather than immediately tossing wilting or browning produce, you may be able to repurpose or reinvigorate it. Wilting lettuce can be given new life with a quick ice water bath. Browning bananas can be peeled and cut up to store in the freezer to later use for banana bread or smoothies. Leftover cooked vegetables, wilted or ugly produce can be used to make soups and stews.
  2. Don’t always toss it if it’s after the “best before” date. Most food is safe to eat well after the “best by,” “sell by” and “best before” dates printed on their packaging. Often times, foods can be safely consumed days, weeks, or months after these expiration dates. That’s why it’s better to trust your senses to know when food has gone bad or you can reference FoodSafety.gov’s FoodKeeper App or Ohio State Chow Line’s recent article, explaining date labels.
  3. Freeze foods to keep them fresher longer. You can freeze almost anything fresh or precooked. Freezing will save you time and money, if you do it efficiently. Food should be frozen in usable portions that are stored in tightly-closed containers with little room for liquids. You should also date and label foods your freezing to reference later and so you can rotate the oldest food to the front of your freezer.
  4. Share food when you can. Only buy what you need, but if you end up in a situation with excess food and not enough time to eat it, you can try to donate it or share it with friends and family members who could use it.
  5. Make something new with leftovers. I understand spaghetti five nights in a row because you forgot how to measure the right amount of pasts doesn’t sound appetizing and tacos on any night besides Tuesday isn’t as fun (ok, I don’t understand the tacos). By getting creative with your leftovers, you can eliminate some food waste. Here are some examples from my own kitchen:
    – Taco Taters: My daughter, Vayda, and I went through a baked potato phase about a year ago that produced a lot of epic kitchen creations. None were as notable as the taco taters. Realizing we were out of bacon, we started looking for different toppings. Fortunately, we had all the ingredients stashed away from tacos the night before. We cooked the baked potatoes in the microwave, heated up the leftover taco meats and added the cold ingredients. I’m not going to claim to be the inventor of the taco tater, but from that day forward it has been an option in our household.
    – Spaghetti Subs: Again, I have to credit Vayda for the inspiration behind this masterpiece. Also, I am that person who always seems to make too much spaghetti. Somewhere along the line, we created spaghetti subs for something different. Just take a frozen garlic bread loaf, split it into halves and cook it halfway per the instructions. Then, load it with your desired amount of spaghetti and cook it for five more minutes. Next, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and cook it until the cheese is melted. Finally, smash it all together and enjoy!
    – Add bacon to everything. If you made too much bacon for breakfast or but tonight, no problem. Bacon and shredded cheese can literally be added to any potato dish — fries, tater tots, baked potato, home fries, hash browns — and almost any breakfast dish — scrambled eggs, omelets, egg sandwiches.

Hope you enjoy trying new and creative ways to use leftovers and reduce food waste. Feel free to share your ideas below, in the comments!

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