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8 Ways to Avoid these Killer Empty Calories Hidden in our Food Waste

Have you ever done one of those fridge clean outs and cried a little inside because you didn't realize how much food you bought actually got wasted? I know I have. Its an awful feeling because you recognize that food as the dollars you spent on it being thrown away. You understand that so many people are starving and you clearly had so much it grew mold before you could get to eating it. Then of course there's the waste in the packaging potentially, and the emission from the wasted food. Its just ugh.

Did you know food waste is much bigger than just what's in your pantry and mine? It encompasses residential homes, grocery stores, restaurants, manufactures, transportation/delivery services, and farmers. Crops can be lost in the fields due to pest infestation, floods, droughts or imperfect products that retailers will reject. Manufacturers can have mistakes within their processing line that results in wasted product or recalls. Transportation services can loose refrigeration that results in not meeting food safety handling standards. Grocery stores can only allow "pretty" produce on the shelves, mishandle product, or have power outages resulting in lost food. Restaurants can prepare for a lot of business then suffer a shut down or low traffic and loose a lot of fresh product or serve very large and hard to finish portions that customer do not finish or take home resulting in wasted food. As you can see from seed to soil there's plenty of room for something to go wrong and waste to pile up.

According to Feeding America "38% of all the food in America" is wasted totaling 80 million tons. Food that makes its way to the trash then ends up in a landfill and starts to create emissions. The WWF states that "in the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions." Based on the findings from the EPA not only is food waste the "single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S" making up a whopping 24 percent of landfilled municipal solid waste but also found that an "estimated 58 percent of the fugitive methane emissions (i.e., those released to the atmosphere) from municipal solid waste landfills are from landfilled food waste." Methane is a gas that is 28 times more potent to our atmosphere than CO2. In landfills food is deprived of oxygen then anaerobic decomposition begins as methane producing bacteria take over.

scraping food scraps in a bucket for compost
Compost your Waste

The best way to reduce this insane methane production is so reduce food waste as much as possible. The second best course of action is to breakdown that waste using an aerobic process that uses oxygen and in which these methane producing bacteria cannot survive - composting. For now, lets focus on the best method first.

When out to eat the best way to reduce your waste is to avoid over ordering. I have seen so many people order multiple appetizers and an entrée all at once then they get full on the first app with no intentions of eating those leftovers. Pace yourself with your orders and you'll notice you probably waste less, and spend less. Occasionally a restaurant will not allow sharing but I have never had a problem with it. If you are going out with friends or family, sometimes its easier to just split one bigger app or dish if you know the portions are more than you can handle.

The best ways to reduce waste at home are to sort by category, store food properly for longevity, organize with visibility of perishable items in mind, keep leftovers in one designated area, make grocery lists, and meal plan. When sorting your pantry, fridge, and freezer keep in mind the purpose of the item and its contents. For example, I keep my non-perishables separated by shelf into the following groups, pasta & pasta sauce, baking, canned good, seasonings, sauces, and frequently used items. Do what make sense to you and your space constraints but avoid falling for the trend of swapping all your containers and buying little baskets for everything. Another great hack that has saved me a lot of time is to write little notes for each shelf that details what's on it so that when I make a grocery list I can do a very quick check of the list rather than rummaging through the shelf. My last little storage hack is that I try to keep any leftovers all in one area that is very visible. This ensures that they don't get lost behind things until the next clean out. It's also a great check in prior to making a meal to either use the left overs instead or incorporate them into a new dish.

clean and organized refrigerator
Meal Prep doesn't have to be hard.

Meal prepping does not have to be a big crazy all day project. You can literally meal prep for a couple days at a time! It can also be as simple as cutting up your favorite veggies to easily toss into recipes for the week. I find when I cut up peppers and onions (our most used veggies) in advance then I am way more likely to have a healthy snack like peppers and hummus. It also seems like we eat the veggies a lot faster too. If you are making a large meal remember that most often, it can be frozen for later! Keep a dish or two in the fridge and freeze what you know you will be sick of by day 3 for another time.

compost bin with lots of scaps

Wanna know a secret? There's a lot of food we throw out during food prep that we can eat, and should eat!! The peels on the majority of produce can actually be eaten and generally is more dense in nutrients than the entire inside. A few peels, tops, and bits that you can actually eat but many people don't include strawberry tops, carrot greens, potato peels, kiwi peels, watermelon rinds, beet greens, citrus peels, pineapple cores, banana peels, and broccoli stalks! I am sure there are many many more but these are the ones that come to mind. Sure, not all of them taste great but that doesn't mean they can't be transformed with a fun new recipe! Next time you're cooking carrots, save the tops to make a pesto! Turn your potato peels into chips or leave them on for some added texture! Don't ditch the seeds when cutting up your peppers either, just toss it right in that chili! You'll be amazed at how much less you throw away when you try and utilize every part you can.

All of these tricks together should be able to help tackle your household food waste and cut it down to a minimal amount. If you want to give this challenge a go, a great way to keep track of your progress is to keep a little pad of paper by the waste bin and record any food that gets thrown away and the date. If it trends downward you know you made some progress! If you see items repeating themselves a lot you might want to consider reducing how much you buy it, cook it, or store it differently. Best of luck!

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