How to Avoid and Prevent Produce Waste
Food can bring people together in so many ways. Typical sustainable food choices center around buying from local, organic sources. While these can be great options, there is a super easy, super green tip that won’t break the bank.
Avoid produce waste.
If there is one thing that humans can agree on, it’s that we all love food. And I mean everyone. It could be homemade pizza in the oven, fresh chocolate chip cookies, or anything in between – even the smell of food makes me giddy.
Most of us have specific food memories, too. For me, a crockpot of chili brings me right back to my dad’s couch. On Sunday’s my entire family would cuddle up and watch the Chicago Bears throw yet another interception. Most of us roll our eyes, my brother tosses out a few curse words, and then we all laugh and say, “At least Chicago has the Blackhawks,” while drowning our sorrows in a delicious, piping hot bowl of chili. Even a faint smell of chili reminds me of those cozy days.
I have so many memories centered around food – even food traditions. Summer fish fries, Thanksgiving at Mom’s house, soup after a long day of snowboarding – the list goes on and on. What are some of your favorite food memories? Do any smells bring you back to “that one time when…”?
For the purpose of keeping things more blog-y and less novel-y, I’ll focus on produce waste, for now. Meat scraps and grease are a whole different ball game.
Wow, so many sports references today. Anyways!
Reducing your produce waste is a great way to start making sustainable food choices. Especially if you don’t have the budget for local, organic food (or you’re just not into it. Hi organic movement, I see you, and I’m not totally on board). Avoiding waste will also save you money. Lots and lots of money.
Because everything that you were tossing can now be reused, or stored differently, or simply composted. I’m sure everyone knows by now that composting is my favorite. I love it.
Let’s get started on the rest of it.
Check out these Eco Friendly Travel Tips for more ways to reduce your environmental impact. If you’re looking for easy ways to live a sustainable lifestyle, start with this Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste and 28 Ways to Reduce Plastic Use.
I like to have a few meals in mind while I am making my grocery list. This way, I know the exact ingredients I need and I won’t buy too much OR too little. Each item has a purpose. Also, I prefer to coordinate my meals to use some of the same items. Chances are that you won’t use a whole bundle of cilantro for one meal. If tacos are on your meal list, put together a homemade salsa or salad to use the rest of the cilantro. Make two (or more) recipes that require that same ingredient so it doesn’t go to waste.
Take inventory of what you already have
We’re all guilty of it. I’ve come home with a bunch of bananas only to find an entire bunch still sitting on my counter from last week. What does one do with a dozen bananas (banana bread, anyone)? So, take inventory of everything you already have – produce, meats, dairy, grains, all of it. Try to plan your meals around this list, and then only buy what you really need. This way you won’t end up with a heap of bananas.
Buy produce twice a week
If you find that your fruits and veggies are losing their crunch after the first few days, only buy a little at a time. This is much more important when the seasons change and winter sets in. During the summer, most fruits are in season and will last an entire week. But, when the leaves start to change, my berries and plums go bad within days because their growing season is over. So, when the temperature gets a little cooler, take this into consideration. If you want berries later in the week, you may need to make a quick run to the store on Wednesday, instead of stocking up with everything on the weekend. Or, you can…
Eat according to the seasons
Shopping at a farmer’s market makes this super easy. Farmers only supply what is seasonally available. Garlic and potatoes may be available year-round, but peaches? Forget about it. Even if you live in a seasonally-challenged area (hey Florida friends), keep in mind that the weather is changing elsewhere. I often fall short in this area, but it’s something I am constantly working on. It is tough to resist strawberries in February when you are desperately craving some sweet, berry goodness. But from experience, the prices are jacked way up and the berries aren’t nearly as sweet as they were in July. If you eat with the seasons, your produce will last longer and taste fresher.
Store your food properly
This can be tricky, but there is a proven, and best, way to store your produce. Ideal conditions vary, but temperature and light exposure are two factors to keep in mind. For a proper produce storage list, check this out. Also, don’t forget to keep half cut onions, peppers, zucchini, etc. I generally don’t use an entire pepper when making dinner for two, so, I store the extra half in the fridge. These glass containers will work wonders.
Make your produce visible
A refrigerator stocked full of produce is such a beautiful sight. Don’t cram all your veggies into the “produce drawer.” Let them breathe! Make your produce visible so you know exactly what you have. Keep your peppers in the produce drawer and let the rest of your produce hang out on the shelves. You won’t forget to use up those beautiful vegetables when they’re staring right at you.
Freeze fruits that are going bad
It’s not a lost cause if you notice your berries going bad halfway through the week. Rinse ‘em off, chop ‘em up, and pop ‘em in the freezer. These storage containers are awesome if you want separate storage compartments. I plop frozen fruit into a blender each morning for a green, yet fruity, smoothie. Frozen fruit can often be used for baking, too. Make sure you’re not keeping fruit that is already bad, though. Mold is always a no go.
Make vegetable stock
Sometimes your veggies start to go bad, too. Vegetable stock is an awesome option in that case. Vegetable stock is also a good way to use up veggie scraps like carrot ends, onion middles, and tomato pieces. Try freezing your almost-bad-veggies and scraps instead of tossing them straight into the compost pile. Mix your veggies into boiling water, sprinkle salt and pepper, let simmer, and TA DA! Your very own vegetable stock. Save the earth, save some money, and save your conscience, too.
This is a bonus. If all else fails, you can always compost your produce waste. Make some nutritious plant food for next year’s garden, or someone else’s garden (in my case). Because who wants free, nutrient dense soil for next year’s garden? Everyone – that’s who. For the low down on composting, even in an apartment, check out my How-To Guide on Composting. And how cool is this adorable apartment composter?! Definitely adding it to my wish list.
While the kitchen is a great place to start, don’t forget to check out Zero Waste Bathroom Tips to make your entire home greener.
So, at your next dinner party, date night, or even while making a homecooked meal just for you (I love those!), think about how you can reduce, reuse, or recycle/compost your produce. I love diving more into sustainable living and I’ve saved so much money in the process.
Green living isn’t just for hippies or stay-at-home moms anymore, it’s for you, AND YOU, and me, too!
Tell me about your favorite food memory. And I’d love to know how you avoid produce waste in your own home. What works best for you? Lastly, I’m searching for zero waste (or darn near close) restaurants/stores. Or any restaurant that has an awesome environmental mission. If you know of any, please spread the word, and let me know in the comments!