Top 10 Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Reduce Food Waste

Did you know that about 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted? Here, expert tips on what that means and how we can stop wasting food.

I consider myself fairly conscious about the food I buy—where it comes from, how it was grown, its nutrition, its cost. But no matter how sustainably my food was grown, if I throw it out, it does no good. Worse than that, it’s actually a huge waste of everything that went into growing it and getting it to my table. Throwing out one hamburger, for example, wastes as much water as taking a 90-minute shower.

Yet unfortunately, about 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten. That’s enough food to fill a tractor trailer every 20 seconds all year, making food the number one product going into landfills today. Rotting food in landfills produces the powerful greenhouse gas methane. In fact, the greenhouse gas footprint of wasted food in America is equal to that of 37 million cars!

Households collectively waste more than grocery stores or restaurants. That means it’s up to us to each waste a bit less, which will in turn be a little easier on the planet because less food wasted means less water, energy and land are needed to grow it. Saving food also means saving money and often makes for fresher food and creative new recipes. Here are 10 key tips to saving more food in your kitchen.

1. PLAN, EVEN JUST A LITTLE  With our real-time lives, “plan” may seem like a four-letter word, but it’s actually easy and saves time, stress, money and, often, calories. Choose two to three meals to make this week. At least two should be meals that you make all the time. Check the fridge and pantry and make a list. People who stick to lists when shopping have been shown to have the lowest grocery bills and make fewer trips to the store than those who don’t.

2. EMBRACE YOUR LAZY  Frozen pizzas, takeout, dinner with friends are all part of the weekly mix, so if you’re shopping for the entire week, be sure to plan in at least two “lazy nights” for these types of evenings.

3. USE PERISHABLES FIRST  Plans for later in the week can often get derailed, so be sure to use the most perishable items earlier in the week. Lettuce, for instance, should be used before heartier greens like kale. Cook meals with chicken or fish first, and pasta, beans or eggs later.

4. BE REALISTIC WHEN SHOPPING  We often live out our aspirations in the grocery store, whether we’re planning to eat healthier, cook more or try something new. But then, somehow, by the time Wednesday rolls around, we’re exhausted and throwing a frozen pizza in the oven instead of cooking that lemon sole recipe we found.

Whatever your goals, make sure you’re also being realistic when shopping. Even if you haven’t sketched an actual meal plan or shopping list, think through your week before checking out at the grocery. How much time will you really have to cook? How many nights might you have plans? What needs to be used up in your fridge?

5. STORE FOOD WELL  Savvy storage can buy you days of shelf life. For example, strawberries last longer when laid in single layers with cloth or paper towels between them because it reduces moisture. Nuts keep better in the fridge because their oils won’t go rancid. Asparagus and herbs like basil or cilantro do best standing in a jar of water in your fridge door. Eggs and milk, on the other hand, should not be kept in the door because it’s warmer there. There are lots of resources to help you store your food well, including savethefood.com.

6. DON'T THROW FOOD OUT ON ITS "USE BY" DATE  “Best by” and “use by” dates are just manufacturer suggestions for when food is at its peak quality—not when the food goes bad. Many foods will actually stay good for days or even weeks after the date on the package. (If you didn’t know that, you have lots of company: Various surveys show that up to 90 percent of Americans misinterpret the date and are throwing food away prematurely.)

7. FREEZE, FREEZE, FREEZE  Freezing food is like pushing the pause button and almost anything can be frozen—bread (best sliced), milk (shake when thawed) and cheese (shredded to use for cooking). You can even freeze eggs (raw but scrambled). Just crack them, scramble them, but don’t cook them, and put them in the freezer, scrambled but raw. Then you can thaw and cook when ready.

Don’t forget to freeze leftovers, even if just for a few days. Lean on frozen vegetables to make it through the end of the week without having to go back to the store—they have the same (if not better) nutrient profile as fresh veggies, and they’re already washed and cut for you!

8. REVIVE FOODS  Most wilted vegetables, like greens or carrots, will crisp up if soaked in a 10-minute ice bath. Stale chips and crackers can in fact be un-staled by briefly toasting and then letting cool. And over-salted soups and stews can sometimes be rescued by cooking a potato in them, which will absorb some of the salt.

9. EAT IT!  You did, after all, put that food in your fridge because you intended to eat it. So make sure to use it all up. Some people like to designate “Fridge Friday” to eat all their leftovers. Others find a couple standby use-it-up recipes that they make when all those bits and pieces need to go. Soups, frittatas, stir-fry and “world tacos” are all good options. I’ve come to like Leftover Risotto that uses up rice and any meat and veggies that are around. Let your creative juices flow!

10. SHIFT YOUR MINDSET  Wasting less food is not rocket science. It’s the result of small decisions we make each day to manage our food a bit better. You know your own food habits best, and if committed to it, will naturally see the opportunities to waste less in your own life. Embrace that use-it-up mindset and join the quickly growing army of food waste warriors around the country. Bon Appetit!


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Dana Gunders

Dana Gunders

Dana Gunders is the author of Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook and an advisor to companies and other institutions on food waste reduction. For almost a decade, she founded and led the Natural Resources Defense Council’s work on the topic.
Dana Gunders

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