Food waste is a growing problem in the world, as many companies are overproducing and overcharging for their products. While many people cannot afford quality food and have limited access to grocery stores, others are buying so much food that they end up throwing significant amounts away. For families, it’s especially important to shop wisely and set a good example for children to avoid food waste in the future.
Saving food is also a sustainability issue. Countless acres of trees fall each year to clear land for agriculture and crops. If you want to do your part to ease the planet’s burden, here are five ways families can start reducing their food waste.
By Cora Gold, Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist
1. Up Your Storage Game
Did you know that nearly half of all fruits and vegetables produced annually end up in the waste bin before crossing a single pair of lips? Considering the vast number of people hungry around the globe and right here at home, such wastefulness seems immoral, even cruel.
When you’re buying for a large family, you probably need to increase the amount of each item to ensure there’s enough for everyone. However, if you overestimate, you might have ingredients you don’t know what to do with by the end of the week.
Much of the waste occurs because these perishable items go bad before people can consume them. However, you can prevent spoilage with the right storage methods.
You find bread and grains as shelf-staples at the grocery. You might need two or more loaves of bread to make all your kids’ sandwiches for the week, and everyone might have different cereal preferences. However, you can end up with a stale loaf or box of cereal in no time. How can you make these products last?
Start by learning the rules when baking at home. Placing bread in packaging before it cools traps moisture near your loaf, speeding crystallization and mold growth. Opt for plastic wrap over paper to keep it moist and springy when it reaches room temperature.
You can keep your cereal fresher by breaking it free of the box. Instead, opt for reusable plastic storage containers that keep out moisture, mold and insects. Flour does best in a sealed, airtight container, as light and heat exposure can cause oxidation.
You want your kids to start their day off right with fruit for breakfast, but what happens when your produce is starting to turn by the end of the week?
Consider the big three when storing fresh fruits and vegetables: temperature, airflow and ethylene. Most soft fruits and veggies do best in the fridge. However, hard root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic do best at cool room temperatures.
Most refrigerated produce does best in sealed packages. These hold in moisture and prevent contamination from ethylene gas. However, you should let room-temperature vegetables breathe free of packaging.
Ethylene gas stems from fruits like apples and bananas. Other vegetables, like broccoli and kale, are sensitive to this chemical. Keep these products separated.
You can keep full cuts in the freezer for up to a year as long as they are wrapped to prevent burn. Ground meats keep for up to six months. Thawing and refreezing might not create adverse health effects but can change the food’s texture, color and odor.
Other methods for preserving meat include curing it with salt or dehydrating it. Cured meats can last for three to four months. Jerky lasts for up to two months without needing refrigeration, making it a great lunchbox snack for your kids to take to school.
2. Get Creative With Leftovers
The United States alone discards nearly 40 million tons of food each year. Much of the waste comes from uneaten leftovers. While leftovers can be a dinner staple for many families, they often go to waste when your kids ask to order a pizza instead. Here’s how to make them last longer.
Some leftovers freeze perfectly for a second meal the next night — or even a week in the future. Your best bet is to invest in various size freezer bags. These take up far less space than hard plastic containers and fit nearly anything. That leftover spiralized butternut squash, complete with sauce and mushrooms, slides neatly into the zippered sack until you pull it out and put it in the crockpot.
Have you seen the hit Food Network series “Chopped?” Contestants receive four unusual ingredients on the show — often things like leftover frozen pizza. They must use their culinary expertise to whip these into new and delicious dinners.
You can do the same, and even have your kids make a game of it to make their mealtime more fun. Did you only eat half of your sandwich? Fry up the leftover ham and onions with an egg or two to make an omelet and toast the bread for a speedy breakfast the next day.
Soup may be the best way to use leftover veggies and meat before they go bad. You don’t even need a recipe. You can make vegetable or beef stock to freeze ahead and add the extra ingredients later. You can also buy store-bought broth and add your leftover peppers, carrots and chicken. This is a great, easy option for busy parents making dinner on weeknights.
3. Shop More Frequently
At first glance, this tip might sound counterintuitive. After all, shouldn’t you shop less often to reduce waste? It all boils down to what you buy. People who hit the store only once per week or less tend to stock up, letting many of those foods go bad before consuming them.
Try an experiment. Skip your weekly grocery trip and instead stop by each day to pick up only what you plan to eat that day. See how much less you waste when you buy what you crave at the moment instead of what you might feel like eating in a few days.
4. Buy Smaller Portions
For years, people followed the sage advice to buy in bulk to save money. However, doing so might not equate to more cash in your pocket. While your kids might go through a party-sized bag of chips in a day, there might be other snacks that they barely touch. Take note of what foods your family goes through quickest. Maybe they eat a lot of cereal, but they only occasionally grab a granola bar. Instead of buying the bulk pack, opt for just enough to get you through to your next store trip.
5. Give Your Kids Freedom of Choice — Within Reason
If you’re a parent, you may have sighed in frustration more than once when scraping your child’s nearly full dinner plate into the garbage. Kids can have fickle tastes, but they are unique human beings with individual preferences that change like yours do. Haven’t you ever gone through a phase where you couldn’t eat enough of a preferred food only to despise it once you get sick of it?
You can reduce your family food waste by giving your kids the freedom to choose what they eat — within reason. It’s probably not wise to let them live on nothing but macaroni and cheese, but there’s nothing wrong with them preferring it every other day. You can always get sneaky, substituting veggie pasta occasionally or putting a few carrots and mushrooms into the sauce.
You can also launch a sneak attack if you’re afraid your kids don’t like anything but chicken nuggets and cupcakes. Try hiding vegetables in some of their favorite desserts or in the breading of their favorite treats.
Reducing Food Waste Pays Off
Food shopping for a family can be a challenge. There’s no perfect way to buy what you need, save money and cut out waste every single week, but there are steps you can take to make even a small difference.
Whether you decide to change your storage methods, get creative with leftovers or rethink your shopping habits, these strategies for reducing food waste will help both your family and the planet.
About the Author
Cora Gold has a passion for writing about life, happiness and sustainability. As Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist, she loves to share her insights and find inspiration from others. Follow Cora on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.