The Big Picture: Curbing Food Waste

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I'm sure we're all guilty of it from time to time: buying items at the supermarket that we never end up using and eventually end up in the trash. I know I'm to blame. Usually I have the best intentions, thinking I'll use something as an ingredient in a recipe I never end up making, or buy a snack that looks good at the time but I never end up eating. Whenever I do go through my periodic "purge" of the refrigerator and cabinets, I always feel guilt over the foods I end up throwing away.

U.S. research estimates that at least 14% of the foods we purchase end up in the garbage (about 96 BILLION pounds of food a year). I think it's safe to say that in many other countries, that number is a LOT lower. I remember a friend telling me about a mission trip she took to Mexico. She was helping prepare meals in a very poor community, and she couldn't believe how little they threw away. They used every part of every piece of food they possibly could, throwing away almost nothing. In the U.S., food waste makes up about 12% of landfill material. As organic materials like vegetables and grains decompose in landfills, they release the greenhouse gas methane into the environment.

So what are some of the reasons we throw away so much? One is that we tend to buy more food than we need to, especially when we shop without a grocery list or become tempted by sales and "buy one get one free" specials. I know that the majority of my food waste comes when I start to deviate from the list I've brought with me. So maybe before you start grabbing items, think twice about whether or not you're going to be able to use it before it spoils, and whether or not you really need it. You'll reduce waste and save money at the same time. Making a list before you head to the store really helps with that. (Find out how to prolong the life of your produce!)

If you constantly find yourself with leftovers that you never end up eating, you have a few options.

1. Make less food. Scale back your recipe to serve two instead of 10--that way you'll have less to worry about finishing later.
2. Freeze the leftovers for later use, or plan to use them in another dish this week. For example, you could use your leftover chicken in a soup or on top of a salad.

Reducing food waste is better for the environment and your wallet, so think before you shop! Do you feel like you keep food waste to a minimum in your household? If you're not from the U.S., are things different in your country?

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@comment 80....Chie chineke...I feel the same way. Report
My boyfriend is much better at shopping from a list than I am, so he handles all the shopping now. If we want fresh fruit or veggies, we buy only what we know we will eat over the next couple of days. Report
@ comment 78: Moldy vegetables can and should still be composted.

I am in college, so I try to make my every food dollar count. It drives me crazy when something goes bad. Report
in my country (Nigeria) we don't waste food deliberately as in, its not in our make up to waste food. its considered a bad thing. we find uses for everything and even give away food on a regular basis. the only time you will see a Nigerian wasting food is when we have to throw food away that has gotten bad in the refrigerator after a power outage (we have a lot of those).
sometimes when i watch a foreign movie and i see how food is wasted eg, a cafeteria fight or smashing a pie into someones face or a car running over a food vendors cart; i just cringe. i cant help it. in my mind I'm like "see food wasting chei chineke!" Report
I am soooo guilty of this! I am going to try to plan out my meals for the week so that I buy stuff with a specific purpose in mind. Report
Seems like alot of waste and my house. The fresh veggies don't seem to last in the fridge. They get all wrinkly or moldy too quick. I need to change that, that is for sure. I am planning a compost heap to put in the yard so all those veggies can be composted. Unless they are moldy of course. Report
In my efforts to reduce waste, I have started purchasing food for few days at a time. I used to buy for a week and I threw out way too much food (especially produce). Now I buy for 2-3 days. If I end up with leftovers, they will be eaten over the following 2-3 days time. Less waste. Report
It took us a while but my girlfriend and I eventually got this right. We switched to a mostly meat free diet.

Since the switch we plan our meals 2 weeks in advance and only buy whats on the list.

Also, since we now mainly eat fresh fruit and vegetables we buy on a weekly basis so its rare that we have too much food that ends up going off.
it is so difficult - I hate wasting, but I only cook for two. It is frustrating that most recipes are for 6 to 8. I plan my meals a week ahead of time, and with these difficult economic times, I buy only what I think we will consume, yet, there is always something that goes to the trash either because it sat in the frig too long, or there was just too much of it. Report
I am known as the leftover queen in my house, but we still dump a lot of food in the trash or give it to the outdoor animals. Most of this is due to my children because they will tell me that they want some particular food, so I start buying it, then they don't tell me when they aren't eating it anymore, so I keep buying it until I find large quantities in the fridge or cabinet going to waste. I've only recently tossed a whole bunch of yogurt - normally, I would try to eat it, but the flavors and brand they chose are not something I will eat. It can be really aggravating because I really try to live by the saying, "Waste not, want not" especially when it comes to food. Report
Our family used to be notorious for wasting food. But we have really cracked down. And our produce is bought every few day's to help avoid rotting fruit or veggies. It's helped us a lot. Report
I do my best not to waste food. I thelps that my kids are not picky eaters, and my husband feels the same way. I also find freezing leftovers for later meals to be helpful. Report
I usually throw any leftovers together and make something else with them. I have also started boiling my potato skins and carrot shavings, etc. into veggie stock so that I don't have to buy the stock. Report
I am working on this one- at the end of the week left over veggies become veggie stock and fruit gets made into something (eg. banana muffins, ameretto peach preserves) Report
I have been guilty of wasting food in the past also. SP has helped me also with this problem. I do much better now with sticking to the list and not buying something I'm not positive I will use. Report
I have been guilty of wasting food in the past also. SP has helped me also with this problem. I do much better now with sticking to the list and not buying something I'm not positive I will use. Report
I have been better about this. When I buy hamburger or hot dog buns we only usually use 2 at a meal (one for me and one for my oldest son, my youngest won't eat them). I used to think I would make another meal to use them and ended up tossing them when they molded. I now freeze the remaining and thaw as needed. I also only buy fruit I will use in 2-3 days. I work at Wal-Mart, so it isn't hard for me to get to the store to buy more when needed. Report
My boyfriend taugnt me to keep the bread in the refrigerator to prolong the shelf life; I warm it in the toaster before I eat it, yum! I am wondering if anyone has a solution to the peelings--how to use them, maybe even cook them?! Like, maybe, scrub the food first, then cook the peelings into bread? Or freeze things like celery tops, onion peels, for the stock pot (I love the suggestion of using the bones for stock!). I am eating more peelings than I used to, apples, peaches, potatoes, but what about cucumbers and such? Report
I find that in general if it is cooked in the crockpot or from scratch we are more likely to eat it, even the leftovers. The kids aren't much into boxed meals like mac & cheese or hotdogs. So while it takes some "convenience" out of meal planning for me, it does make me feel better to know they prefer the healthier foods. And any left overs I do have I either send some to my grandmother or puree for baby food for my youngest. Report
When I was living back in Brazil, we would cook the carrot's leaves, and we would eat the "not-so-noble" parts of chicken (like hearts, legs and neck) and cattle, like the tongue, the tail and even the brains. Too little would go to waste. here I see it's ver different, but our waste at home is still minimal. Report
We try to eat up everything we can. We don't really plan our food so much as it plans us! We usually work our way through produce pretty quickly but a couple of nights a week we'll plan our dinner around what we've got in the fridge that is going to go bad.
Haha, we keep bread, bagels, anything of the grain variety in the freezer for the most part so it doesn't spoil. We also try not to overbuy while at the grocery store, and will only do a big fresh produce run every couple of weeks. I hate throwing out food and hope to be able to start composting once we move into a real house. Report
To save food wast for my family I use a list and i dont buy fresh produce as often. I typicaly buy the steamable frozen food. When i do buy fresh produce it is beause i am planning to actually use it with in a few days, otherwise i will send the DH to pick it up as needed so that we dont have rott in the fridge. Report
I hate to throw stuff out, too. Its usually fresh fruits or veggies. I need to buy those bags or containers that preserve them better...or eat them more quickly! Report
I generally, don't have a lot of food waste...I cook for one and I tend to cook single portions. Report
I absolutely hate to waste food, and try really hard to use what is in the fridge. I agree that making a list and knowing what you are going to use each grocery item for makes a big difference. Report
I hate wasting food also but, sadly, it happens quite a bit. I shop at a produce outlet nearby. Sometimes, you will buy something there and it will stay fresh for a week and then you buy the same thing the next week and it is rotten in 2 days. That gets very frustrating. Also, its all sold in bulk. I bought lettuce there thinking it wasn't that much... until I cut it up.. I could have fed a small army. Luckily, my husband and I are living with my parents right now. When I have lots and lots of leftovers that are going to go bad, I just share with them. They are always happy to take it!
~Ang Report
I hate wasting food- I feel so bad. I do compost what I can and if I have leftovers I give them to my grandmother - she loves it! Report
We give leftover fruits and vegetables, in addition to peels and trimmings, to the deer and fox that live in our neighborhood. They love it :) Report
I work hard to use up our food stashes before they go bad, and we rarely throw away food. I base dinner on what we have in the fridge that needs to be used, as opposed to what a recipe tells me to use, because I want to use everything I buy.
We rarely waste food.
I go through my shelf-stable foods pretty often (canned beans, soups, grains, etc.) and if I see something that I know I'm not going to use, I donate it, rather than letting it sit there until it expires.

That said- IF, for some reason, there are leftovers and they won't get into a refrigerator before they go bad (from a trip to a restaurant far from home, or the rare BBQ when I'm not anywhere near a fridge and the cooler's out of ice, etc.), I will happily throw them away if the only other option is overeating.

I used to eat all the leftovers in situations like that (or at least TRY to eat them all, no matter how full I already was), because of my aversion to wasting foods. Eventually I realised that filling my body with foods I don't want or need just because they're on the way to the trash anyway doesn't help anyone.
Overeating *IS* wasting food. Report
We waste so much food. This is a good reminder to me to plan better when I am making meals so I don't make so much. Having always cooked for a family, it was hard to adjust when the kids left. I'll try to do better. Report
I've been single for several years now, and was raised on food stamps. I have discovered that bread freezes really well-just put 1 or two slices in a plastic zip-lock baggie and they stay good for up to six months. I also freeze eggs by cracking 1 or 2 into a small plastic bowl like Ziploc's smaller sized bowls (snack baggies also work well) Report
I hate wasting food. I throw very little away. If something is not yet spoiled but getting close, I will eat it day after day until it is gone, even if I don't really want to. Or, if it is frezable, i will freeze it. My dad is the most wasteful person I know--dumping half-gallons of milk at a time, having food years old that never got touched (packaged foods in the cupboards, the barely touched jar of mayo in the fridge, etc) Just the other day, he threw out 3/4 of a pound of hamburgers that were only 2 days old. 3/4 of his loaf of bread goes stale and is tossed and he currently has one each of a 3 month old and a 2 month old dozen of eggs. It is appalling but no matter what I say, it never seems to have an impact. He thinks it is just a matter of his own money, which he has plenty of. He misses the big picture entirely. Report
This is an important topic! I think teaching our children to only take what they think they can eat is key. When you serve your child, be mindful of how much you are putting on the plate. Report
I have no waste at my house. If the cats don't eat it, the chickens will. If they won't eat it, and they eat almost everything, it goes to compost. Report
I have a hard time scaling down for two after fixing for 5-6 for so many years.
But we usually eat our leftovers so I don't feel wasteful. Report
There were a few people who mentioned that it's hard not to waste produce when living alone since one person can only eat so much in a week. I wanted to mention that it's also a pretty difficult task when living with someone else who has different eating habbits than you do.
I do all the grocery shopping in our household and I only need to plan for my boyfriend and myself. I've been trying to cook as healthy as possible and I often cook in batches so we can have leftovers. The problem with that is my boyfriend barely ever eats leftovers. If he knows we might have a leftover night, he will most likely opt out for a pizza ot something of that sort. Sometimes I end up eating leftovers for a whole week and what other fresh ingredients I bought planning for meals ahead end up being unused. However, I always try to use whatever we have even if it looks to be in a bad shape.
I was born in Ukraine and lived there up until I was 16. We never had much money and I still remember having only a can of fruit jam in the fridge for months at a time. My mother would often buy something just for the day because that's all we had money for, so we never ever wasted anything. I think that if a person or people in the household are all on the same page about reducing waste and eating healthy it's really not that difficult to get on the right path. We do have to be commited though. Report
Great article. Not only to we purchase and prepare more food than we can consume, we also waste a LOT more of our food during the preparation than necessary. Peeling, paring, trimming, etc all creates excess waste, unless we have some way to use all that stuff we remove from our food.

Making stocks from vegetable trimmings is one way to use what would otherwise be wasted. Same thing applies for meat "trimmings" (other than fat, for me) - bones make very good and healthy stock. Save those little wing tips from your chickens - just keep them in a freezer bag and add until you have enough to boil into a stock. Veggies - same thing. Shrimp shells make great seafood stock.

I understand that in other countries people are MUCH better about using every portion of every bit of food they have. Perhaps America should be called "Land of the Waste" (or waist?). Report
Wasting food is never an option in my home. I cannot afford it, trained myself to either freeze, can, or eat what there is available,, there were times in my life when I went hungry alot, so food is a very precious commodity to me, along with anything I am blessed to receive.
I recycle, donate to the church, economy centers, neighbors, if I prepare something and get ill and am unable to eat it.
I can honestly say that I have not wasted over $5 worth of food in the past 25 years!! I am a coupon queen, use a shopping list, only buy what I can afford, eat in the alloted shelf life, and never go shopping hungry. I batch cook using a crock pot as much as possible to save energy, bake apples or pears that get wrinkled, and grow some of my own fruits,, will get more this year,,it is just the responsible thing to do and Native Americans have been doing it since the beginning, so it should not be that hard. THe $ I save goes toward home renovations, healthier foods that cost more than the junk I USED to eat, and I donate some to our church or related charities. Report
As a single senior, I find it difficult not to waste fresh produce. Even if stores offer smaller packages or loose fruit, some items - cucumbers, for example - begin to rot before they can be used up. One way to cut down is to share with another single friend. This can be done with bread too. Report
I'm trying to get better about this, but I'm also happy that we now have food waste receptacles along with the ones for the recycling. So, I may still waste money on food I don't eat, but at least the food waste is being composted. Since I live in an apartment, composting it myself was never an option. Report
I am trying to cook enough only for one person, but I have been trying for years. I make my own soups and stews and freeze them and am thinking about cooking with my slowcooker and breaking the meals down to one person servings. Report
I try and use evey leftover in fridge. Can really whip of some tasty food for me. Hubby not keen on it then some leftovers I give to outdoor cats as a treat especially in winter. Report
We have found great savings in using the Green Bags to store our fruits & vegies in. It is amazing how well they work. Although not cheap up front ($10./20 bags) they are reuseable & have saved us at least $10. in produce that would have otherwise gone to waste. Report
Thanks for the link to the helpful article about storing produce! I have been eating more veggies and fruits in the past year, therefore less goes to waste. But actually, with the exception of avocados, nectarines and berries, a lot of produce can last quite a while in my fridge. Even if there are bad spots on something, I cut that part off and try to salvage what I can from it. Report
I live in Canada and use to be a big waster. I was a big waster when I constantly ate anything and had my mom buy whatever looked good.

Now that I'm more educated about health and nutrition I buy organic, healthy foods for a week at a time. I make my own grocery list and by the end of the week everything is usually gone.

My biggest issue is getting enough fruit. I'm a big fruit eater and have to plan carefully so that I don't buy too much fruit but also so that I can have my weeks worth.

I'm proud to say I barely waste anything anymore and I also want to start composting. Report
My husband and I are guilty of this and have tried to work something out to stop this, but we have such a hard time with it. I try to eat fresh produce but it always goes bad before we get to it. We also have problems with things like salad dressing since with just the two of us in the house we never eat enough of it. We are now going to try to shop once a week rather than once every two weeks. Thanks for the other ideas above...we'll have to try those too! Report
I waste a lot less food since I started planning my meals a week in advance. I make a grocery list and I stick with it, seldom buying extras. It's cut my grocery bills a lot too. But I still end up throwing some things out. I try not to, but it still happens. Report
No matter how hard I try, I always end up with mushy cucumbers and spinach going bad before I use it all. Other than that we rarely through anything away. Report
I'm not to bad about buying items that I don't use, but I am horrible at overcooking. I don't know why...I just do and I throw away quite a bit of food. 12% of waste is a lot, especially given the increase in food prices. I am going to make more of a conscious effort to cut down portion sizes and stick to my shopping list.

Thanks for sharing this article! Report
Guilty as charged! I always waste food, which is mad as the price of everything is going up at the moment. I buy food planning to cook it but because my partner works away during the week and my son is such a fussy eater I find it difficult to get motivated to cook a meal for one, which results in a lot of vasted food. Report
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