Sustainability Challenge: Less Food Waste

Reducing Food Waste

We’re back with a new sustainability challenge for the first month of 2021! For new readers and for those of us that need a refresher on these challenges, here is a little recap:

It all started last January when I launched a challenge to stop buying plastic water bottles entirely. Since that day a year ago, I can count on one hand the number of plastic water bottles I’ve purchased and that feels really good! Many of you have told me the same story which means I hit my goal of a lot of people making a small change for a big impact.

That sparked an idea to do many small challenges throughout the year including some of my favorites such as cutting out plastic bags, using cleaner cleaning products, reducing junk mail, composting, and eating less meat. Anel and I really committed to all of them and while we haven’t been 100% perfect (that’s not the point of these challenges!), we’ve started seeing things from a new perspective and we both take extra steps in places that we might not have before.

Today’s post came from a few of you guys who suggested that I share tips for reducing food waste, a big topic of conversation in my house. Anel grew up in Bosnia during the war and lived through many months with not enough food. He was very lucky that his family lived on a farm and was able to live off of their land more than a lot of others in the same position. But wasting food is his number one pet peeve so we spend a lot of time focusing on how not to do it.

Food Waste Facts

  • In most developed countries, over half of food waste happens at home (source)
  • About  1/3 of the food produced that is intended for human consumption every year (around 1.3 billion tons)  is wasted or lost. This is enough to feed 3 billion people.
  • The water used to produce the food wasted could be used by 9 billion people at around 200 liters per person per day.
  • Food loss and waste accounts for about 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
  • If food loss were a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.
  • If 25% of the food currently being lost or wasted globally were saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million people around the world (source for all points above)

These are the steps that we take in our house to reduce food waste. I hope they’re helpful for you too!

Step 1: Smarter Shopping

It all starts at the grocery store and planning to shop smarter. What works for me is to make a list (on paper because I’m 87 years old) that I divide by produce, aisles, and frozen sections. I base the list on what we’ve run out of and what we need for meals in the upcoming week. Including quantities is important too. If I just write onions I might end up with 4 or 5

In COVID-times I’ve been shopping once a week instead of more often which has forced me to plan ahead more. A blessing in disguise, actually.

If I go into the grocery store with no plan, I end up buying a ton of things I don’t need that ultimately end up getting wasted.

Step 2: Fridge Prep

I’ll talk about actual meal-prepping in a second but what has helped us most is what I call fridge-prep. When I buy fresh fruits and veggies for snacking and cooking, I immediately put them into glass Tupperware instead of hidden in drawers so that we don’t forget what we have. That was where our biggest mistake was happening. I’d buy kale or carrots and then forget about them in the veggie drawer.

On that note, I now use the drawers for things like bread and eggs that I know we’ll go through daily and I’ll never forget. It goes against every fridge photo ever but it works for us!

The other important piece to this puzzle is properly storing fruits/veggies to last longer. This article is a great resource for that. I bought two of these OXO green saver produce keepers and found that berries/grapes/baby carrots last a lot longer in them than in regular Tupperware for whatever reason. For herbs, I wrap the stems in wet paper towels and I make sure to always wash and dry everything before storing.

Step 3: Meal Prep

This is probably the most important step in not wasting food in our house. It goes along with grocery store planning but takes it even further. I realistically cook a family meal for dinner 4x/week and always make extra for lunch leftovers 4x/week. That means one weekday of ordering in or buying something prepared. We love Trader Joe’s frozen meals or I’ll buy something from the local Italian market (A&S for anyone around here. IYKYK.) I also order in or pick up for lunch 1-2x/week but really try to cook or prepare everything besides that.

The frozen/boxed premade meals that we try to always keep on hand are:

  • Dr. Praeger’s California veggie burgers- I heat them up in the air fryer then serve them over a salad
  • Annie’s rice and bean burritos- I often eat them for lunch with Trader Joe’s salsa and a sliced avocado
  • Frozen cauliflower pizza crust and frozen pizzas for Amalia
  • Trader Joe’s chana masala, vegetable biryani, garlic naan, mango chutney, and chicken tikka masala
  • Trader Joe’s veggie fried rice
  • Frozen cooked brown rice and frozen cauliflower rice
  • Annie’s white shells and cheddar for Amalia
  • Amy’s Thai coconut soup
  • Amy’s pesto tortellini bowls

For planning meals that I cook, I save recipes to Pinterest and look through my favorite cookbooks and blogs (Love & Lemons and Cookie & Kate are my current favorites) for inspiration. I often go back to my tried and true favorites like my white chicken chili, vegetarian Moroccan stew, and turkey bolognese.

Anel and I look through the plan for the week on Sunday nights and once we’re both on board, I make the shopping list and shop on Mondays. This doesn’t always work out so perfectly but it’s our goal to do it as close to this way as possible.

Step 4: Backstock of Pantry Items

You can meal-prep until the cows come home but there will always be extra veggies in our fridge that go to waste unless I get creative. In the summer I throw together salads and in the fall/winter I either do a big veggie roast or just throw everything into a soup. This step happens about once a week towards the end of the week when I really feel like ordering dinner but try to think about what I can make with what I have instead.

An essential part of this step for us is having pantry items and spices stocked up so that I have more recipe options with the leftover veggies.

I always keep a backstock of at least 3 everything we use regularly. The top items in our backstock are: Rao’s tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken and veggie broth, cannellini beans, black beans, chickpeas, olive oil, green chilis, canned tuna, pasta, and salsa.

I also try to always keep chicken breast and ground beef/turkey stocked up in the fridge so that meatballs or chili are just a step away.

Bonus Step: Composting

At the end of the day, there is always going to some sort of food waste in our house, and I’m guessing in most of yours as well. Composting at least some of that waste (how we compost) cuts it down big time and gives it back to the ground. We use our compost to fertilize our garden but if you don’t have a garden, you can use it for plants (indoor or outdoor).

If you don’t have anywhere to use it at home, you might be able to donate it to a local farm or community garden. And if you live in a city, you might be able to donate food scraps like you can in NYC. Check out this impressive list of compost pick up services all over the country. If you’re local to Fairfield County, you can join a food scrap recycling program here.

More Resources

Stop Wasting Food Movement

Food Waste in America (Feed the Children)

20 Facts About Food Waste (earth.org)

Reducing Food Waste at Home (EPA)

10 Food Waste Facts You Need to Know (Olio)

Let me know if you have any other tips for cutting down on food waste. We’re always trying to do better over here. And I really hope you’ll join me in this challenge!

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