By Vanessa Chrisman, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s
In America, we live in the land of the plenty. Food costs are low compared to other parts of the world. Despite being the world’s biggest individual exporter of food, about 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. does not get eaten. The foods most commonly thrown out are fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and seafood. It has been estimated that the average American household throws away over $1,400 worth of uneaten food each year. Much of this wasted food contains healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. So not only are we wasting money, we are wasting nutrients that benefit our health. Despite this food waste, 41 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger.
How do we turn this trend around? This year for National Nutrition Month® , the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has tackled this topic and identified that the solution needs to start at home. The first step involves fueling up wisely with food. A nutritious well-planned meal is the perfect start to a busy day of work or school. Eating the right foods will help you “go further.” Planning and preparing your foods to go further can also help to reduce food waste. Below are some tips on how to reduce food waste in your home.
Keep Food Fresh
- Place foods that spoil quickly within plain sight in the refrigerator or on the counter top
- Store produce properly
- Refrigerate these fruits and vegetables:
- Apples, apricots, berries, cherries, figs, grapes, cut fruit, artichoke, asparagus, green beans, lima beans, beets, broccoli, endive, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, green onions, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, peas, radish, spinach, sprouts, summer squash, sweet corn, fresh herbs (except basil), cut vegetables
- Ripen on counter first, then place in refrigerator:
- Avocados, kiwis, nectarines, peaches, plums, plumcots, pears
- Store only at room temperature:
- Apples (for less than seven days), banana, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, mango, oranges, papaya, melons, papaya, persimmon, pineapple, plantain, pomegranates, basil (in water), cucumber, onion, eggplant, garlic, ginger, jicama, pepper, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomato, winter squash
- Separate fruits and vegetables that may quicken ripening
- Tomatoes, bananas, and apples should be stored by themselves
- Keep fruits and vegetables in separate refrigerator drawers
- Only wash produce right before using
- Refrigerate these fruits and vegetables:
- Buy only the amount of fresh food that you will use within three to five days.
- Buy some perishables in frozen form:
- Broccoli, green beans, spinach, green peas, corn, sweet potatoes, legumes (like edamame, black eyed peas, pinto beans), berries, peaches, mango
- Plan meals based off foods that you already have in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer
- Use up perishable foods first
- Find recipes that include the foods already in the house
- Make a list of additional ingredients needed
- Practice portion control and consider how many people will be eating when making food
- Make your shopping list based off the number of meals that will be eaten at home
- Prepare some meals ahead of time and freeze for later use
Get Creative in the Kitchen
- Turn leftovers into other meals: sandwiches, soups, salads, stews, casseroles, burritos, wraps, scrambles
- Pack some leftovers into a container for lunch the next day
- Freeze, dehydrate, preserve, and can foods as a way of preserving longer
Practice Good Food Safety
- Eat leftovers within three to four days (or freeze and keep for up to three to four months)
- Remember to date the foods that you freeze
- Avoid eating or drinking something that you think may have spoiled
Learning how to manage food resources at home will help you and your family “Go Further with Food,” while saving both nutrients and money. The benefits of reducing food waste don’t stop there though. It also helps to reduce methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint. It conserves energy and resources, as well as prevents pollution. Reducing food waste at home also supports your community by providing donated untouched food to the hungry.
If you would like more information on following a healthy diet and making lifestyle changes, please consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutrition (RDN or RD). They can provide you with easy to follow evidence-based nutrition advice that is personalized to your specific needs.
For more on CHOC’s clinical nutrition program