Have you ever gone to the grocery store and stocked up on veggies just to find yourself throwing them out after a couple weeks? It’s not just you. Many people buy more than they need—in fact, Americans throw away 30–40 percent of the food we produce according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about $160 billion in wasted food, or 133 billion pounds.
That kind of waste takes an enormous toll on the environment, the economy, and our communities. Most of that wasted food ends up in landfills where it produces methane, instead of helping to support the more than 37 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity and hunger. Just a few simple steps in your everyday life can help you reduce your food waste at home.
1. Have a Grocery Game Plan
Before your next trip to the store, think through the meals you’ll make. Then, use your meal plan to make a list and see what you have on-hand already. Plan meals around the foods you have that are about to go bad or wait until you’re out before you restock.
2. Don’t Buy More Than You Need
Once you get to the store, stick to your list! Avoid the impulse buys and only get what you can reasonably use, store, or preserve. Leave bulk purchases for nonperishables or have a plan to use your perishables before they go bad.
Pro Tip: Don’t shop hungry. It will save you from some of those impulse buys, which can save you money!
3. Give Ugly Fruits & Veggies a Chance
Those slightly misshapen potatoes and barely bruised peaches are just as tasty as their unblemished neighbors! If you’re already planning to buy fruits or vegetables, go for the ones that look a little imperfect, so they don’t go bad before they even leave the store. You can use them for soups, stews, smoothies, and sauces, where you won’t really see them anyway. Another benefit? Some stores offer ugly produce at a discount, so it’s another way to save on groceries.
4. Prep Your Fridge, Freezer & Pantry
One of the best ways to make sure your food stays fresher longer is to keep your fridge at a cool 40°F and your freezer at 0°F.
There’s a science behind refrigerator organization, and it’s a great idea to keep things organized into zones based on the temperature they need to stay fresh longer. Keep meats in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the bottom shelf) and take advantage of those crisper drawers, because they hold onto some moisture that’s good for produce. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind—so keeping your food organized once you store it can also prevent you from forgetting food until it spoils.
5. Keep ‘Em Separated
6. Preserve & Protect
It’s worth a little extra work to make sure you’re not just throwing produce away a couple weeks after you buy it. Freezing, drying, canning, and pickling can all make your foods last longer.
- Blanche and shock your vegetables to give them a little more life.
- Store fresh herbs in an herb keeper or dehydrate them to use later.
- Refrigerate foods in airtight containers.
- Don’t wash produce before refrigerating it.
- The freezer is your best friend in the fight for freshness. Meats, grated cheese, fresh produce, milk, eggs (out of the shell), bread, and even flour can be frozen to preserve them.
7. Use the First In, First Out Rule
When you store foods after a trip to the store, rotate the older stuff to the front and put the new items in the back so you use them before they go bad.
8. Rely on Your Senses
Expiration dates on food are usually a manufacturer’s suggestion for your food’s peak quality, not the exact date a food will go bad. Before you toss food based on the date you see on the label, check to see if it looks or smells funny. If everything seems fine, it probably is. If it seems off, it may be time to toss that item.
9. Don’t Be Afraid of Leftovers!
A lot of people don’t think twice about trashing leftovers, but they can be an easy and tasty meal later on. Store your leftovers in small, clear, leakproof containers, so they cool quickly. They’re perfect for individual servings for lunch or a leftover night.
10. Save the Scraps
When you’re cooking, make it your mission to use every part of your food. That includes the skin and stems of your veggies, which are often packed with nutrients. And if you have a little extra, freeze it to use later! Use frozen veggie and meat scraps to make incredible homemade stocks, and frozen fruits for quick weekday smoothies.