As Earth Day approaches, I’m sharing my learnings from the 30 Day Food Waste Challenge and tips from my food and nutrition expert friends!
This post is part of my role as a member of the Beef Expert Bureau. I have been compensated for my time commitment. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.
The Food Waste Movement
Food waste has become a major concern. But how big is the problem, really? Let’s put it in perspective: every American wastes over 20 pounds of food per month. That’s enough to fill a 90,000 seat Rose Bowl stadium every day! But if you make the commitment to waste less, you could save yourself $2500 per year and help our environment!
No one likes harming the environment or throwing their cash in the trash! But that’s exactly what we do when we throw away food that spoiled before we ate it. I’m a food safety “fanatic”, so I’m more inclined to throw food in the garbage instead of risk getting sick from eating it. But the new “food waste” movement has given me pause…Is there a way I can decrease food waste and still eat safely and enjoyably? Well, I found out the answer when I did the 30 Day Food Waste Challenge (as part of my ongoing “Do M.O.R.E. with Dinner” initiative)! I discovered where and how my family is wasting food that could have been safely eaten and enjoyed. Throughout the 30 Day challenge I was able to identify some specific areas for improvement and make some important changes. I’m guessing you might be able to relate to these and benefit from my learnings, too.
I learned most of our weekly food waste comes from fresh and/or prepared vegetables and salads. I also learned that I’m pretty good about getting leftover cooked meats into my freezer within a safe time frame, but not so great at getting it out again. And when I do, I’m afraid to use it because I’m not quite sure what it is or how old it is.
These 3 new solutions have made a huge difference in our weekly food waste:
1. Using up leftovers veggies and salads in our Friday taco/pizza night
2. Taking a second look at bags of “expired” veggies and salvaging most of them. Before the challenge, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about tossing it in the trash.
3.Doing a better job of labeling of meats that go in my freezer (type of meat and dates cooked/frozen) and planning one night a week to “shop my freezer” and save me from cooking that night
I have to credit my friend Judy Barbe (registered dietitian and author of Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest – Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being) for the taco/pizza solution. You can hear more about that creative idea and Judy’s other awesome food solutions in my podcast interview with her (The (Re) Purpose of Food).
Here are some more tips from Judy:
- Fruits and vegetables are often stored improperly which causes them to go bad quickly and ultimately get thrown away. Some fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator while others are cold-sensitive and should be stored at room temperature.Room temperature: banana, pineapple, ginger, winter squash, eggplant, basil
Ripen at room temp then refrigerate: avocado, kiwifruit, melon, peach, pear, plum, mango
Cool, dark pantry: potato, sweet potato, garlic, onionIf you are regularly throwing out fresh, think frozen or canned.
- Repurpose last night’s meatloaf into paninis or stir into egg muffin cups, cornbread or marinara sauce.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More than 130 delicious, healthy recipes for every meal of the day, shared this tip:
“Use the herb stems. Oftentimes we tend to toss the stems when they actually are filled with lots of flavor. Once the leaves are off the stem, or you chop off the bottom stems, use in water to cook quinoa, rice, farro, and other whole grains. Once cooked, remove the stems and toss.”
Food blogger friend Amee Livingston (of Amee’s Savory Dish) shared this tip:
“Planning meals in advance not only saves you money, but helps you eliminate food waste and stay on track with your healthy eating goals. Meal prep for healthy eating success!” Check out Amee’s meal prep ideas using flank steak.
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND, Founder & President of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting shared this advice:
“Dairy products are on the top three categories of U.S. household food waste based on value. In my house we always seem to have milk that needs to be used right before vacation. I often freeze the milk, and then use it in cream-based soups at a later date. Works great!”
Jen Haugen, RDN, LD, (who specializes in empowering moms to cook confidently and live balanced lives so health comes naturally!) shared this insight:
“Purchase the food at the grocery store that’s in your menu and THAT’S IT! Recently, I threw away a package of unopened wonton wrappers that were dated May 2016. (Hello, it’s nearly May 2017!) I remember when I purchased them, I happened to walk by them and was inspired to try something new, but did I ever get to it? No, and they ended up in the garbage. So my tip is to make a menu plan (dietitians can help with this!) and shopping list, and then stick with it. In my current position, I have an 8 week cycle menu I developed, and not only is it planned for health and seasonality in mind, it’s also amazingly efficient and saves a BUNCH of time. No more asking “What’s to eat?” — instead dinner is DONE!”
Culinary nutrition expert Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN told me that her #1 tip for reducing food waste is to meal plan!
“Whether you create a menu plan for a week or a month, knowing in advance what you’re going to cook will help you use up ingredients that would otherwise go bad. If you’re planning week to week, you can base your menu on what’s already in the fridge that you need to use up. If you’re planning further in advance, you can buy groceries based on what you know you will be making in the weeks to come.”
For menu planning inspiration, check out Jessica’s weekly Menu Plan Monday!
Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, host of Cooking with Sarah-Jane video series and blog shared these delicious ways to repurpose food and decrease food waste:
- Bread gone stale? Don’t toss it! Instead, transform it into croutons. Cut bread into cubes, spritz it with olive oil, sprinkle it with herbs, salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of Parm, and then broil them until they’re extra crispy. I like to serve them on a salad with this super-simple DIY salad dressing. Another option? Grind them into breadcrumbs and use them in a variety of recipes.
- My husband and I make this salmon for dinner at least once a week, and we often have a little bit of fish leftover from the meal but not enough for another full serving, so I save it anyway and make it into a salmon cake. All you have to do is combine your fish leftovers with an egg and some bread crumbs, then shape it into a patty and fry it in a little oil. Eat it over a bed of greens or serve it burger-style on a bun.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, and author of the Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, shares these tips and others to make cooking and eating healthfully more simple and straight forward in her book:
“What really works for me is to know what I have, so I don’t buy extras. For me, this just comes down to being organized. I organize my spices in alphabetical order, so I never have two bottles of the same thing open. It makes cooking much more pleasant and easier too. In my pantry, I organize by open and unopened packages. I have bins for open grains and another for unopened grains. Same for nuts and dried fruit. This way I never mistakenly open a second bag. A lot of people like apps for organization – a popular one is Out of Milk. I also use a sharpie to put the date I open a package, so I know if I need to throw it out or not. For example, my broth can stay opened in the refrigerator for 14 days. If the date is on it, I know if it’s still fresh. I don’t have to throw it out because I have doubt.”
As you can see, I get by with a little help from my friends and their awesome food tips. I hope you found them helpful, too! Here’s a little more information about food waste and some great resources:
These are the main phases of the 30-Day Food Waste Challenge:
- Assess your current food waste habits (that’s how I found out I was throwing away lots of fresh produce)
- Shop Your Kitchen (doing this can save you a trip to the grocery store)
- Get Creative with Leftovers (like our new taco/pizza night solution)
- Refrigerator Dive (this became a very important step in my weekly meal planning that I had been skipping)
- Re-think Your Freezer Situation (make sure you are storing food properly and labeling it, too!)
To learn more and get cool free tools like this Weekly Menu Plan check out the 30-Day Food Waste Challenge. What is the easiest way you can help the environment on Earth Day? Make a pledge to join the challenge and decrease your environmental FOODprint today!