The amount of food wasted in America is staggering. As this infographic shows, a report from the NRDC found that around 40% of food produced in the US is wasted. While some of this waste is at the production and shipping level, we as consumers are guilty of wasting tons of food too, and that also means a hit to our wallets. We might as well be throwing money out the window. But with a conscious effort you can greatly reduce food waste and perhaps even eliminate the fridge haunted with unrecognizable new subspecies that evolved out of the forgotten organic strawberries at the bottom of your produce drawer.
Utilize Your Freezer
Many food items may be frozen to prolong their shelf life. Keeping freezer labels and containers on hand make it easier to freeze foods that are in danger of not being used up before they go bad. Some of the things I throw in my freezer are ripe bananas I'm not going to eat before they go mushy. I use these in smoothies. I open up a jar of spaghetti sauce and only use part of it to make a nice homemade pizza. Instead of sticking it in the refrigerator where it will be forgotten I take a sharpie marker, write the date on it, and stick the jar in the freezer. Same with broths and canned pumpkin. Other items that can be frozen include cookie dough, leftover pancakes and waffles, pasta, homemade pies, breads, and excess mashed potatoes. You can even freeze milk and buttermilk, though I've never tried it.
Like I mentioned in my last post, I also freeze my fresh ginger. It seems like my ginger always shrivels up or starts growing before I can use it all up. I also find that grating frozen ginger is a lot easier than grating the fresh root.
Dry It Out, Preserve It
Make homemade banana chips, dried apples, etc. You can also make fruit leather from home. While it is more efficient, you don't need a food dehydrator. You can use your oven at a low temperature. Here is a good link to making dried cherries, but all fruit can be dried using the same procedure. The time involved may very depending on the juiciness of the fruit. How to Dry Fruit in the Oven
If you have an excess of herbs growing in your garden or you bought fresh from the store or local farmers market and can't use it all up you can dry it and use it later simply by tying a string around the plant cuttings like tying a tiny bouquet. Then simply hang upside down in a warm dry place until the herbs have dried. To keep the leaves clean and dust free you may place a paper bag over the bundle before tying.
Know how to Store it Properly
Store onions, potatoes, and winter squash in a cool, dark, dry place. Produce like cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and beets should be stored in a cold, moist environment. I will even take carrot sticks and place them in a container with cold water to keep them crisp. If you don't eat them quickly, you will need to change out the water periodically. Cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant can actually be stored in a cool spot in your kitchen and should not be refrigerated long term.
Buy Only What You Need
I know sometimes it is tempting to buy the larger can of whole olives because they are cheaper per ounce, but if I only need enough sliced olives to put on a homemade pizza and I stick those left over olives in my refrigerator they are in danger of getting lost at the back behind the milk and juice. I will find them sometime later stewing in their brine and end up tossing them because of their questionable state. So I buy the small can of sliced olives, use them up, and recycle the can. I have saved nothing if I buy the larger, cheaper by the ounce, can if I end up throwing a third of them away. That goes with any ingredient you use infrequently. If you can't freeze it or somehow preserve it after using what you need, then avoid the larger quantities no matter how cheap it may seem.
About the only things you can't compost are dairy products, raw eggs, and meat products. Anything else is a go, fruit rinds, eggshells, coffee grounds, your wilted salad, moldy bread. Many urban backyards now have compost bins and a lot of cities are even incorporating compost centers and picking up grass clippings and food waste. There are many plans on the internet for DIY compost bins or you can pick one up at your local gardening or hardware store.
When we start having a build up of leftovers in the fridge we have leftover night (remember that scene in The Incredibles?). Just like Mrs. Incredible, I pull out all the options and everyone chooses what they want for dinner. On to the plate and into the microwave it goes. Voila! I don't have to cook, everyone is fed, and I have kept our food waste down.
What are ways you reduce food waste in your family?
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