4 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste from Your Own Kitchen

With many Americans tossing out more than a third of their groceries each year, we have some easy ways to address the food waste problem from your own home.

Many of us are guilty of tossing out uneaten food (I recently threw out celery after finding a slimy, mushy mess in my fridge). By using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's survey of more than 4,000 households on food purchases, researchers at Pennsylvania State University calculated that Americans waste nearly a third of all the food they purchase. In a University release, researcher Edward Jaenicke said the food waste statistics showed more than two-thirds of households waste between 20% and 50% of purchased food and even the least wasteful household threw out 8.7% of their food.

The individual households were also surveyed by demographic data to show if certain characteristics (i.e. income and types of diets) made any difference in food waste. As a result, the cost associated with food waste in the U.S. is about $240 billion (that's billion, with a B) every year. Divided among the nearly 128.6 million U.S. households, each home spends on average $1,866 on food that never gets eaten each year. The cost is one concern, but unused food also impacts our environment by wasting the energy, water, and labor used to produce the foods we buy just to throw out. Start decreasing the amount of food (and in essence, money) you throw away by adding some of these habits into your kitchen duties.

knife cutting red bell pepper
Blaine Moats

1. Stick to a Food Plan

The study's numbers showed following healthier eating plans led to more waste due to purchasing fresh foods that go bad faster. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests eliminating the amount of food we waste by planning meals and sticking to the grocery list. Find a great deal on cauliflower or tomatoes? Take time to properly wash, cut, and store fruits and vegetables when you get home. That way, when it's time for your weekly meal prep session, all your fresh ingredients will be ready to go.

2. Utilize Leftovers

One of the best food waste solutions we can tackle is making the most of leftovers. Turn last night's chicken into a pot pie. Find a new way to utilize overripe bananas. Freeze foods like soups and casseroles in portions you can take out whenever you need a quick meal. Flash freeze or repurpose your produce by canning them. If you made too much food over the holidays (we're looking at you, Thanksgiving), we've got a ton of fresh takes that you'll be hoping for leftovers just for an excuse to make them.

3. Donate It!

Sure, we want to avoid any chance of food-borne illness, but don't let the expiration date fool you. Canned or fresh, many of our purchased goods don't have to be trashed because the "use by" date is passed. Most of the time, the dates on our food are labeled to ensure the best quality, but you have a bunch of non-perishable foods in your pantry that can surpass the "expiration" and still be good. If you still don't think you will use it, most food banks are happy to redistribute your unwanted goods. That doesn't mean you can hand over moldy bread you forgot to eat, but canned foods like soup, peanut butter, or even granola bars are welcome donations. Do yourself a favor and help feed someone in your community by donating to your nearest food bank.

compost bucket, bucket, compost, gardening
William N. Hopkins

4. Feed Your Garden Instead of the Garbage Bin

Some food scraps (like lettuce, celery, and green onions) can be regrown by simply sticking their roots in water. For most of our other fresh scraps, start composting your food waste. Fruit or veggie scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds can all be tossed together into your compost bin ($23, Bed Bath & Beyond) instead of making a trip to the landfill. Once it's decomposed, you'll have some "black gold" to add extra nutrients to your garden.

Large or small, your household can make a big impact by following these easy food waste solutions. Our environment (and your wallet) will thank you.

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  1. Jaenicke, Edward C. et al. "Estimating Food Waste as Household Production Inefficiency." American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 2020, doi:10.1002/ajae.12036

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