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Sustainable eating starts in the kitchen

Posted April 16

As many celebrate Earth Day this month, consider that what happens in the kitchen can have a positive impact on our community. In particular, simple actions to reduce food waste at home (and beyond) can help make the food system more sustainable by redirecting food to feed people, instead of landfills.

According to some sources, more than one-third of of all edible food is wasted in the United States, with most food that’s thrown away ending up in our landfills. It’s estimated that 36 million tons of food are wasted and yet at the same time 49 million people in the U.S. are food insecure.

Reducing food waste seems like common sense. Yet it’s easy to forget about on a daily basis in the midst of busy lives. It may also seem like saving food may be difficult or require a lot of energy. Yet there are simple ways to reduce food waste starting with habits at home.

Buy the food you need

One of the first steps to reducing food waste at home is to have a game plan for what meals you and your family will be eating by taking a little time each week to plan out a basic menu. Consider using foods that may go bad soon and plan to use those in meals early in the week. Then check to see what other foods you still have at home to use in meals. Lastly, make a shopping list for foods that are needed from the grocery store this week and then stick with the list when shopping.

Use the food you buy

Once you’ve done your grocery shopping for the week, plan to use what you’ve purchased. Make sure you store foods properly so that they don’t go bad before they’re used. When storing produce, for example, many fruits and vegetables stay fresher in the refrigerator. However, others are cold-sensitive and will last longer at room temperature in a cool, dark, dry storage location.

Know your food label dates

There’s a difference between the dates shown on food labels and when foods are safe to eat. Misunderstanding food labels can contribute to foods being thrown away before it's necessary. According to food safety experts, the definitions for some common dates on food labels include:

  • Sell by — the last date a store should sell a given product
  • Best if used by — the recommended date to use a product for highest quality
  • Use by — the last date recommended for use of the product at peak quality
To ensure food safety, make sure you store foods that need to be refrigerated at 40 degrees or cooler, and in the freezer, it's zero degrees. Freezing is a great way to safely preserve foods for longer at home. Many foods can be kept for months when frozen while keeping their nutrition and safety intact. Of course making sure that food is stored, handled and cooked safely is most important, so learn more about food safety tips with apps such as the Is My Food Safe? app or with home food safety resources online.

Find the love for leftovers

There are often ingredients or foods left over from meals that could be creatively re-purposed for other dishes rather than going to waste. Those leftover veggies from one meal could be a great addition to a chicken vegetable stew later in the week for example. When in the mood to try something new, shop in your refrigerator first. You might be surprised by how many different meal options can be made with leftover foods on hand.

Life beyond the kitchen

Once foods are no longer needed in our own kitchen consider changing the path of these resources. Non-perishable, unopened foods can be donated to local food banks. There are also many community groups working to recover food that would otherwise go to waste and transfer this food to those in need.

Another option is directing food scraps to be composted. Many cities now allow food waste to be included in green waste bins that are picked up at curbside. Or you may start a compost bin at home. Purchasing foods locally at farmers markets may also help reduce waste as farmers often sell even the less than beautiful produce. The “ugly veggie” may still taste great and be full of nutrition, reminding us that it is what’s inside that counts!

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