7 Tips to Help You Reduce Food Waste Through Quarantine

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By Morgan Olsen Bowerman

COVID-19 has impacted every facet of our lives, and the way we approach food is no different.  From stockpiling anything we could buy at the store in March, to becoming expert bakers in April and May, to braving take-out and maybe the occasional outdoor-seating-options at a restaurant over the summer.  Now, we are finding our new normal-ish this fall, but what we eat and how is undoubtedly different today than it was this time last year.  We are probably cooking more now than at any time previously, and I want to spotlight a few things we can do to reduce our waste as holiday meals and baking ramp up.

First, let’s quickly cover why we should even care about reducing our food waste.  As a country, we waste a massive amount of the food we produce – over 40%.  While one in six Americans is food insecure, collectively we are throwing away 1200 calories per person, per day.  If you think about all the resources that go into producing this wasted food — the water, land, energy, and transportation – food waste is a vast drain on our economy.  Additionally, the way food breaks down in the landfill makes it a massive greenhouse gas emitter; it off-gasses methane, which can be 20 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  Whenever people ask me what they can do personally to curb climate change, reducing individual food waste is always my number one!  We can all make small changes that truly add up to helping solve a major problem.  So let’s get into it!  A few tips to help you set up your own kitchen and reduce your food waste:

  1. Know what you have
    Remember all that food you stockpiled in March?  Have you eaten it, or has it just been hiding in the back of your pantry ever since?  It’s time to take inventory!  Next time you have an hour to spare, go through your pantry, fridge and freezer, and write down what ingredients you have that need to be used.  Not only will this help you save the food from going to waste, but it makes meal planning and writing a grocery list (both of which are also key to food-waste reduction) a snap. 
  2. Know your dates

Speaking of food that has been sitting there since March….is it still good?  Probably.  Just because the date printed on the packaging has past, does not mean the food is bad.  Not all date labels are created equal, and keeping track of “best by,” “use by,” “expires,” and “sell by” can seem confusing.  Mostly, these dates merely indicate when food will no longer be at its peak freshness, not that it will have gone bad or will make you sick.  It’s best to trust your own senses.  Does it look normal?  Are there signs of mold or decay?  Does it smell foul? Finally, a quick taste test will be indicative of food that is fine to eat or past its prime. 

  • Create an Eat-Me-First bin in your fridge

Are you making a recipe that only calls for half an onion?  Does that other half then go in the crisper drawer to die?  Placing a small bin on the top shelf of your refrigerator labeled “Eat Me First!” will help remind you to check that bin and use up any odds and ends that are in it.  Make your own sign, or print one from the Save the Food campaign. 

  • Freeze your leftovers

The freezer is your friend in combating food waste.  Leftovers can be frozen for months without going bad.  Freeze what you know you won’t eat within the week and pull it out next time you need a quick meal.  Just don’t forget to add it to your inventory and use up the frozen foods eventually.

  • Plan a Buy-Nothing week

Take your handy new kitchen inventory and meal plan for a week using only items already in your freezer, pantry, and fridge to clear out items nearing the end of their life.  You’ll be surprised how far you can go with just eating what is in the house.  Save money and prevent food waste at the same time – win-win!

  • Reduce your portion size

Often our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we serve ourselves more than we can eat.  We usually throw away what is left on our plate, but save what is left in the serving dish.  Take smaller portions and go back for seconds if need be.  This tip can be good for both your waist and your waste! 

  • Compost your scraps

Eating will always result in organic waste.  We don’t generally consume the banana peels and avocado skins.  Start a backyard compost of the cores, stems, peels, and seeds, or check with your waste hauler to see if they offer curbside green waste taken to the municipal compost facility.  This is a much better end-use for these materials than sitting in the landfill for decades to come.