The first thing that came to mind this year when I thought of Earth Day was reducing food waste. It can have a positive impact on the environment and it feels like the right thing to do during the current crisis. While many companies use food waste reduction and diversion practices (Harmons uses good ordering, production, and rotation practices, participates in Utah Food Bank’s Grocery Rescue Program, and composts green waste), there is an opportunity to reduce food waste on an individual level. Not only is reducing food waste a positive step for our environment, it can also positively impact the wallet! Here are my top tips.
- Meal plan. Having a plan can really narrow down what you need to purchase. Start by checking to see what you already have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Plan for meals that use up perishable items (e.g. lettuce, fresh herbs, or fresh meat) first and plan for less perishable items later (e.g. frozen and canned foods, winter squash, cabbage, or apples). Plan for at least one meal to make use of produce left over from other recipes. Egg scrambles, soups, and casseroles are usually flexible enough to accommodate a variety of vegetables and herbs.
- Shop smart. Make a shopping list based on what you need for your meal plan and stick to it. Shop the refrigerated and frozen areas of the store last. Buy larger packages of foods only if you think you can finish the food before it spoils.
- Food storage. Organize food storage with the newest food at the back so that you use the oldest food first. Label and date frozen foods (especially foods you won’t easily be able to identify) so you know what you need to use first and what that mystery ingredient is (I once mixed up frozen lemon juice cubes with chicken stock cubes). Check the temperature of your refrigerator and make sure it’s at 40 degrees or lower (according to Consumer Reports 37 degrees is ideal) and that your freezer is at 0 degrees or below. This downloadable chart lists storage times for food safety and quality.
- Use your freezer. If you have the freezer space, freeze items that will go bad before you can use them. Many items freeze well; I regularly freeze brown rice, chicken broth, lemon juice, marinara sauce, bananas, bread, and tomato paste.
- Find alternate uses and use as much as you can. Use stale bread to make croutons or bread crumbs. Vegetable scraps can be saved in the freezer to make broth. Turn potato peels into a crispy snack by tossing them with oil and spices and roasting them. Zest citrus fruit before juicing and either freeze or dehydrate for later use.
- Keep track. Make a note of what foods you regularly waste and why. Use this information when making your shopping list and meal plan. Does that dinner taste great that night, but not the next day? If you can, make a smaller portion. Do you aspire to eat kale, but secretly hate it? Switch to another leafy green like spinach or arugula. Did you just not feel like eating the meal that you had planned? Build some flexibility into your plan so that you can switch to another meal or get takeout.
Find strategies and a system that work best for your lifestyle. Reducing food waste is the perfect intersection of celebrating our earth and adapting to our current situation amidst the pandemic. Harmons dietitians wish you the best with your meal planning, and if you are seeking additional guidance you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.