It’s estimated that as North Americans, we end up throwing away about a third of all food we buy. Not only is that a significant amount of food going to waste, it’s a significant amount of your money going to waste as well.
These tips can help prevent your hard-earned dollars from winding up in the garbage, while also helping you be more environmentally conscious.
1. Buy ugly fruits and vegetables
It may seem counter-intuitive to buy foods that are already going bad, but sometimes it’s appropriate. Look for produce that has been marked down either because of “physical defects” that don’t affect taste, or because it is starting to deteriorate.
As long as you have a plan for it, it will be just as good as new (and typically more expensive) produce. For example, blemished or soft tomatoes can be cooked down into homemade tomato sauce, and stored in the freezer so you have it at the ready when you need it.
2. Grocery shop often
For many, it’s common that grocery shopping only occurs once a week, likely on a Saturday or Sunday. But buying in smaller quantities more frequently means that you’re only getting what you need, when you need it.
It helps ensure that you’re eating the freshest possible ingredients, especially if you’re shopping at local farmers’ markets. Because you’re eating what you buy right away, there’s less chance it will go bad and get thrown away. For things like lettuce that can go bad quickly, putting leaves in cold water can help revitalize them back to their original crunch. 3. Buy in bulk How many times have you bought a one-off ingredient, only to stash it in the back of your cupboard, and re-discover it during a cleaning session after it expired several years ago? Avoid this conundrum by buying ingredients in bulk when possible. If you only need a couple tablespoons of chia seeds, why bother purchasing an entire bag that you won’t end up using? Buying in bulk also allows you to experiment with new ingredients that you may or may not like. The less you buy, the less you have to throw away.
4. Label things and FIFO
Let’s face it — no one wants a fridge full of mystery food that may be from a week ago or a month ago. Without labeling and dating things, you’ll never know.
Another important tip is storing food where you can see it. If it needs eating up, put it in plain sight at eye level when you open the fridge so you won’t forget about it! Remember FIFO (first in, first out), because even though it can be a pain to have to re-organize your fridge and put all of the newer items at the back, the older items you shove back there certainly are not getting any fresher.
5. Store food properly
Food often goes bad prematurely because it hasn’t been stored properly, or in the right place. Mealy tomatoes? It’s probably the result of storing them in the fridge, so be sure to keep them at room temperature. It’s also important that many foods are stored in airtight containers, as this can help them keep longer, regardless of whether they are being stored at room temperature, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer (no one likes freezer burn!).
For instance, crusty breads should be stored in paper, rather than cling film, to help maintain their crackly exterior. Conversely, soft breads should be wrapped in cling film so they don’t dry out. And don’t put any bread in the fridge; it just speeds up the drying process! Note that even if certain foods have “gone bad” they can still be used. For example, sour milk can be used in place of buttermilk in scones or soda bread. Is there mould growing on your cheese? As long as it’s a hard cheese you can simply cut it off and eat the non-mouldy bits.
6. Create a meal plan and stick to it
It’s a simple principle really; if you don’t buy what you don’t need, there’s much less chance that you won’t use it and it will just go bad. Take some time on the weekend to plan out your week and only buy groceries that fit into your meal plan. Another tip is to strategically use your leftovers in other applications. A Sunday roast chicken can be re-purposed into potpie, quesadillas, soup or a casserole.
7. Use your freezer
Freezers are great tools when it comes to minimizing food waste. Are leftovers something you struggle with? Rather than forcing yourself to eat them over the course of the week, divvy them up into individual servings, and store them in the freezer so you can have ready-toeat meals whenever you need them.
Freezers are also well suited to ensure you have fruits and vegetables on hand, even in the dead of winter. Taking the time to freeze things like berries, cauliflower and corn when you have them in excess means that you’ll have a stockpile for later on. Even hard cheeses can be frozen if you know they will go bad before you get to use them.
8. Log your food waste
After all, the only way to truly know how much you throw away is to track it. Writing down everything that winds up in the trash can help you to determine what you want to change in order to be less wasteful. There’s even a great new app called EatBy, which helps reduce food waste and is free to download. The app focuses on the benefits of freezing food and lets you know the freezer life of different kinds of produce. It also sends you friendly reminders to use up your stores when they are getting close to expiry!