10 Tips for Reducing Food Waste

img_0562Hi! Remember me? Yes, I’m still here and I’m still running, for exercise (and for fun) but mostly as a “mom on the run” chasing after my three kids. Life these days feel busier then ever before. That is in fact why I haven’t written a post here in… 4 whole months?!?! I will continue to post in my spare time, whatever that is ;). Lately it feels like there is NO spare time and when there are even just a few moments of it, the first to-do on my list is sitting down to pour a tall glass of vino… or two.

My next post will be about what I’ve been up to these last four months. In short, I’m trying to run a business and run my household (at which I feel as though I am failing miserably), while also trying to change the world.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this article with you that was just published in the November issue of Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine. Those of you who follow me on social media know that I’m passionate about reducing food waste. I pitched this article to NEO Parent Magazine because it’s an issue that is so very important. A link to the article is listed at the bottom of this post.

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Picture Browns Stadium overflowing with garbage. That’s how much food is thrown away in our country every single day. It equates to each of us trashing about a half pound of food daily and totals more than 230 billion pounds of food squandered annually. Now also consider that eighty percent of our nation’s water, 40 percent of our land and 10 percent of our energy is used to grow our country’s food. And then there’s what it’s doing to our pocketbooks. Americans are wasting the equivalent of $100 billion in food each year. According to the NRDC, a family of four loses $1500 a year on wasted food. All the while, 40 million Americans are food insecure and 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger.

It’s all enough to make you lose your lunch. Whether your concern is for the environment or for the well-being of your wallet, here are some ideas to help you and your family reduce food waste.

1. DON’T OVERSHOP

Estimates say we don’t eat 25 percent of what we bring home. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs indeed. While shopping, we get talked into things by our kids that we later decide we don’t want them to eat. We get suckered into the bountiful displays of farm fresh produce and buy more than we need because it looks so pretty. We want to make fewer trips to the grocery store, so we overload our carts while we’re there.

  • Try changing your shopping habits and purchase only what you need for the next few days. This way food won’t get buried in the depths of your refrigerator behind baby bottles and leftovers.
  • Plan ahead and shop from a list
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach.

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2. LOVE THE UGLIES

Maybe you’ve noticed that the produce displayed beautifully in your market’s produce section looks photo ready; perfectly shaped with just the right hue. That’s not by accident and it’s not because all produce looks perfect. It’s only because your grocer thinks you expect perfection.

The dark truth is that 30 percent of food grown in the US never even makes it to your grocery store. Some gets plowed under or sent to the landfill because the orange peel is scratched, the potato is misshaped or the cauliflower is yellowish-white instead of all white, for example. Imperfect misfits get sent back to the wholesaler by grocery stores who know their customers want oranges with no scratches. Consumers demand for picture perfect produce is a huge part of the food waste crisis. While some items might look a little “imperfect” on the outside, most wasted produce is still completely fresh and safe and offers the same nutritional value as it’s airbrushed-looking counterpart.

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Parents strive to teach their children that “beauty is skin deep” and that “what’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside.” Unfortunately we’re not walking the walk when it comes to giving ugly produce fair rights. Of course, we all want to get what we pay for. We don’t want to pay full price for bruised apples and we’ve been groomed to pick eggplant that are large enough to cut into perfect sized slices for our Eggplant Parmesan. Certainly you don’t want to buy rotten food. Just consider how what you choose at the market informs your store’s decisions about what you want and also think about how it affects demand on a much larger scale.

* Select imperfect items if you see them on your grocers’ shelf. If they aren’t left lingering, over time, your store will see the shift in consumer demand.

  • Consider telling your grocery store you would like to see them carry more “imperfect produce.”
  • Check out Perfectly Imperfect Produce, the program I developed to help reduce food waste. We box up imperfect fruits and vegetables and sell them below wholesale prices for delivery on Fridays.

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3. PROPER STORAGE

By better understanding where and how to store fresh produce and when to wash it, you can significantly extend the usability of your purchase. Many fruits and vegetables should only be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. For example, refrigerating melons, mangoes, pineapple and citrus fruits too early can cause cold damage or prevent them from ripening to good flavor and texture. And washing some fresh food too far in advance removes some of nature’s natural preservatives.

For a detailed list of proper storage and washing instructions for more fruits and vegetables visit www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org or www.savethefood.com/

4. PORTION CONTROL

Ask your child’s teacher and I bet they will tell you with confidence that most moms almost always pack way too much food in their kids’ school lunches. Although it should come as no surprise because every time you open up them at the end of the day, half of what you packed still remains. An appreciable amount of food waste can be saved by learning to prepare the appropriate sized meals and snacks for your family. I know you’re thinking, “But I just don’t want them to be hungry.” Don’t worry, if you aren’t packing enough, they’ll be certain to tell you as soon as they get off the school bus! For now, assume you should pack less! Visit http://www.childrenshealth.com for information on appropriate portion sizes by food group.

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When your children are eating meals at home with you, let those age 3 and over serve themselves. It seems impossible to believe, but kids 5 and under will actually instinctively choose the right portions. According to the Early Sprouts Institute, young children are naturally able to self regulate. After that, cues to eat and stop eating come more from environmental factors. The key is starting this practice early so that they form the right habits that will stick with them through the rest of their lives.

5. TAKE INVENTORY

By the time the weekend rolls around it is common to have lots of containers of leftovers lingering in the fridge along with bits and pieces of fruits and veggies that were not used up. Before heading out to the grocery store to stock up again for the week ahead, try to use up what remains on Friday and Saturday. Look through the refrigerator and pantry for items about to go bad and see what you can come up with. Here are a few ideas.

  • Cut up the remaining pear no-one finished, the handful of grapes left at the bottom of the bag, the kiwi lost in the bottom of the fruit drawer and the last bites of melon and give them new life in a colorful fruit salad. The kids won’t even realize they were sitting in the fridge all week.
  • Dice up the random selection of remaining vegetables to create a vegetable stew, stir fry them and serve them on rice for a unique Asian feast, sauté them to add to your burritos or use them to top your favorite pizza crust.

6. THE FREEZER IS YOUR FRIEND

In the craziness of life, running from school to dance class, soccer practice and more, we all have some items that “go south.” Don’t fret. That’s when the freezer becomes your best friend.

  • Those bananas that are now black, the bruised peaches, the pale strawberries, the mushy mango… toss them all into storage bags and pop them in the freezer to throw into your next morning smoothie. They help make an even more delicious smoothie because the more ripe the fruit, the sweeter it becomes.

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7. GET CREATIVE

Inside Out Peanut Butter & Jelly

I often think about how I could feed all the hungry people in the world by finding a way to save the “butts” of everyone’s loaves of bread. Until I figure that out I will keep making sneaky PB&Js for my kids by putting the jelly and the peanut butter on the dark outside crust and putting those ends together. My kids are smart enough to know I do it and I usually hear about it, but if they are hungry enough, they will eat it at lunch and hopefully learn a lesson about reducing food waste. In fact there are many uses for stale bread. Try using it in your French toast, chopping it up and toasting into croutons or grating into bread crumbs.

LO Party Mix

Somehow children have a habit of INSISTING they are hungry enough to eat an entire bowl of pretzels, but still only manage to finish half. If you haven’t yet mastered the art of getting your way or don’t feeling like fighting that battle, try pouring the leftover snacks in a large bag or container all together. Popcorn, cheesy fish crackers, peanuts, raisins, pour them all in. By the end of the week you’ve created your own party mix out of LOs.

8. GET SCRAPPY

And then of course, there’s the time honored method for reducing food waste which is to utilize them in recipes that actually call for overripe fruits and vegetables or meat scraps.

* Turn soft tomatoes into fresh tomato sauce

* Bake bruised apples into applesauce or pie

* Cut up last night’s roasted chicken to add to tonights chili

* Save scraps such as broccoli stalks, carrot tops or beef or chicken bones to use for  soup stocks and broths.

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9. GROW YOUR OWN

When you grow your own food in your own backyard, you are more likely to not let anything go to waste. You know the amount of time and effort it took to plant, weed and harvest. You stood there with the hose all summer long so you saw for yourself how much water it required. When you grew it yourself, you will embrace the carrot that looks like an alien and the tiny one-bite beets. You will cook them with pride. And your child who also helped in the process will eat every last morsel of that Brussels sprout because they understand this all too.

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10. COMPOST

Rather than throwing your food waste in the garbage, put it to good use. Keep a bin of compostable food scraps in your kitchen and take them out to the compost pile each evening. Put it to work creating rich, fertile soil to put back into the earth to grow new food or beautiful flowers. Less food waste in landfills means lower emissions of dangerous gases like methane, a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Read more about composting at www.howtocompost.org.

Ashley Weingart is the Director of Communications & Community Outreach for The Forest City Weingart Produce Company. She is the founder of their Perfectly Imperfect Produce program and is passionate about reducing food waste while increasing access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Ashley has three children and lives with her husband Andy in Chagrin Falls. Learn more at www.perfectlyimperfectproduce.com .

Read this article as published in the November issue of Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine on page 43 here http://www.mirabelsmagazinecentral.com/digitaledition/index.html?id=715a130b-0ad5-429f-8005-495fca31cd5a&mc_cid=bb9b6c91e6&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

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