When I was first married, we had almost zero food waste. I found a way to use nearly everything, from vegetable scraps to expiring milk. Money was tight, and I didn't feel that wasting food was an option.
Move forward nine years, and I'm not doing quite as well. My attention is more spread out now, and sometimes a container of leftovers or a bunch of cilantro will go slimy in the fridge. Bread molds. Kids don't finish their dinner. I make a too-big cake that we can't finish in time. I have no idea how much food we waste every year, but it's a lot more than it used to be.
Today Mavis at One Hundred Dollars a Month posted an article on food waste that says the average American family wastes $1500 in food each year, or about a quarter of what we buy—check out the picture! I sincerely doubt that we're wasting quite that much (I know we're not throwing away 25%), but still, it's food for thought. How can we waste so much when others have so little?
I also watched this news story on food waste, which shows a family who wastes a shocking amount of food (I can only hope they were exaggerating for this story!). The story (from 2008) claims that families waste about $1200 in food each year.
- Plan a menu. If you plan a menu alongside your grocery shopping list, then stick to your list at the store, then all the food you bring home will have a plan to be used.
- Shop your fridge before you shop the store. Before you plan your menu, make a list of everything in your fridge/freezer/pantry that should be used in the next week. Plan it into your menu before you plan to buy anything new.
- Everyone eats the same meal. Don't let your family all eat different things for dinner. If you cook a meal, your family should be eating it.
- Use leftovers promptly. My husband and I eat leftovers for lunch. Sometimes if we can't eat them in time, we freeze them.
- Have ideas to use up food. Do you know what to do with the last few wilting veggies in the crisper, or the milk that's about to go bad? Here are some ideas.
- Make food more convenient to eat. If you've just bought a lot of vegetables, you'll be a lot more likely to use them if you take an hour to wash and chop them. Your family will be more likely to snack on carrot sticks than on unwashed, unpeeled carrots.
- Compost. If you're composting wasted fruit and veggies, you obviously haven't eaten them, but composting them is better than sending them to the landfill!
- Grow your own. I find that I'm much more reluctant to waste fruits and vegetables that I've grown myself.
- Don't let kids snack until they've finished their last meal. Last year, I realized that Tiger Lily was managing to finish almost no meals, yet she was always snacking! We've cut out most snacks and made them contingent upon finishing meals, and it's less of a problem now.
- Have a leftover night. If your leftovers are piling up, cancel your dinner plans and serve the leftovers instead. Sometimes I'll plan a special dessert as motivation to get them eaten.
- Be grateful. Perhaps last night's leftovers aren't as appetizing as cooking up something new, or stopping at the drive-through. But isn't it great that you have food?