Let’s quickly reflect on the past week: Did you dig through your fridge, only to find some rotten produce tucked in the back of a drawer? Did you perhaps find a hidden yogurt in the fridge door, a month past its due date? Despite our best efforts to eat what we pay for and cut down on food waste, we’ve all experienced this at some point. But the impact to both our wallets to the environment can be extreme.
Globally, an estimated one-third of all food produced goes to waste, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And in America, that comes out to one pound, per person, daily. Yes, daily. As nutritionist and holistic coach Melissa Kathryn explains, the problem is not only the excess waste that could go to feeding those in need, but also when we waste food, that food then goes into a landfill and rots.
And that carries a hefty cost. One study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics showed that every year, the average household throws away $1,866 in food waste. Or, to put it another way: 31.9% of the overall food consumed goes to waste, for a grand total of $240 billion.
If you’re guilty of not checking expiration dates, forgetting what you purchased at the grocery store, or otherwise allowing vegetables, fruits and meats to expire, it’s time to shift your strategy. Here’s how.
Better Organize Your Produce
When’s the last time you gave any real thought to the “strategy” of fridge organization to cut out food waste? It’s time to think about the way you organize your produce, says Serena Poon, a celebrity chef and nutritionist. Most of the time, we let something go bad because we don’t see it, so a visualization system is essential. “I recommend organizing your refrigerator so that the fruits and vegetables that will go bad first are labeled and easily accessible. This can either be produce that tends to wilt more quickly, such as spinach or produce that you purchased earlier in the week,” Poon explains.
You can do this by cleaning off a shelf at eye level in the front of your refrigerator and dedicate it to “Eat Me First” produce. “Make sure to pull items off of this shelf before eating any other produce. This practice will be a constant reminder to avoid wasting nourishing food,” she shares. “It will also save you money from buying more produce when you might not have finished everything you already have.”
Some scraps simply aren’t edible — or maybe you just don’t like the item you purchased. We all buy food that’s a “miss” sometimes, and if no one in your household will eat it, then it’s time to say goodbye. That’s okay! But instead of chucking these items into the trash can, try your hand at composting, Poon suggests in order to cut out food waste. You can buy affordable composting containers for indoors or outdoors for under $100 that you can fill up with food scraps. These containers are made especially to prevent odor from escaping. Over time, you can add water and mix up the scraps until they gradually turn into soil. Then, you add this compost mixture to your garden — and watch your flowers, herbs and veggies rejoice!
“Compost will support the health of the soil and can create a nourishing circular system. And, if you have a garden at home, the soil from your compost will save you money on buying soil products from the store and will likely be better for your plants,” Poon says.
Of course not all of us have a green space or a green thumb, and some of us live in a small apartment where composting just isn’t a reality. But you can still compost! Poon recommends checking your city’s website to see if they offer a composting program since many local governments provide compost drop-off free of charge. Some cities have compost drop-off at local farmer’s markets, so you can be “out with the old, in with the new” each week, with zero additional effort.
Prioritize Meal Prepping
The first mistake that usually leads to food waste: grocery shopping when you’re hungry, or going to the market without a gameplan. That’s why Kathryn recommends taking stock of what you have in your fridge and pantry so you don’t double up. When you’re jotting down what you need, don’t forget to add quantities, so you don’t buy more than what you’ll actually use in your recipes.
And on that note, make sure you know what you’re whipping up in your kitchen each week, by devoting some time and thought to your meal prepping strategy, suggests board-certified naturopathic doctor Dr. Olivia Audrey, ND, BCDN. “Meal prepping ahead of time also allows us to measure out in accordance with our dietary needs to plan for potential food excess to be included in other dishes throughout the week,” she shares.
For example, say your lunch recipes involve rice. However, when you finish preparation, you realize you have several cups leftover. Plan to add these leftovers to your dinner inspiration. “When people initially think of meal prep, people think of eating the same monotonous meal multiple times. However, it doesn’t have to be that way,” she shares. “Switching or adding a variety of flavor to one component could be all the change you need.”
Understand Your Labels
Kathryn says one of the most effective ways to cut out food waste as a consumer is to understand the differences with ‘best by,’ ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ labels. More often than not, she says these days are not accurate, and in truth, manufacturers cannot tell you with any certainty exactly when something is going to expire. Instead, she says they simply guess, so it’s in your best interest to judge each food by sight, taste and smell, before discarding it. “The USDA doesn’t regulate these dates,” she continues. “Rather, food manufacturers stamp these dates on their packages to indicate when the food will be at its peak quality.”
More from HerMoney:
- The 10 Healthiest And Most Affordable Food Delivery Companies
- 9 Things Most of Us Don’t Do at the Grocery Store But Could Save Us $100 or More
- Podcast: The Lazy Woman’s Guide to Cooking With Melissa Clark
Looking for more financial insights delivered right to your inbox? Subscribe to HerMoney today!