The average American family throws out $1,600 worth of uneaten food each year, according to chef Ellen Damaschino. That’s a lot of money — and food — to be wasting each year, especially when food prices are on the rise.
Damaschino manages a program called Cooking Matters, which helps families with limited resources make healthy meals at home, for Share Our Strength, which also includes a Shopping Matters program to teach families to shop healthier and for less money, and No Kid Hungry, a movement committed to ending childhood hunger in America. By planning and preparing, she says anyone can stretch your food purchases and reduce the waste. Here are some tips from Share Our Strength:
1. Shop more often, even daily. Stopping food waste starts with what you buy at the grocery store, says Damaschino. Go continental style and purchase only what you need for the next few days (and use a list to reduce impulse purchases). When the food is gone, go back for more. “Europeans have been shopping this way for decades,” she notes. Buying local produce also helps, since it tends to be fresher when you purchase it (which means it tastes better, too). In fact, try growing some of your own vegetables! It’s easy to start a small herb garden, for example, that you can pick from at will.
2. Adapt your recipes to what’s in season and what’s in your refrigerator and cupboard. For instance, if you don’t have broccoli, substitute the green beans you have on hand in a stir-fry. Don’t limit yourself to fresh produce, either, especially if you find it’s going bad before you consume it. Frozen fruits and vegetables can make a meal, and are frozen immediately after picking, so they’ve retained their nutrients. Canned fruits and vegetables also have a long shelf life and — as noted in “Can-Do Nutrition” in the most recent issue of VIVmag — often nutrients comparable to fresh counterparts.
3. Freeze, and then freeze some more! Package up leftover fresh vegetables and chopped-up fruit before they rot and put them in the freezer. (Wrap air-tight so they don’t get freezer burn.) Damaschino advises freezing bread immediately after you buy it, and defrosting slices as you need them. (Bread can be frozen for up to six months.) You can even freeze eggs so they last beyond their usual three to four weeks. Crack the shell and mix the yolk and white, or just save the whites, pour into an ice cube tray or Tupperware, and freeze for up to a year.
4. Add “floppy” vegetables to soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes, sauces and omelets before they go to waste. The same goes for fruit. The “blemished” produce you don’t want to eat raw anymore can taste great in a cooked dish. And day-old bread makes a delicious bread pudding, French toast or stuffing.
5. Stretch ingredients over several meals. Plan to use the same ingredients more than once to save money and avoid waste. For instance, use vegetables in a stirfry as well as a mixed salad, and fruit in a cobbler or crisp (it is fall, after all) and morning smoothies.
6. Put a label on it. With a marker, jot down the date you purchased perishable foods so you can quickly assess shelf life.
For specific food storage tips, check out Erin Kennedy’s My ThirtySpot blog. For more tips from Chef Ellen Damaschino, read my article “Overfed & Malnourished: Running on Empty” in the fall issue of VIVmag and a previous VIV Says post about getting more for your money at the grocery store. And for recipes and more information about worthy causes, visit Share Our Strength.
What strategies do you use to reduce food waste and stretch your grocery budget?
Photo credit: Nancy Monson