Picture this: you’re searching through the produce section at your local grocery store looking high and low to find the perfect bunch of grapes, only to have them rot away in your fridge a few weeks later. Does this situation sound too familiar?
Food waste is a big problem in Canada, amounting to 2.2 million tons of edible food wasted each year. This may be due to over-buying at the grocery store, poor planning of meals, or improper food storage. Not only does wasting food cost you money, but it also has a significant environmental impact. The good news is that we can all do something about it – here are six action-based steps you can take to help reduce food waste in your household and work towards being a more sustainable consumer:
- Plan out your meals
The first step to reducing food waste is planning out what food you will be welcoming into your kitchen. Successful meal planning does not mean digging through stacks of cookbooks to find elaborate new recipes so you can have a new dish for each meal. Stick to the basics by including meals you enjoy having and add them to the meal-plan list. Pick one or two protein sources to cook and use them for multiple meals. Are you planning a burrito night? Use leftover fillings for salads or stir-fries. Schedule a few nights for leftovers or freezer meals, as you may not feel like cooking after a long day, and that is okay! Keep a notepad on the fridge or counter and write down ideas as they come. If you live with multiple people, tell others to add to the list to include all preferences in your planning.
- Make a list and stick to it
Most people buy more food than they end up needing. To prevent this from happening, prepare a grocery list before you shop. Come up with a few different meal ideas to have throughout the week, and plan for creative ways to use your leftovers. Many people find it helpful to prepare a large dinner to guarantee leftovers for lunch the next day. Before shopping, take a brief inventory of what you have on hand by checking the fridge, freezer, and pantry for items you might already have on your list. This will help save you money and assure you’re not over-buying food.
- Become the master of food storage
To prevent leftover food from spoiling in the back of the fridge, designate an area for leftovers so that they are easy to access and see. Before grocery shopping, try to organize your fridge so you will have enough room to place food in the best space possible. Keep fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers and dairy products on the middle shelf. Any raw meat should be stored on the bottom shelf to avoid cross-contamination and maximize temperature control. For more information on best practices for food storage, visit the Love Food Hate Waste website.
- Make friends with your freezer
Soups, stews & saucy dishes freeze exceptionally well. If you find yourself cooking more food than you can safely enjoy, portion leftovers into freezer-safe containers and label with the name and date for ready-made meals that only need to be reheated. Excellent for busy weeknights or last-minute work lunches. The same concept can apply to produce that is losing its freshness. Frozen fruit and vegetables can be great additions to smoothies, soups, or stir-fries. Additionally, buying frozen produce from the grocery store is a practical way of guaranteeing you have healthy ingredients in the house without risking over-purchasing fresh produce.
- Understand the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘expiry dates’
The best before date is only a promise from the manufacturer that the food will stay fresh and keep its flavour until the date. Keep in mind that best-before dates only apply to unopened products. Once opened, a product’s shelf life may change. Consuming food that is past its best before date does not mean the food will make you sick. You can safely consume food after the best-before date has passed. There is no exact answer to how long food can safely be consumed after the best before date passes. It’s the consumer’s responsibility to decide using good judgement. Avoid eating food that smells off, has mould growing, or has changed drastically in colour or appearance. Only a few foods have expiration dates, such as infant formula, a nutritional formula for tube feedings, and nutritional supplements like Boost or Ensure. Foods with expiration dates should not be sold past the date identified on the package as the nutrient profile changes.
6. Start the conversation
Is there a way to reduce food waste at your school or workplace? If food is served, is there a way to make sure less is thrown out after meals or snacks? Can reusable containers be given out for leftovers to be taken away? Can ordering practices be changed? If food is prepared, ask if there is a way to use up more of the forgotten about edible parts like broccoli stems, beet greens, and watermelon rinds
Does your school or workplace compost? If not, why don’t they? Is there anything preventing them from doing so? Start the conversation and get others thinking out these questions. Encourage your family and friends to start composting their food scraps. Write a letter to your decision makers to let them know that you believe this issue is important. We can’t change everything, but everyone can do something.
To learn more about food waste, the environmental impact, and ways that you can help combat food waste, visit the links below.
Guest post by Jessica Greenwood, Dietetic intern