Three Things You Can Do to Cut Back on Food Waste
Picture this: it’s a Monday night.
You just got home from work, rush hour traffic was terrible, and you are starving. You open the fridge. There’s some pasta from last week that smells suspicious, broccoli from last night’s Chinese take-out, a half-finished can of Diet Coke, and eggs.
You move to the pantry. Here, you find a plastic bag of onions, rice, and Sriracha.
Well…Postmates it is.
You wind up getting veggie tacos from the place all the way across town, right across the street from your office, because it’s #MeatlessMonday, and you’re trying to save the environment…when it’s convenient for you.
To begin, practicing #MeatlessMonday is an important step towards cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, so major props for picking the veggie tacos.
However, if you had picked up the food yourself before leaving work, your Postmates driver’s greenhouse gas emissions from going across town and back could’ve been saved.
You’re also probably tossing the paper bag, receipt, and plastic cutlery that came with your order, not to mention the cardboard box your tacos came in and a little plastic salsa cup.
You’re out $25 and half of your trash can is filled with paper and plastic with enough food residue that you can’t recycle any of it.
This is food waste, and it’s time to cut back.
Shop Smarter, Not Harder
You’ve heard it time and time again – planning your meals can save you time, money, and unnecessary calorie binges that leave you feeling bloated and defeated.
It can also help you cut back on your food waste. But how do we start meal planning? Do we have to eat the same thing every day for a week?
It’s important to realize that meal planning is a process that takes a lot of self-awareness. Writing down your cravings during your regular 3 p.m. mid-afternoon crash can tell you what kinds of snacks to buy in the store.
Knowing what your body needs vs. what it craves (and when) can help you better plan your meals to satisfy those cravings without spending a quick buck on vending machine Doritos; those instant gratification meals can cost you more than $200 every year, not to mention filling your company’s trash can with unrecyclable plastic.
For the next week, keep track of your meals.
Write down what you crave and how you beat those cravings. Know when you need carbs with your meal for an energy boost and make notes of your favorite fats and proteins that keep you full.
There’s no shame in knowing you need macaroni and cheese every Friday for when drinking leads to snacking – so long as you’re learning to drunk-snack wisely and cut back on the Kraft boxes in your trash can.
If you know that you’ll eat it more than once in a week, why buy the microwavable singles when you could make a big box to dig into for your lunch several times a week?
Better yet, do you have a friend with a killer homemade mac recipe that tastes just as good heated from the freezer as it does fresh out of the oven?
A food journal is a valuable tool for improving your eating and food waste habits. Buying and preparing foods you’ll love time and time again in bulk can save you lots of money and waste in the long run (just don’t forget your reusable bags in the car!)
Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose
So you’ve taken the last step to heart and realized your love for chicken wings and chicken stir fry can be satisfied with buying a whole frozen chicken at once.
After you’ve cut up the chicken, you’re left with bones and skin that you’re ready to toss. Did you know these are the perfect starting ingredients for the best homemade chicken stock you’ve ever had? Seriously, this stuff could kick Kroger’s boxed chicken stock’s ass right off the shelf.
Your food scraps don’t have to go to waste when there are dozens of recipes online for leftover chicken bones, beef, vegetables, you name it. Start thinking of your leftovers and scraps as ingredients rather than garbage, and you’re on your way.
Investing in a solid spice rack will help your inner chef flourish. It’ll help turn a leftover half-onion and stalks from fresh herbs into the best base for veggie broth you’ve ever tasted.
Dedicating one night a week to your leftovers doesn’t have to mean an odd mix of old spaghetti with less-than-fresh vegetables and teriyaki chicken breasts for dinner.
When you’re cooking, try to prepare everything plain, and season/finalize only what you need for one meal that night.
Saving plain chicken breasts rather than chicken covered in stir-fry sauce gives you the foundation for a great chicken salad for lunch.
Keeping chopped vegetables you didn’t use will save you time when you’re ready to finally put your spin on your aunt’s frittata recipe.
If you’re tired after a night of cooking, save the scraps in glass Tupperware for a rainy day. Plain scraps, from chopped vegetables to unseasoned beef, can be great for creating something new to make your leftovers exciting again.
Even when something’s gone “bad”, it can be repurposed. Did you know there are a dozen crouton recipes that call for stale bread, and week-old brown rice is actually better for fried rice recipes than fresh rice?
Check out websites like SuperCook and MyFridgeFood to find out ways you can create new recipes with what’s already in your kitchen. You’d be surprised how much you can do with a good spice rack and a little creativity.
Take Responsibility for your Plastic
At the end of the day, cooking for yourself will always be better for the environment than ordering delivery.
By swapping your usual Friday-night takeout for Thursday’s leftovers, you’re saving greasy pizza boxes, used cutlery, greasy receipts, and countless plastic containers from your local landfill purgatory.
Odds are, you’ve probably forgotten some of these containers can be washed and recycled, and they’ll often end up in the trash. Some are even saying that the recycling system has “stopped working”. What’s the point of recycling if it’s “stopped working”?
The goal is to eliminate having any waste to throw away or recycle in the first place. Grab your reusable bags and start taking accountability for your part in your generation’s carbon footprint.
It’s estimated that the average American family will take home about 1,500 plastic bags a year. Americans also use an average of 500 million plastic straws every day – it’s even estimated that “by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish”.
So do your part – buy the reusable straws to turn down single-use ones, remember your reusable bags, and make the switch to cloth napkins.
We have to start making small switches that add up to global change before it’s too late. If you ever think that you are too small to make a difference, know that you are approximately 1,500 plastic bags off the mark.
He brings stories like this one to you as one of Food Tribe’s Content Manager.