I was fortunate enough to travel to Granada, Spain last week to attend the International Congress of Dietetics. The theme was Sustainable Eating; as part of my experience there, I have pledged to come home and do what I can to help.
I am already a proponent of eating more plant-based meals and buying organic and local when you can. But I know that sometimes, these things might not feel like an everyday reality for every one of you.
So I want to talk to you about something that we can all do – and benefit from: reduce our food waste.
While the story on food waste is pretty shocking, the main message here is that it is quite easy for each one of us to tackle this issue head on. And when we do, we will not just help save the planet, but save ourselves a whole bunch of money too. Money that you can use to buy even more good food! So let’s go –
1.Waster, know your blind spots
One great way to get a handle on food waste is to note every time you waste something. Did that pasta sauce get stuck in the back of the fridge and forgotten? Then ensuring you keep your fridge uncluttered is key.
Did you go out for lunch instead of eating those leftovers? Then perhaps you can commit to a ‘leftovers night’ mid-week to eat up whatever is left in your fridge. Or perhaps you always mean to eat yogurt because it’s healthy…but rarely do. So buying a family-sized tub isn’t for you.
Keeping track and individualizing strategies will help you get your waste-free kitchen in order!
2. Plan your meals…or buy on demand
For those who make room for meal planning in their life, it is an amazing way to reduce waste. You won’t buy kale unless you plan to make a kale salad. You can make your plan and shopping list after a once-over to see what you already have in your fridge – and plan to use it! You can plan your breakfasts and lunches to make use of leftovers – like grain bowls with leftover quinoa..or green smoothies for the greens that didn’t make it into the salads!
However, if that doesn’t work for you, the key is to shop often and buy less. Out of milk, and want to make a salad? Buy that – and only that – tonight. Having less overstock forces you to get creative with the contents of your fridge more often…like making a tahini and banana smoothie when you are out of berries.
3. Shop your fridge
A couple of times a week, force yourself to make a meal out of whatever is available. Particularly if you shop often, it can be easy to decide on what to eat and buy the ingredients daily, never stopping to use up fridge contents.
Frittata is a great way to use up odds and sods from veggies and sauces. So are soups and grain bowls. And you can put pretty much anything on toast and call it a meal. Smoothies and tofu scrambles are two more quick meals that turn scraps into yumminess.
4. Freeze first, avoid waste later.
I buy sprouted grain bread and it goes bad quickly. So I toss it in the freezer when I buy it. It preserves the bread so I never have to worry about waste…and I am okay with having to heat it up in the toaster before I use it.
You can freeze a lot of foods, as long as you are okay with texture changes. Bought a warehouse-sized bag of spinach for lunchtime salads? Freeze half right away for use in cooking later. Too many berries or herbs? Ditto. You can even grate half of your cheese and freeze it.
5. Stop throwing things out at the “Best Before” date.
So controversial, I know. I do not want you to get sick from eating spoiled food.
However, a ‘best before’ date is not an expiry date. So, if that container of yogurt expired yesterday…and there is no mould on it…toss it into a smoothie. Stale bread? Make croutons…or French toast. Dry goods like pasta and rice? Almost always okay.
Use your eyes and nose to see if food still looks good. If it smells fresh, looks free of mould, and it’s only been a few days past ‘best before’, go for it. Wash it well and cook it…unless it’s yogurt.
Note: I do not recommend being loosey goosey with this if you are pregnant or immune-compromised.
6. Order half portions when dining out…or commit to eating the leftovers for lunch
Restaurant portions are huge…making plate waste a huge issue. If you are going somewhere you know portions are too large, ask for a half order. Or, get the rest boxed up and actually eat it for lunch the next day.
7. Buy ugly produce
A huge amount of waste occurs because supermarkets don’t display food not ‘pretty enough’ to be sold. Or, we are picky and refuse to buy blemished food and then the store has to toss it.
The solution? Get ugly! The ‘ugly produce’ movement embraces delicious, healthy fruits and veggies that may have blemishes or be unusually shaped. It all looks the same once it’s in your belly.
Support stores that have brought into the ‘ugly produce’ movement…and ask them to get on board if they aren’t already.
8. Store food properly
How you store your food will help you preserve its goodness. Greens keep wilting? Wrap them in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss. And don’t store greens with apples, as they release ethylene gas which hastens ripening/spoilage. Need more advice? Here’s a go-to guide
9. Use #allthethings
Carrot tops. What the heck do you do with them? Make pesto. Add to soups. Or veggie ‘meatballs’. So many things we routinely waste are perfectly nutritious and edible. Add herbs to salads – they are green leafy vegetables, after all. Chop up kale stems and sauté with onions to soften them down.
Food waste is a real issue in our time. Considering how precious a resource our farmable land is…and how much water and energy we put into producing food, we need to do better. Reduce your waste and improve your bottom line. It’s a win-win.
Photo Credit: Issha Marie of Page and Paper Studio