Let’s have a little Earth Day chat about a topic I’ve become pretty passionate about over the last few years: reducing food waste! There are a lot of reasons to be conscious about reducing food waste, for me the lightbulb went off when I read that the EPA estimates about 22% of trash in landfills is food waste — more than any other single material in our everyday trash. And when food decomposes in landfills the nutrients in the food never return to the soil — the wasted food rots and produces methane gas. Being someone who writes about food for a living, I had a major realization that I was wasting a LOT of food. My fridge was a graveyard of uneaten leftovers and excess ingredients from photoshoots, and I knew I had to take a look at ways to majorly reduce the food waste I was creating at home. Over the past few years I’ve made lots of little tweaks and adjustments (and a few big ones, like starting to compost) that are helping me throw away far less food in the trash. I’m certainly not perfect about it but I thought I’d share a few things that work in our house to help reduce food waste:
Meal Plan. I’ve always been a meal planner, it makes me feel organized for the week, helps me save money and is typically the best way for me to stay on track with healthy eating habits. And if all of that isn’t enough, a really big benefit of meal planning is that it helps me make thoughtful choices about reducing food waste. Before I make my grocery shopping list for the week I start by surveying what we have leftover from the previous week and start to figure out how I can build meals around things like remnant veggies, half a container of sour cream, or the cheese I have on hand from a grazing board photoshoot. Then I try to brainstorm meals that compliment each other so I can maximize any leftovers (like roasting a chicken on Sunday, making chicken salad with extra chicken for lunches, and then using the bones to make broth for a soup later in the week!). Often times clients send me larger quantities of food products for recipe development than our small family can eat, so it can take some creativity to work them into the meal plan!
Prioritize Perishables. This is a tip that I got from one of my favorite green-blogging sites, The Eco Mamas. They shared an idea on their instagram page that has totally stuck with me — an “eat first” bin that is full of the items in your fridge that are closest to their expiration dates. They filled it with the produce that was the oldest and any other leftover foods that needed to be consumed before starting on new groceries. I don’t have an actual bin in my fridge but I’ve started to organize my fridge in a way that helps me see “eat first” items as I’m prepping for meals and making a grocery plan. One that that helps me is grouping items by meal (all of the breakfast stuff is on one shelf) and grouping items by recipe (like using a bowl in the fridge to corral leftover veggies I plan to use in a stir fry) so that nothing gets left behind.
Use Leftovers. This is honestly the hardest tip on the list for me to follow because I’m not the biggest leftover fan, but we try to eat any dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. Luckily my husband is awesome about eating leftovers and will always take one for the team to finish up anything I’m less than enthusiastic about. I also try to see leftovers as a cooking challenge — like I’m on a Food Network competition show — to make the most of the ingredients in our fridge. I toss lots of leftover ingredients into salads, soups, pastas and even into my eggs at breakfast.
Freeze Scraps. There are lots of good food “scraps” that can have another use if you just freeze them for a later date. I keep a few mason jars in the freezer to collect leftover fruit to use in Jane’s smoothies, and stockpile chicken broth made from leftover bones and veggie scraps. You can nearly always find leftover parmesan cheese rinds wrapped up in my freezer to add to soups and sauces too!
Compost. If you told me 5 years ago that I would be someone who gets excited talking about compost I would have laughed so hard. But here we are, I’m a compost convert, and I don’t think I could ever go back. As much as I try to reduce food waste “upstream” before we get to this stage, I still produce quite a bit of organic food scraps when I’m testing recipes and working on client projects. So we decided to start composting (and I have to give my husband the credit here, he totally lead our compost efforts and set up our system). We don’t have a massive space to build big compost troughs, so we use a small kitchen compost pail to collect veggie scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells and then we transfer it to a compost tumbler outside — it keeps things pretty neat and contained which is key with a small backyard.
If you’re intimidated by composting, see if your town has a compost program already in place, many areas are starting to pick up compost with your trash now. The EcoMamas have a great, simple post about how they set up a compost system that’s a big bigger than ours, but has an awesome over of basics about what you can and can’t compost. Yesterday I shared an interview with Mars Kitchen Gardens about veggie gardening, and she has some great resources on her instagram story highlights to explain how to rotate compost to use it effectively in your yard. And lastly, if you’re looking to dig in a littler deeper (gardening joke!) and understand more about how composting can help build carbon-rich soil that can capture greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change I highly recommend reading this book: Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader so trust me when I say I found it really quick and approachable, and learned a lot about starting a modest veggie garden can make a positive impact on the environment!