According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, we waste one-third of all food produced for human consumption — approximately 1.3 billion tons. In the United States, we waste nearly the same quantity of food as is produced in sub-Saharna Africa. Here are 10 tips to help reduce the amount of food we waste. You’ll save food — and money, too.
Before the meal: Plan your menu and how much food you’ll need.
1. Be realistic. The fear of not providing enough to eat often makes us cook too much. The Love Food Hate Waste organization, which focuses on sharing convenient tips for reducing food waste, provides a handy “perfect portions” planner to calculate meal sizes for parties as well as for everyday meals.
2. Plan ahead. A shopping list helps reduce impulse buying or buying more than you need. Keep in mind that stores typically use sales to lure us into buying impulse items and spending more.
During the meal: Control the amount on your plate to reduce the amount in the garbage.
3. Go small. Holidays and family celebrations like birthdays and anniversaries often result in plates piled high with more food than can be eaten. Simple tricks of using smaller serving utensils or plates can encourage smaller portions, which reduces the amount left on plates. Your guests can always take second or even third servings if they’re still hungry, and it is much easier (and hygienic) to use leftovers from serving platters for future meals.
4. Encourage self-serve. Allow guests to serve themselves, choosing what and how much they would like to eat. This helps to make meals feel more familiar and also reduces the amount of unwanted food left on guests’ plates.
After the meal: Make the most out of leftovers.
5. Store leftovers safely. Proper storage will preserve food safely for future meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that hot foods be left out for no more than two hours. Store leftovers in smaller, individual-size containers to make them easier to grab for a quick snack or meal, rather than being passed over and eventually wasted.
6. Compost food scraps. Instead of throwing out the vegetable peels, eggshells and other food scraps, consider composting them. Individual composting systems can be relatively easy and inexpensive, and they provide quality fertilizer for garden soils. San Francisco became the first American city to pass legislation encouraging city-wide composting in 2010. My daughter has a counter-top composting bucket in her kitchen, which, when full, gets added to the bigger bin in the backyard — and her garden is healthier for it.
7. Create new meals. If composting is not an option for you, check out Love Food Hate Waste’s creative recipes to see if your food scraps can be used for new meals. Vegetable scraps and turkey carcasses can be easily boiled down for stock and soups, and bread crusts and ends can be used to make tasty homemade croutons.
8. Donate excess. Food banks and shelters gladly welcome donations of canned and dried foods, especially during the colder months. The charity group Feeding America partners with more than 200 local food banks across the United States, supplying food to more than 37 million people each year. To find a food bank near you, visit the organization’s Food Bank Locator.
9. Support food-recovery programs. In some cases, food-recovery systems will come to you to collect your excess. In New York City, City Harvest, the world’s first food-rescue organization, collects approximately 28 million pounds of food each year that would otherwise go to waste, providing groceries and meals for more than 300,000 people.
Consider what you’re giving.
10. Give gifts with thought. When giving food as a gift, avoid highly perishable items and make an effort to select foods that you know the recipient will enjoy rather than waste. The Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit, works with farmers and producers in tropical areas to ensure they are practicing environmentally sustainable and socially just methods. The group’s certified chocolates, coffee and teas are great gifts that have with long shelf lives, and buying them helps support businesses and individuals across the world.
According to the environmental group Worldwatch, the food wasted in the United States each year is enough to satisfy the hunger of the approximately one billion malnourished people worldwide, according to Tristram Stuart, a food waste expert and contributing author to State of the World 2011. Buying and using food wisely can help reduce food waste and its cost.
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