Not everyone has access to fresh produce, and I know I'm extremely fortunate to be consuming such a great variety on a daily basis. Wasting food, especially fruits and vegetables, makes me cringe. I'm still haunted by the rainbow chard that wilted in my refrigerator two weeks ago.
I'm not the only one who occasionally lets their greens die a sad, uneaten death. It's estimated that Americans waste 133 BILLION pounds of food every year – a number so alarming that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA have set a goal to cut food waste in half by the year 2030. Here's a link from NPR with more details.
While consumers aren't the only culprits (grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers also contribute), we can certainly take action at home to reduce waste. A little thought and planning can have a big impact on your wallet, nutrition, and the environment.
1. Map your meals.
And I don't mean mapping the distance from your house to the nearest pizza place. Planning your meals sets you up for success on many levels. In the context of food waste, you can look at your weekly menu and determine how many pre-bagged portions of greens you'll need, which proteins will go from freezer to fridge, and exactly how much produce you'll need to have on hand for your morning smoothie! It's also a great a visual reminder of all the great fruits and vegetables you'll be feeding your body throughout the course of the week! Think of it this way: do you PLAN to be stuck ordering greasy take-out? Our best food intentions are realized with planning.
2. Shop with a plan.
Whether you're headed to the farmers market, big box store, or local grocer, smart shopping starts at home. Check your cabinets, fridge and freezer and take stock of what's on hand before compiling your grocery list. Execute your food shopping mission on a full stomach. Distracted, hungry food shopping can lead to impulse purchases that you'll regret (and possibly waste), and empty calories lurk everywhere – even at the farmers market (hello, bakery stand?) and natural food store (my local sells chocolate bars aplenty).
3. Cook it, freeze it, bake it.
Bananas that are bordering on black? They're the perfect base for muffins or quickbread. Not-so-pretty tomatoes? Get over your phobia of "ugly" fruits and eat 'em up, or cook them down and can them for tomato sauce. Soft peaches or blemished mangoes? Cube and freeze them in individual baggies, or bake them into a wholesome treat. For tips on freezing vegetables, visit eatright.org for these helpful hints on blanching beforehand.
4. Think whole plant.
Add flavor to vegetable broths with leafy carrot greens. Blend the entire parsley or cilantro plant (sans roots) into vibrant pesto, chimichurri, and salsa verde. Roast all those beautiful butternut squash and pumpkin seeds. Utilize beet and radish greens in a salad, juice them, saute them, or bake them into chips. Enjoy apples, eggplants, pears, and end-of-summer squash with their fibrous peels. You'll be getting more bang for your buck both nutritionally and monetarily.
5. Be part of the bigger solution.
In the midst of all this waste, 1 in 7 American households struggle with food insecurity. Consider donating to a food bank, volunteering with a food rescue organization, or getting involved with a meal delivery service for those in need.
Let's make a dent in that 133 BILLION pounds of wasted food!