So, you’ve been foiled by the fickle avocado again. Another $2.99 in the trash. The bananas went bad while you weren’t looking. And how long ago did you get that Thai takeout?
It stings every time you throw away food you paid for, and the United States is hurting bad. The USDA estimates we waste 30 to 40% of our food supply, when both the waste at the retail and the home kitchen environments are considered.
The area that’s under your control is the area within your home, and within that space there’s plenty you can do. Food is wasted when we:
- fail to use all the edible parts of a plant.
- miss the “best by” date and simply throw it away.
- don’t know how old leftovers are, so we think better safe than sorry, and put them in the trash.
But you’ll have to take fewer trips to the trash can outside, fewer trips to the store, and fewer dollars out of your bank account if you get smarter about how you manage food in your home.
Recipe Ideas to Avoid Waste
Make sure you’re using every part of the food. For example, broccoli stalks are wonderful in salad when sliced or spiralized. The ends of green onions can be put in water and will grow you new green onions!
Make stock out of what you can’t eat. Our society is so used to using canned chicken stock, we’ve forgotten about the real thing. Next time you buy a rotisserie chicken, use the scraps in a slow-cooker chicken soup, or simply to make and freeze a stock.
Greens wilting? Get them on some heat. Put that soggy spinach in the skillet (getting rid of any slimy pieces). Put some oldish arugula on a pizza. Voila.
Need to use up those eggs? Check out recipes for frittatas, quiches and custards.
Don’t throw out those cheese rinds! Parmesan rinds make amazing stock. The longer you steep it, the more flavor you’ll get. Make sure you dig it out before you serve.
Before the mold, use that bread. Toast the bread and put it in a food processor to make bread crumbs.
When in doubt, throw it out
According to the FDA, the maximum time you have for open food is seven days. Check out the expiration dates to be safe. Keep a permanent marker attached to your fridge so you can mark the day you opened items like spaghetti sauce and almond milk.
Use the raw stuff quick! Raw meat only lasts 3-4 days, poultry 1-2. Even cooked meat shouldn’t be around for more than half a week.
How to tell if food is off
You evolved your nose for a reason. Trust it! Smell for any rancid odor. Eggs that smell like sulfur are no good.
Look closely as well. Inspect the texture, make sure those bumps in the bread are seeds and not mold, and throw out anything from the freezer caked in frost.
Some foods, like hard salami and cheeses, can be saved if you surgically remove any bad areas. Try for at least an extra inch around any mold, and don’t let the knife touch the moldy part.
If you’re not too late
Sometimes, the food is getting close to expiring, and you know you’re not going to use it in the next few days. Pause the clock by freezing it!
Most items are freezable, even though some, like yogurt and cheeses, can change texture when frozen. To use the freezer well, put room temperature or cool items only in there. (Heat encourages the dreaded freezer burn.) Try to get out as much air as you can from the container. And be sure to label what it is and when you put it in there.
And speaking of the freezer, another way to waste less produce is to buy it frozen in the first place. You can have greens on hand when you need them, without having to worry about what day you have to use them by.
How to Use Scraps
If you do have to throw out food, give it a second life by using it as compost. See if there’s a composting program in your town. If not, contact a farm or use it in your own yard. Composting is easy and it keeps your kitchen scraps out of the landfill.
It can feel like a small thing, but over your lifetime, managing the waste coming out of your kitchen can make a huge impact on your family’s budget and the health of the environment. There’s just nothing sadder than seeing a peach get tossed. Avoid these tiny tragedies with the tips above.