3 Simple Ways to Start Reducing Food Waste

Food waste is a growing problem in our modern society.

In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40 percent of the food supply. In 2017 alone, almost 41 million tons of food waste were generated, with only 6.3% used for composting from landfills and combustion for energy recovery1.

Why You Should Care about Reducing Food Waste:

  • Saves money from buying less food.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
  • Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).

I know there’s a larger problem at hand than just me and you. I know there’s large corporations and companies that are responsible for a large chunk of food waste in the U.S.. I’m not here to talk about them (not yet anyway). Today, I want to address how you and I can start making a change in our own homes. As the CEO of the company work for always says, “You cannot control what goes on outside these four walls, but you can always control what happens inside.” (…or something like that).

I also know that there’s an overwhelming amount of information out there telling you how to reduce food waste in your home (and here I am adding to the mix with this post), and you may be curious and want to start applying some tips, but you don’t know where to start. Or you may be a creature of habit and hearing about “100 ways to reduce food waste” just seems daunting. I totally get it – which is why I want to share just a handful of tips that have personally helped me make lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes is key here. What I don’t want to happen is that you practice these things and it feels good for now, then forget about it two weeks later when things get inconvenient (yikes, this is what happened to me at first)! You should start to become more conscious about food waste and hopefully these are simple enough tips to get you started.

Image from Milk Means More

3 Simple Ways to Start Reducing Your Food Waste

Meal Plan. This is the biggest tip that has helped me reduce my food waste significantly. By this, I don’t mean that you need to cook for the whole week in 1 day. What I mean by “meal planning” is to think about what meals you will be preparing (or eating out) for the following week (or at least 4-5 days) and then write down a grocery list before going to the store. Also, make sure to check your fridge to see what items you already have so that you can either plan your meal around that or you don’t double purchase.

Below is a photo of my simple meal planning list on a good ol’ sticky note (I don’t eat breakfast (only coffee), which is why I only have lunch & dinner listed). It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re going to eat every single day for every single meal. I find that even just a little bit of planning helps me buy less (grocery store & eating out). Even if I don’t plan on eating a home-cooked meal for a specific day, I still like to write down where I’m going to potentially pick-up food (e.g. Sweetgreen for Thursday lunch) – it puts less stress on me that day. Also, don’t forget to plug in your leftovers when meal planning!

Proper Food Storage. Great. You’ve planned your meals and went to the grocery store without buying anything extra… now what?! How do you keep your groceries fresh for the next week so that you’re not throwing away spoiled food?! Luckily for you, I’ve already done some research. I wrote a post about two years ago on How to Store Herbs, Vegetables, and Fruits to Maximize Freshness (these are more common produce items). For meats, I like to chuck them in the freezer if I’m not going to be cooking them 2-3 days after purchasing. In general, freezing food is the best way to keep them from spoiling until you’re ready to eat them.

Another important thing to learn about food storage is knowing the different “best by”, “sell by”, “use by”, “freeze by” dates on food packaging. Apparently, confusion over these labels accounts for about 20% of food waste in American homes and this equates to about one-third of all food produced in the U.S. being wasted or lost2. Just imagine if you’re walking out of the grocery store with three bags of food… and then you toss one bag straight into the trash can. This is ridiculous and it makes me mad that there are millions of people that are starving everyday and we (the fortunate ones) are throwing away so much food.

Anyway. Most date labels are about quality, not necessarily safety, and leads us to toss away food that’s perfectly safe to eat (of course there are things like infant formula, etc. that have very strict discard dates). For me, the best way to figure out if food has indeed gone bad is checking smell (does it smell like your feet after a running outside on a summer day?), physical signs of mold and discoloring (are your avocados black instead of green? make sure to also check the bottom of glass jars/tupperware for mold!), and texture (are your veggies and deli turkey feeling slimy? or maybe your milk has gone from silky smooth to chunky? toss out that bad boy!).

Pro Tip: If you’re ever unsure of how long different items can be stored in the fridge/freezer, use this FoodKeeper App and/or Is My Food Safe App! Available for both Android and iOS devices. Also, here are 5 easy ways to tell if your food has gone bad.

Keep Track of Your Food Waste. This one is simple. Keep a “food waste journal” and jot down what you toss out each week. This way, you can easily see what you are throwing away on a regular basis so you can reduce or eliminate that item from your shopping list. Maybe it’s half a loaf of bread each week? If you buy fresh bread, perhaps you can ask your bakery if you can purchase half a loaf. Maybe you can make bread crumbs! Or my favorite, make a “pizza toast” – add some chopped tomatoes, herbs, and grated cheese on top of your sliced bread and put it in a toaster oven for a few minutes!

But before tossing out your food, you can also donate what you won’t use! Never going to eat those canned beans or soup? Give it to a food bank! Click here to locate a food bank near you.

Lastly, if you do end up with food waste, please dispose of it properly. If you live in an apartment, I wrote a post on how you can easily compost. Even if you don’t live in an apartment, you can still perhaps learn a thing or two!

I truly hope you learned something! And honestly, even if just one person takes something from this post and starts making a lifestyle, I’ll be happy.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” -George Bernard Shaw

xo,
Donna

1 Source: Food Loss and Waste | FDA
2 Source: To Reduce Food Waste… | NPR

How to Store Herbs, Vegetables, and Fruits to Maximize Freshness

Happy New-ish Year!

After a 3-month long hiatus (after the holiday craze), I am back!

It didn’t mean I stopped cooking! In fact, I’ve probably cooked more meals in the past 2 months than I usually do. I often get discouraged from taking photos of my home cooked meals because 1) my kitchen is tiny so I lack space to set up and 2) food styling can get a bit too much especially when I just want to eat my food right away! I know, I know, both are feeble excuses and I promise I will try harder this year. However, today’s post is not a recipe! Instead, I’d like to share my tips on how to store herbs, vegetables, and fruits in your home to maximize freshness after your trip to the grocery store.

One of the things I hate about cooking is how much produce I waste.  For example, if a recipe calls for 2 basil leaves, you cannot purchase TWO basil leaves at the grocery store. Instead, they come in a bunch and you don’t know what to do with the rest except hope that you’ll find use for it the next day or watch it wither and die. This is also why it’s discouraging to eat more veggies at home. By the time I’m ready to cook them, they’ve gone bad. It’s easy to say, “Just grow your own produce so you only pluck as much as you need to!” Trust me, I would very much like that, but I lack the space to do so. Maybe I just need to try harder next time.

To try and reduce food waste, I’ve gone through a series of trial and error to find the best ways to keep common produce fresh as long as possible. I know these things can easily be Googled, but I’ve found that multiple websites can tell you conflicting instructions, so it’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve narrowed it down for you. I also know there’s a lot of science behind these methods – mix of moisture vs. oxygen vs. sunlight – but I’m not going to go into that (boring!). Just trust me.

(Keep in mind that these are not new, revolutionary methods. This is just what has worked for me based on experience!! If you truly believe that singing to your herbs at 6am every morning helps them stay fresh, then keep on doing it!!!)

HERBS

Basil: My patience is about as short as a basil’s lifespan when it’s been plucked from the plant. It’s non-existent. There’s a couple of tricks for this. 1) Trim off about 1/2-inch off the ends and place them in a jar of water, about 1 inch, just like you would with fresh flowers. Loosely cover it with a plastic bag (I usually use produce bags from the grocery store) and leave it on your counter. I’ve found that room temperature is basil’s best friend and oppositely, the cold air in the fridge can make them wilt faster. This method can usually prolong basil’s life for 4-5 days. I like this method if I know I’m going to use basil on Monday and then again on Friday for a different dish. With this method, I find that replacing the water every 2 days can help maintain its freshness. 2) If you accidentally bought a whole basil plant, but got home and decided that you’re too lazy to take care of it, you can actually freeze the leaves so you don’t have to use it all at once or throw it away. First, pluck the leaves from the stem and blanch* for 2 seconds (YES, 2 SECONDS ONLY). Then completely dry the leaves and store in a freezer-safe container, separating the layers with parchment paper.

Mint: Similar to basil, trim off the ends of the stem and place in a jar with 1 inch of water. Loosely cover it with a plastic bag, but store it in the fridge, not your counter. Change the water every 2 days (or when water becomes cloudy) to maintain freshness. This keeps mint leaves fresh for about 7-10 days. You can tell it’s gone bad when the leaves have become discolored.

Parsley, Cilantro: Exact same method as mint (trim ends, put in a jar of water, cover loosely, keep in fridge), but add more water to the jar. Change the water every 2-3 days. Keep trimming the ends if they get a bit slimy. This method keeps the leaves fresh for about 7-10 days. You can tell they have gone bad when the leaves become discolored.

Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Oregano: These guys can last a while already without much care, but there’s 2 ways to keep them even longer!! 1) Place them in a small jar of water, about 2 inches and leave on your counter top, no cover. Replace the water when it gets cloudy. This prolongs their life for about 4-6 days. Thyme will last longer. 2) To keep them even longer, loosely wrap the sprigs in a slightly damp cloth towel and then again in a plastic storage bag or airtight container. Be careful not to wrap the sprigs too tightly because trapped moisture makes it easier for mold to grow. This prolongs their life for about 2 weeks. Method 2 is my favorite way to store these herbs.

*Blanching is a cooking process wherein a food, usually a vegetable or fruit, is scalded in boiling water, removed after a brief, timed interval, and finally plunged into iced water or placed under cold running water to halt the cooking process. -definition stolen from Google

VEGETABLES & FRUITS

This section is more about proper storage and how long it lasts i.e. do I put it in the fridge or leave it on my counter top? Should I hop around it for 10 seconds and clap my hands twice?

Bell Peppers, Cucumbers, Eggplants: Fridge, 5-7 days

Onions: Counter top, 1-2 months if whole. Fridge, 5 days if cut & peeled & stored in an airtight container

Avocados: Fridge, 3-5 days. However, if you’re storing half an avocado, I’ve found that placing it in the same, air-tight container as a cut onion can help slow it down from turning brown. Also, I’ve found the problem with buying avocados is that they are always too unripe (reminds me of dragon eggs) or it’s too mushy. If it’s too unripe, the faster way to ripen them is to store them in a brown paper bag until soft. Pro Tip: when picking avocados in the grocery store, pull back the stem on the end of an avocado to check the ripeness. If it’s green underneath, it’s ripe. If it’s too brown, it’s overripe. If the stem doesn’t come off easily, with just a slight pull, it’s unripe.

Apples: Fridge, 3 weeks

Mangoes: Counter top, 1 week. They shouldn’t be refrigerated until they’re ripe, but putting them in the fridge when they are ripe can help them prevent from getting too ripe.

Grapefruit, Oranges: Fridge, 2-3 weeks. Counter top, 1 week

Lemons & Limes: Fridge, 3 weeks. Counter top, 3-5 days depending on how ripe they are

Potatoes: Counter top, a lifetime. Just kidding, they can last about 3-4 weeks. These are best stored in a dark, cool place. When your potatoes start to sprout, this means that nutrients are leaving the potatoes. To prevent from sprouting, keep them in a brown paper bag. If your potatoes have sprouted, don’t throw them away just yet! If you have a garden (or access to one), click here to learn how to grow a potato from a potato.

Asparagus, Scallions: Store in a jar with about 2 inches of water. Don’t trim the ends/roots. Loosely cover with plastic bag. Store upright in fridge for 7 days.

Garlic: Counter top, 2 months

Ginger: Fridge, 3 weeks. You can also freeze these to make it last for MONTHS. This is awesome because you don’t need to thaw it out before grating. My best tip is to just buy ground ginger. I have seen no difference in taste in recipes when I’ve substituted ground ginger for the real ginger. I would say that the equivalent is 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger to every tablespoon of freshly grated ginger the recipe calls for.

Arugula: Wash & dry thoroughly. Wrap the leaves in a cloth towel and place them in a plastic bag with holes and store in the fridge. This will keep them fresh for about 7 days.

Carrots: Wrap in damp cloth towel and place in an airtight container. If you buy carrots with the tops, cut it off first. Store in fridge, 7 days.

Celery: Keep it whole! Wrap the whole thing with foil (not too loose, not too tight) and store in the fridge, 7-10 days.

Tomatoes: I recommend counter top for 1-2 weeks. Not sure if there’s any science behind this but in my experience but I’ve found that although tomatoes keep longer when refrigerated, they lose their flavor.

OTHER FUN FACTS

Did you Know? When other fruits are next to bananas, they ripen faster. This is because Bananas release a gas called ethene/ethylene. This gas breaks down the cell walls of fruits (starches converting to sugars) thus causing them to ripen & soften. There are some fruits like oranges that doesn’t ripen next to ethene, but there are a lot that do (avocados, peaches, apples, tomatoes)!

To Wash or Not Wash?: I think there’s a lot of argument about whether or not to wash veggies & herbs before storing (something about the bacteria on the leaves helping it last longer). From my experience, I think that you can certainly wash certain vegetables before storing, but make sure to dry them well after washing. I’ve found that doing this doesn’t necessarily shorten the life of the vegetable or herb.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope that helps out someone. I promise my next post will be a recipe post!

Cheers,
Donna