Would you throw $2,000 into your trash can? The average American family throws away 20% of all food purchased, wasting hard-earned income and contributing to climate change.
This is a guest post by my friend and colleague Aviva Goldfarb, The Six O’Clock Scramble meal planner.
When I open the refrigerator at the end of the week, my mood can turn sweet or sour. Either I get a feeling of immense pleasure and satisfaction when I see that I have used up almost all of the food I bought the previous weekend, or I feel disappointed with myself when I toss a head of broccoli that has turned brown into the compost bin or throw out salsa that grew mold before we finished it.
Here’s how I try to keep my mood – and food – from souring. Each weekend I:
- Check our calendar to see how many meals we’ll be home for
- Check the fridge to see what I need to use up
- Plan our meals, make a grocery list, and do our shopping
- Make a vow not to return to the store again until the following weekend
I look at it as a challenge – one that both saves my family a ton of money and time and cuts our food waste to almost zero. Some of my best recipes are born when I try to finish up food I’ve bought, like this Roasted Indian Cauliflower Tossed with Chickpeas and Cashews.
I talk to people all the time who are disgusted by the amount of food they throw out each week and feel angst about the money that quickly adds up on each trip to the grocery store.
Studies show that in the US, we waste from 25 – 40% of the food that is produced, packaged, shipped, and purchased. Food waste costs the average American family $1,365 – $2,275 each year! That’s enough money to take a vacation or beef up our kids’ college funds. The effect of all of this waste on our climate is staggering – both in terms of water wasted to produce the food and carbon dioxide emissions from transporting and disposing of food.
What if we look at using up the food we buy and only buying what we need not only as a way to save money and protect the planet, but also as a practical opportunity to teach our kids flexibility, problem solving, and delayed gratification?
5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste
- Make it a game (think Chopped or Iron Chef). Put the ingredients you have on a table and challenge family members to get creative by transforming them into a meal using only what you already have in your kitchen. Pretend you’re in a mountain cabin and you can’t get back to the store until the end of the vacation, so you have to stretch out those ingredients.
- Try new recipes like frittata, pasta, stir-fry, salad, and stew that are flexible enough to use up odds and ends at the end of the week (we call this the Sixth Night Scavenge). Substitute whatever vegetables and cheeses you need to use up in this Frittata with Red Potatoes and Greens recipe. If you’re not a confident cook, type several ingredients you do have into a search bar on your favorite meal planner or search engine site.
- End the week with a picnic or happy hour dinner where you pull out stray ingredients, leftovers, vegetables, dips/dressings, and canned foods like sardines, tuna, or refried beans to have a casual dinner. Make a smoothie with any leftover fruits to complete your meal.
- Think about what you would do with an extra $1,500 OR $2,000 this year. Stick a picture on your fridge and make that your motivation. Let each family member pick a vacation destination or other reward that you could afford if you spent less money on food.
- Before you shop, check your calendar and plan for one less meal than the amount of home cooked dinners you hope to enjoy. That way you won’t wind up with ingredients for an extra meal if you have to punt on dinner plans one night. And even if your meals do go as planned, you’ll be left with one night each week to use up all the food you bought before you plan and shop again.
These small changes to your shopping, meal planning, and eating routines can have a huge impact on your family budget, stress level, and the climate, which we need to stabilize if we want to have continued access to the foods we all love.
What can you do this week to reduce your family’s food waste? Please make a commitment and share your ideas below.
Aviva Goldfarb struggled like many busy moms to put a nutritious dinner on the table for her family amidst the chaos of daily life. That led to her founding The Six O’Clock Scramble, an online dinner planning solution for busy parents. She is a Today Show and Washington Post contributor, author of the acclaimed Six O’Clock Scramble cookbooks, and frequently appears in major national media such as The Katie Couric Show, Real Simple, and Prevention magazine.