Throwing out wasted food can quickly add up, both in the garbage can and the wallet. During No Waste Week from March 20-24, save money and cut down on food waste by planning meals, safely storing food and getting creative with leftovers.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the food supply at the retail and consumer levels is wasted in the United States. This corresponds to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion dollars of food.
Katie Cullum, White County extension family and consumer sciences agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said there are “many reasons why we waste food at home.”
“From schedule changes, to pickiness, to not planning, it’s not just a matter of your food dollars wasted — throwing your money down the trash,” Cullum said. “It also affects the environment. Organic waste, mostly food, is the second biggest component of landfills. Not to mention the waste of valuable resources, such as water, energy and land.”
One of the best ways to reduce food waste and to save money on the grocery bill is to plan meals ahead, Cullum said.
“Plan your meals for the week, and plan how to use the extra ingredients that you buy, especially produce,” she said. “Check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer before making a shopping list to see what you already have and what might need to be used up. And then stick to the list while shopping or use an app to keep track.”
Cullum suggested downloading the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodKeeper app, which helps consumers keep food safe and not waste it. The app has an “add to calendar” feature that allows users to log certain foods and receive reminders to use products before they spoil. It also offers cooking tips, information on food safety recalls, and a function to search storage guidelines for specific foods.
Cullum said it’s important to only purchase what you can eat in a week and be realistic about how excess food will be used. “If you find a great deal on bagged salad, can you eat it all? Prep a few lunches with it so you can finish the bag,” she said.
To ensure leftovers and extra food don’t go to waste, plan a leftovers night and get creative about what that meal — or meals — may look like.
“Make a habit of using up whatever you have one night a week,” Cullum said. “Everyone may eat something different, but that’s OK. Go through all the places you store food to see what needs to be eaten. Half a pepper? Small zucchini? Green onions? Think about what you can make with those, such as an omelet or a pasta dish.”
After food is purchased, storing it safely is critical to both personal health and reducing waste. Cullum said the temperature setting of a refrigerator should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and freezers should be zero degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s also helpful to store food where it can be easily seen. Keep the fridge clean and use clear containers to avoid mystery leftovers.
“Keep produce or other foods you want to use in plain sight,” Cullum said. “Make it easy to find foods by keeping your fridge cleaned out. If you have more leftovers than you need, freeze them or use them for lunches, which also saves you money by not eating out.”
CLICK HERE to read more about food safety and food waste at Cullum’s Small Steps to Healthy Habits blog.
For more information about nutrition, meal planning and recipe tips, contact your county Family and Consumer Sciences agent.