Of all the things we waste, food may be the number one area where you can make a serious impact. Here’s how:
BEFORE YOU SHOP…
Up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes to waste, and about 40 percent of that waste happens at home, per the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When food goes to waste, so do all the resources it takes to get that food on our plates, including land, energy, water, fertilizer, and labor,” says Elizabeth Balkan, NRDC’s food waste director. Buy only the amount of food you need to make the meals you’re planning. If you can’t predict on Sunday what you’ll want on Thursday, that’s OK: Decide on menus for the first half of the week, then give yourself flexibility to do a leftovers night, get takeout, or go on a second round of (intentional) grocery shopping. Try NRDC’s planning tool, Meal Prep Mate. And don’t forget to check your cabinets for items on your list you may already have.
AT THE STORE….
“I tell my clients to shop naked,” says Abby K Cannon, a registered dietitian and sustainability expert (and lawyer!) who runs a private nutrition practice and writes the blog Abby’s Food Court. That is, buy as few items that come “dressed” in plastic packaging as possible. Buy lettuce in a bunch instead of cut and chopped in a bag; buy a head of broccoli instead of the plastic container of chopped florets. Use bulk bins; you could even bring your own containers and ask the store to tare them for you before filling.
WHILE UNPACKING GROCERIES….
“Chop up peppers and carrots, put them in a glass container, and then put them in the fridge,” suggests Cannon. This makes cooking so much faster and easier and makes you more jazzed about eating healthy. Remember to clean your reusable totes and put them back in the car or by the door for next time.
WHEN YOU COOK…
Front load the week with recipes that use the quicker-to-spoil items in your fridge, like fish or delicate greens. “The cabbage and cauliflower can wait a few more days,” says Balkan. If you have picky eaters on your hands, consider dining family-style instead of giving people portions they may not finish. “Try putting a plate of vegetables in the middle of the table,” says Balkan. “The kids who like the veggie will grab it, and maybe they’ll influence the pickier eaters, but you won’t end up with food that’s been tainted and can’t be saved as leftovers.”
Compost anything you can’t save. It’s the best outcome for unusable food scraps, says Balkan. (Food put in the garbage disposal gets mixed with municipal wastewater and must be treated in an energy-intensive way.) If your town doesn’t have curbside compost collection, research drop-off programs at farms, community gardens, or farmers’ markets. Or consider composting in your backyard—done properly, it won’t generate odors or attract pests, and your garden will love the nutrient-rich results.