Written by Sharon Charles BSc Nutrition (Candidate)
Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD
Have you ever looked through your fridge in search of spinach only to find a bag of wilted leaves you can no longer use for your salad? I know I have! There have been many times when I have had to throw out food and felt frustrated at having wasted not only food, but resources such as time, money, and the effort to produce that food. Over the years, I have learned to reduce my food waste at home and become more responsible and thoughtful of how I use the resources available to me.
So why is food waste such a problem? The reality is that food waste is costing Canadians a ton of money! According to the National Zero Waste Council, food waste by Canadians exceeds over $17 billion! Not only is money being wasted, but the pollution, fuel, transportation, water, fertilizers, becomes wasted when food ultimately lands in the waste bin. Even after the food is wasted and ends up in the landfill, it continues to have damaging effects on the environment as it releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas, thereby contributing to climate change.
When I started looking into this topic a bit further, I stumbled upon a book called, “The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook: A Guide to Eating Well and Saving Money By Wasting Less Food” by Dana Gunders (a must-read if you have the chance!). Gunders explains how Americans waste approximately 40% of the food they buy, and goes further to illustrate that point with an example that I will certainly remember: “[wasting 40% of the food you buy is like] buying five bags of groceries and then dropping two of the bags in the grocery store parking lot and not bothering to pick them up.” Can you imagine leaving two bags of groceries in the parking lot? I could never do that, but the reality is that most people end up having to throw away that amount! This book is great for anyone who wants to learn more about why food waste is important and how to reduce food waste.
Having given this book a read, I have combined my experiences in the kitchen with my research into this topic to equip you with tips and tricks on how to reduce your food waste!
The most important tip I can give you immediately is to meal plan. There is a reason I talk about meal planning every chance I get! Meal planning helps you lay out what meals you want to eat for that time period you have chosen and helps you buy only what you need, thereby eliminating the possibility that you will give in to impulse buys and end up contributing to more food waste. Going into the grocery store without having any idea on what recipes to make or what to buy is a recipe for disaster – it’s like driving without having a destination; you might get somewhere but it might be a waste of resources! Meal planning eliminates the guesswork and gives you the opportunity to try out new recipes, practice buying only what is on your shopping list, and use up ingredients you already have in your kitchen.
My tips for meal planning when it comes to reducing food waste are:
- Don’t start completely from scratch! If you know of meals you or your family enjoy, write those down for some days of the week. There is comfort in familiarity!
- Use ingredients from other recipes you have planned for the week to ensure you are making good use of everything you have on hand
- Use up perishable items earlier on in the week to reduce the likelihood of the items spoiling during storage.
- If you want to use some technology to help you meal plan, check out the meal planning platform we offer: http://amillerrd.ca/meal-planning/
Organization is key to making sure you know what you have on hand in your kitchen, and what you need to buy. Here are some tips to help you get started with organizing your kitchen:
- Use clear containers and jars when storing food in the fridge. This makes it easier to see what is inside the container and know whether it is a priority to consume so that it does not spoil.
- Place perishable food items in sight. For example, keep cut up fruit and veggies stored at eye level so that you see them often and are more likely to use them up before they spoil.
- Label your jars! Recently, I purchased a label maker and have been enjoying labeling all the spice jars and items in my pantry, as well as highlighting the expiry dates of certain food items. Now all I need is one glance at my pantry to know if I have something or not. There is no more guesswork! But, there is no need to purchase a label maker – you can easily use a waterproof marker or add sticky notes to items. The point is, labeling items you have in your kitchen prevents you from buying duplicates of items, lets you identify items easily, and allows you to use up what you have which all contribute to reducing food waste.
- Avoid clutter! When you have a cluttered refrigerator, freezer or pantry, it makes it more difficult to see what you have on hand. Things might get pushed to the back only to be taken out of the fridge when it has gone bad. Plan to clean out your food storage areas on a biweekly basis or whenever you find the time to do so.
- Most hospitals and long-term care centres use the FIFO method (first in first out). This means that newer items are placed at the back of storage pushing older items at the front to be used up first. If you are stocking your food storage areas, be sure to give this method a try!
Make good use of the freezer!
The freezer can be your best tool to reduce food waste since it can extend the life of food and preserve its freshness. My freezer is stocked with meats, fish, muffins, soups etc. that can be pulled out of the freezer and enjoyed when I am short on time or energy.
- On days when you are cooking, plan to make a larger batch of food and store it in the freezer for a quick meal
- Buy things when they are on sale at the grocery store and store them in the freezer to save money and trips to the grocery store
Health Canada has a chart available on their website (https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/general-food-safety-tips/safe-food-storage.html#a5) that outlines how long foods can safely stay in the freezer.
It is important to take care of the land we live on, and become responsible citizens making wise use of the resources that we are lucky to have available to us. Reducing food waste is a journey – it might not be perfect at the start but with practice you will become better! Write down one tip from this post that you feel helped you the most and aim to implement it into your lifestyle. Reducing food waste not only helps your wallet, but helps the planet!