Food: Too Good To Waste

We are closing out National Nutrition Month and remember this year’s theme is “Fuel for the Future” eating with sustainability in mind. People are often thinking about the way foods are produced as a means of eating sustainably. While this is important, I want to challenge that thought and think about how much food we throw away. Is that sustainable? I mentioned in my last article that Americans throw away billions of pounds of food each year. Let me remind you that this is only the food we as consumers are throwing away, not what is wasted during harvest, processing and left on the shelves of local grocery stores.

In 2010 the EPA estimates that 218.9 pounds of food per person were wasted, 219 pounds of food in the trash. This equates to 1.3 billion tons of food being thrown in our landfills, which is about a third of the food produced for consumption, costing about $161 billion. To bring this down to a household level, a family of 4 throws away an average of $1600 of food annually. That is two months’ worth of grocery bills in my house and with inflation where it is, I can’t afford to waste food or money. So, what can we do about the food waste?

Plan meals before shopping. If you know what and how much you are going to eat for the week, that prevents food from rotting in the fridge. Also take inventory of what you already have. Lots of times you don’t need to buy every ingredient for a dish because you already have it on hand or you can adjust the recipe to accommodate for ingredients you’ve already have. Don’t forget to take inventory of the trash. If you threw it away, it means that you and your family don’t eat it.

Eat leftovers. Choose to pack a lunch of leftovers for work. Using clear containers to store the leftovers can help, that way you can see what leftover are inside each container. Containers you can’t see through may cause the leftovers to get lost in the fridge.

Buy frozen. If you buy fresh food and have a problem with your food rotting before you get to it, try buying the frozen alternative. If you don’t think you can eat food before it goes bad, throw it in the freezer and save for a later time.

Keep food out of the trash. If you can’t eat it, compost it. Composting is a great way to improve soil health and to keep vegetable food scraps out of the trash.

Make a Broth. Make flavorful reduced sodium broths and stocks for future dishes. Instead of throwing away the questionable vegetables you didn’t get to in time, or the ends that were cut off when preparing them, throw them in the freezer to make vegetable broth. Once enough vegetables are collected throw them in a stock pot with water and seasonings and boil for about 2 hours. Strain the broth from the vegetable parts and fill freezer containers. If freezer space is a concern, meat and vegetable broths can be canned, but please follow USDA recipes as these broths will need to be pressure canned. Once you are finished with the vegetable scraps compost them.

In 2015 the USDA partnered with the EPA and set a goal to reduce our nation’s Food Waste by 50% by the year 2030. So what steps are you going to take to reduce your food waste?

Monica Nagele is the County Extension Director and educator of health and human science for the Montgomery County Purdue Extension.