In a 2012 report on food waste, authors Jean C. Buzby and Jeffrey Hyman estimated that Americans waste $390 per capita each year tossing out foodstuffs – that’s almost $1,600 for a family of four.
Not only are we chucking money in the garbage, it puts an unnecessary burden on our ecology as well.
To that end, here are 9 easy ideas that will help all of us to be less wasteful in the kitchen – and put our hard-earned cash (and maybe even our food scraps) to better use!
1. Shop smart
Never go shopping without a grocery list, and stick to it.
If you think of an item or two you’ve forgotten, that’s fine. Go ahead and pick them up. But don’t change your meal plan just because something shiny catches your eye.
Impulse buying often results in forgetting important ingredients for your meal, and doubling up on items you already have at home.
To make your shopping smart, design a meal plan for one- or two-week blocks, and create a shopping list to accommodate all the meals and snacks in your plan.
2. Use up leftovers
When you create your meal plan, be sure to include ways to use up leftovers. Plan at least one leftovers lunch or dinner each week to keep food waste to a minimum.
3. Know your inventory
Use the accountant’s FIFO system to ensure food doesn’t get lost in the back of the fridge or your pantry, hidden behind more recent purchases.
FIFO stands for First In First Out – so an item that went in first should be used before something that was bought a few days later. Put new items behind older ones, and keep the oldest items at the front of the shelf.
If it is helpful, you can also use labels on your food containers to help you organize this.
Not only will you have a better idea of what stock you have on hand, you’ll be using perishable goods at their peak of quality and freshness.
4. Go airtight
Packages of cereal, crackers, and pasta can go stale quickly after they’ve been opened, and often end up getting tossed just as quickly.
To extend the shelf life of dry goods, pick up some inexpensive wide-mouthed jars or canisters with secure lids.
Storing these types of foodstuffs in airtight containers will help to retain their freshness much longer.
The ultimate method of making your food airtight is definitely through the use of a vacuum sealer.
5. Don’t store your fruit and veggies together
According to this report from Cornell University on storing fruits and vegetables, a number of fruits emit ethylene gas, a hormone which promotes ripening.
And storing fruits and vegetables together causes veggies to ripen quickly, causing many to spoil seemingly overnight.
Put your vegetables in the vegetable crisper of your fridge, and fruits in the fruit drawer or a fruit bowl.
6. Create croutons
Don’t throw out that crust! Stale bread is perfect for making croutons, for topping soups and salads.
Cut stale pieces of bread into cubes, and toss in a large bowl with seasonings and a wee drizzle of olive oil. Spread out on a baking sheet, and bake in a hot oven at 400°F for 15 minutes.
7. Freeze overripe fruit for smoothies
Fruit that’s past its prime may not look pretty, but it’ll still taste fine when smashed to smithereens.
The goal here is to preserve extras that might be a little bruised, before they’re rotten or moldy.
Keep a large zip-top bag in the freezer to collect any pieces that are no longer aesthetically appealing, and blend when you have a large enough collection.
Bananas are particular suited for freezing once they start getting way too ripe are very useful frozen to make smoothies.
For additional advice on how to keep your bananas from getting too ripe, check out this post.
8. Freeze unused wine in ice cube trays
Rather than pouring the remnants of a bottle of vino down the sink, pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Use these the next time you have a recipe that calls for wine.
9. Freeze extra herbs in ice cube trays
If you have too many herbs to use them all fresh, mince or shred coarsely, then pack into ice cube trays. Top up with some olive oil and use in sauces, stews or soups. Check out this detailed article that outlines the process.
These are just a few ideas to get you started on being less wasteful in the kitchen. They’ll save money, and ease your conscience when it comes to heedless habits.
How about you? What are some of your favorite tips for mindful kitchen practices that stretch your food budget, and ease the burden we put on the environment?
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.