Orlando Health
Melissa Perry RD
Registered Dietician

What food did you throw away this week? Perhaps you tossed wilted spinach, a few apples sporting brown spots, and the stir-fry leftovers you never got around to eating. If you’re like most Americans, you probably didn’t think twice about it.

Food waste is a huge problem in most households. In fact, according to 2018 estimates, roughly 42.8 million tons of wasted food ended up in landfills — about 68 percent of all wasted food we generate.

Fortunately, you can do something about it. You can take steps to not only reduce food waste, but to also increase your healthy eating along the way. This can positively affect your family, your community and the planet.

Why Food Waste Hurts Us All

Throwing away food means wasting your hard-earned money. But it hurts more than your bank account. U.S. food waste is estimated to be between 30 percent to 40 percent of the food supply, with far-reaching impacts:
• Wholesome food that could have fed hungry families and improved some of the food insecurity in our communities is being sent to landfills.
• Throwing food away wastes all the resources (land, water and labor) used to get it on your table, plus all the energy and other materials used to process, package, transport and store the food.

Turn Scraps into Healthy Meals

It’s easy to wrap up your leftovers after dinner with good intentions but end up throwing them away at the end of the week. What can you do? Try these ideas:
• Add leftover vegetables or stems from a vegetable — think broccoli stalks — to a vegetable soup, casserole or stir fry.
• Toss wilted spinach and overripe bananas into smoothies.
• Mash overripe bananas and mix them with almond milk, egg whites and a scoop of protein powder to make a pancake mix.
• Use leftover bones from chicken or meat to make your own bone broth.
• Save vegetable trimmings to make your own vegetable stock.
• Freeze leftover fresh herbs in ice cube trays filled with water, then defrost as needed to add flavor to recipes.

Plan Meals To Waste Less Food

A few small steps go a long way toward reducing food waste.
• Check your inventory. Before you head to the grocery store, check what’s in your fridge and pantry to see what you already have on hand. This way, you won’t buy duplicates.
• Plan your meals. With busy families, it helps to plan out your meals for the week. Use what you already have in this week’s meal plan, then buy missing ingredients at the store.
• Make a grocery list. Based on your meal plan, see what ingredients you need and add them to the list. Sticking to the list helps you resist impulse buys at the store.
• Buy small quantities. Only buy what you’ll need, especially perishable items (like produce and dairy) and bulk items (like nuts and seeds) that might go rancid before you can use them. It’s better to make a couple of trips to the grocery store to buy smaller quantities and ensure fresher food.
• Compost food scraps. Instead of throwing away potato skins, carrot tops and banana peels, turn them into “black gold” for your garden. Compost is simply organic material made from food scraps and yard waste that have decomposed over a few months. Check with your community — some counties provide free composting bins to residents. You can add compost to your soil to help your plants grow — it’s a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer. Besides repurposing your kitchen scraps, composting keeps these items out of landfills.
• Teach your kids about food waste. It starts by inviting them to help you in the kitchen. Meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking all provide teachable moments during which you can educate your kids about healthy eating and food waste. Don’t forget to talk about portion sizes at the dinner table. This helps kids make healthy eating choices by understanding portion control, which is key to weight management.

Maximize Food Freshness

When it comes to storing leftovers, you might wonder how long you can safely store food to reduce food waste. It depends on the food, ranging from a few days to a week. Fortunately, the USDA developed a helpful tool called FoodKeeper that you can download for free. This handy app helps you maximize the freshness and quality of your food by storing it properly, which stretches your food dollars and reduces food waste.

Source: Orlando Health