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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I am so guilty of wasting food. My husband has even commented on it. I am trying to be better. I may have to try buying groceries every few days. Report
When I am preparing my meals I make sure I prepare exactly what we are going to eat. Neither of us like to eat leftovers so if I want to prepare meals in advance then make enough for the meals and package them and put them in the freezer. This way all the portions are used and less goes to waste. Report
We often have waste also. If it turns out to be something that was never opened, I will donate it. Left over fruit/vegetables go in the compost. Report
Who can afford to waste food these days? We make use of (read EAT) every bit of food that we have the good fortune to have in our household. It's hard and disheartening sometimes to not have choices, but when you think about it, you have what you need! Report
Im so sick of throwing all this food out. Since I've joined SP I've been tracking my food and planning ahead. Im not wasting as much food now. Aslo, to make sure we eat what we buy I've been using the dinner from the night before for our lunches the next day. Last summer I stopped shopping like I needed two weeks worth of food and started going to the store everyother day or so. It jsut make more sense and the food is fresher. Report
I like to be a little more proactive with my purchases and cooking, but it's quite difficult with a house that is not solely conducive to the type of lifestyle i'm trying to live. Also with not having my own car doesn't make it any easier to try and buy groceries every few days and make dinner myself at a reasonable time, also my schedule doesn't allow for it either. But I have to say in the interim. Getting from here to there is a slow and not easy process but we are getting there with little acts of repetition. We will make our goal even if it's a year and half from now! We will make it through! Report
Oh dear, I've thrown out so much produce that it's ridiculous. I've become much better about using leftovers, but we still waste a lot of food. I've tried food shopping every 1-2 days, but I found it just inserted a frequent temptation to pick up fast food for dinner because it's so much more convenient than going to the grocery store 5 times a week. I'm still working on it. I've started using a lot of frozen veggies instead of fresh produce because they're cheaper and keep much longer. Report
I do live in Europe and buy only what I need each day or so. I don't spend any more than if I bought for a week, and I save money by throwing out food that has gone bad Report
I've stopped trying to plan for more than two days at a time. When I try to buy for a whole week, it never goes right, and we end up throwing away food. Report
I too feel like way too much gets thrown out even with the best intentions. Have tried both the green bags for veg and the bread bags but found the food seems to go faster evem faster especially the bread. Report
I think it's important to be concious of what food items you have on hand, and try to incorporate them into recipes. I'm guilty of wasting food, but I agree with 1lbdown you just can't eat everything all the time. That is what got me into this shape in the first place! Report
We hardly waste any food at home. We are a family of three (two adults and one kid) so I make just enough to feed all three of us. If there's any leftovers I always use it for the next day meal... stir fries, scrambles, use in soup, in grilled burger etc. There are so many ways to use up the food. It's a money saver and you play a role to save the world as well. Report
Proper storage is a real issue here. There are a lot of vegetable and fruits that spoil more quickly when kept in the refrigerator as opposed to at room temperature. Also if you have a problem with bread and other items of that nature going bad quickly, keep them in the freezer. Report
I'd love to waste less! I'm single and wish I could buy a couple of slices of bread instead of the entire loaf, same thing with eggs, tortillas, etc. I try to tailor all my food for a week around those "package" purchases and have fun coming up with different ideas. Report
I have a problem with this article. It has taken me decades to come to the conclusion that it is healthier for my body for me to NOT clean my plate, NOT eat the food that is in the pantry/fridge, etc., NOT eat everything that a restaurant gives me, NOT eat it "because it would have gone to waste otherwise", than to eat it because it's going to go bad/go to waste. I recognize that the article is not recommending that we all go to the crisper drawer and chow down on what's in there so that it doesn't spoil, but we're getting mixed signals here.

"Try new foods. Eat lots of produce. Just don't waste any of it."
How does that make sense? It doesn't.

Furthermore, if it doesn't rot in my fridge or in a landfill, it's going to rot in the farmer's field.

A smarter article that offered a real solution would have been one on how to compost such organic waste. Report
Guilty as charges, especially with fresh produce. I would rather shop for one day like the Europeans, but have found that since I am not the chief cook, that doesn't work. Report
I find it better to buy only what I am going to cook & limit my fresh fruits & veggies as they tend to spoil. Report
I also have a problem with excess food but have been curbing it a lot but as a single person it is very difficult to go to the store and by economically for a single individual but I have also learned that it is cheaper in the long run to pay the higher price for the smaller amount as I don't throw as much out.

Planning ahead is beneficial but I am often caught at work to do work overtime and something I might have planned for dinner doesn't get cooked so I have learned to either freeze the perishable when I get home or go ahead and cook it that evening and then microwave it the next night.

I no longer buy processed foods as most of those are made for multiple people plus processed foods contain many additives that our bodies do not need. I seldom if ever visit the center aisles when shopping.

I have found that single serving frozen vegetables are now offered by several companies and those are a godsend to me. I don't care that much for canned food and most frozen food packaging was done for larger families and if I purchased those larger packages, I would often get freezer burn on the remaining veggies. With the single servings, that no longer happens.

I am guilty of this. Even when I buy produce that is already cut up into bite size portions, something is always forgotten in the fridge and goes bad. I think I may try the shop each day or every other day plan and see if that helps. Report
This is a huge and annoying problem for me. It's just me & when I try to buy fresh veggies & fruit for the week something always ends up going bad. Sometimes I get on a major cooking "kick" and cook for 2 weeks at a time, freezing individual portions. Report
Don't get alarmed at the mention of methane gas - most landfills capture, and some even reuse their off-gasses. I don't think the methane is released in a compost pile, but even if it is, it's such an insignificant amount. Think of a pig farm and THAT amount of methane!

Also, I realize the issue with food wasting, but think of all the other non-bio-degradable things that people throw out. I think furniture and plastic bags are a bigger concern! We should be trying to send less of *everything* to the landfills.

I have a compost pile in my yard, and would recommend it to everyone - it has greatly reduced my trash output! If you don't have the space for compost, try vermicomposting, which can be done indoors. Report
Living in El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer really put things in perspective for me in terms of wasted food. There is a very strong belief that wasting food is a sin (here's to that catholic guilt!), something my host mom told me a bunch of times. We ate every bit of food that she made, which was usually just enough for a couple of meals anyway. The wastefulness of Americans was a hot topic in the village as many residents have family members who live here. After living in a poor community, I make sure not to waste food. If I purchase produce, I make sure to plan meals around what I buy. I take constant stock of the leftovers in the fridge to make sure that they get eaten. Report
This is something I have been working on lately. We often have leftovers that never get eaten. So now I scan the fridge before dinner for anything that I can include with the next meal. Or if we have a lot of variety I have a "leftover day". I will heat up all the leftovers and have a little of this and a little of that. If I make a big pot of soup or chili I will freeze single serving sizes for quick meals later. Report
It was ironic for me that the photo accompanying this article was bread. That is the one thing I tend to throw away. I shop every night or every other and buy only the produce and dairy that I will be using within 48 hours. If I find a good sale on meats (freezable, cause some aren't without a loss of quality) or canned (shelf stable) items that I know we will use I will buy that in quantity. Otherwise it isn't going home with me. Report
A comedian once commented that the vegetable crisper drawer ought really to be called the "vegetable rotter," a line that my husband often quotes.

We just went to our little produce market, brought back lots of nice summer produce. How much will we throw out?

I try not to get overexcited in the presence of colorful, fragrant produce, because I will overbuy.

It helps if I make the produce convenient, like cutting the fruit up into a nice big salad, or making vegetable sticks for munching. Part of the problem with produce is that at the end of a long day, it seems like so much work to prepare it.

BP Report
I'm am becoming more conscious about the produce, but still throw away too much. Didn't realize it turns to methane (does it in a compost pile too?) Just knowing this will help me to be more prudent. When I've bought a boxed item with good intentions, then don't use it, I try to donate it to the local food bank, so at least someone may use it and I am helping out the less fortunate.
I like this blog - good ideas.
Frances Report
No things in Canada are the same. Throwing out veggies when they are bad, or leftovers. My kids will eat half an apple and throw it away. but we are working on it. I thinks that as long as you are making an effort you are helping. Report
I copied the chart. Now I can have my fruits and vegetables and not have them go bad before we eat them. Thanks for the help. Report
I drive my children to school in the morning and on the way home pass by 2 grocery stores. I also have to buy milk for the children every 2-3 days. I do end up buying fresh produce as well that often since I am there anyway. I keep my bread in the freezer now so it doesn't go bad. If I see fruit that needs to be used up I will cut it up and freeze it and use it in a smoothie later. I wish I could say there is no waste at our house but there still is. We are working on it though. Report
I'm guilty of tossing more produce than is practical. I buy them with the best of intentions...but they often spoil before I get a chance to use them. I even tried those Green Bags advertised on TV to no avail (don't waste your money on them!).

My solutions the past few months have been: buying frozen veggies instead of fresh, buying no-sugar/junk-added applesauce & fruit cups, and when taking a chance with fresh veggies & herbs...buying them a few times a week instead of once a week (as suggested below). Practicing these things have helped quite a bit, and I've wasted less food and money as a result.

Thank you for the great blog! Report
Great blog with good points!

We sometimes write what needs to be eaten on a small white board on the fridge. Report
When it comes to produce and I notice it's time to do something with it before it goes bad, I usually end up manking a huge nutritious stir-fry or fruit salad. It's one sure way to get in your minimum for the day :) Report
I tend to shop for each day (as they do in Europe) instead of a week or 2 at a time. I may spend a bit more money that way, but I have fresh veggies every day this way. It also helps that I work in a grocery store ;) Report
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