By Sarah Haan, for SparkPeople
Food spoils--and quickly! When thinking about your own kitchen, you may not view the food you toss or the leftovers you never eat as money down the drain, but food waste has a major impact on your bank account and the environment. University of Arizona researchers have estimated that the average family of four chucks $590 worth of food every year. Whether it happens in the field, in the factory, on the store shelves, or in a family kitchen, Americans collectively throw away $100 billion worth of food each year! The apple industry alone tosses about 12% of their annual yield, for example.
Fortunately, you can start at home and do your part to help curb food waste. You'll be thinking green and stretching your dollars further at the same time. Some simple changes can have big effects! Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Create a plan-and stick to it!
Meal planning is a critical step to help you spend less and waste less. When you know what you're going to eat today, tomorrow and this coming weekend, you will only purchase the foods you need at the store, preventing you from buying foods on a whim only to have them spoil before you eat them. Creating the plan isn't enough-you must stick to it if it's going to work. Setting your sights for making chili next weekend is great, but when you lose track of time during the week and let the veggies wilt, you are throwing away more than spoiled food; you're wasting your money, too. Stay on top of your planned meal schedule by keeping a calendar on the fridge to remember what's on the menu each day. When planning, account for all the foods you have to buy and creatively use them throughout the week. Use that eight-pack of whole-wheat hamburger buns for a cookout one night and tuna sandwiches for lunch the next day, for example.
Scrape your scraps.
Look for new ways to use food scraps. Instead of throwing away half an onion or extra bits of carrot, store extras in a container in the freezer. Once you've saved enough, boil them in water to make your own homemade vegetable broth that you can use when cooking rice and soup. (You can also compost your food scraps.)
Don't like the heels of a loaf of bread? Chop them up and bake your own croutons, or dry them to use as breadcrumbs. (Your heart will thank you, too! Most store-bought breadcrumbs still contain trans fat.)
Leftover bits of chicken, fish, shrimp, or tofu can be used in a soups or salads the next day. If you have a dog, you may be able to treat her to certain scraps from fruits, vegetables, and meats as a treat, but check with your vet first.
Plan to preserve.
Consider preserving your own food if you don't have time to eat it before it goes bad. Pickling, canning, drying (dehydrating) and freezing are all ways to extend the shelf life of many fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. We often only think of cucumbers when it comes to pickling, but in reality, almost any vegetable can be pickled. Canning your own fruits, vegetables, sauces and soups can be a fun family event, and it can make farm-fresh foods available all winter. Raisins are dried grapes, but have you ever considered drying mango, pineapple or apple slices? This can be done in a food dehydrator or on a low setting in your oven. However you do it, drying fruit is a great way to make your own grab-and-go snacks and to prevent fruit from going bad.
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By Sarah Haan, for SparkPeople