Tips To Minimize Food Waste

My grandmothers were amazing bakers and cooks.

I remember my parents always saying that my paternal grandmother (she’s on the left in the photo) could make a banquet out of leftovers, in addition, she was famous for her mouth-watering “sweet rolls” and “ginger snaps.” I can remember running to the “deep freeze” when arriving for a visit, and taking out a package of those ginger snaps to enjoy.

While visiting my fraternal grandmother (she’s on the right), most days I woke up to apple pies baking in the oven.

She could make 3-4 pies before the sun came up. And she forever spoiled me by making a small batch of her toll house cookies without the walnuts, just for me. To this day, I’m not a fan of walnuts ruining the taste of a good chocolate chip cookie.

I also remember the amazing gardens both sets of grandparents grew each year.

I spent a few weeks in Maine every summer and, at some point during that time, we would shuck corn on the cob and prepare it for freezing. Or we would pick rhubarb and raspberries for tomorrow’s pie. Often, these pies would be made during the summer and enjoyed when the snow was flying during the winter. What a treat!

I’ve often thought about how the traditions that I enjoyed so much as a child have influenced me.

I was never much of a gardener, but I do love to bake. Every time I roll out a pie crust, I think of my grandmother. And ever since we’ve owned a home, we’ve always had an extra freezer. Not only does it allow us the room to buy ahead when food is on sale, it has always helped with cooking ahead or freezing half of the lasagna tray since we can’t eat it all at once.

I came across an article recently that really got me thinking about how our priorities around food have changed. It’s rare that people store fresh veggies to enjoy during the winter months like my grandparents did. And since we have easy access to groceries and grocery stores these days, I don’t think we place the same value on food that our ancestors did.

The article I’m referencing describes small steps that we can all take to stop wasting food and start saving money.

It’s a subject near and dear to my heart because of my personal involvement with our local food pantry. But I particularly find the article’s sub-title “Forty percent of American’s food is wasted each year, astonishing. Wow!

Courtesy of coolharvest.org

Courtesy of coolharvest.org

In previous newsletters, I’ve told you about many of tips that are included in the article. For example – create meal plans, utilize your freezer, keep track of what’s in your fridge, and don’t over serve – I’d like to offer a few additional things to consider that have worked for my family.

  • Educate yourself about expiration dates. These dates only act as a guide to the freshness of an item. Just because the expiration date on a box of pasta was a month or two ago, there‘s most likely no harm in eating it. Using your best judgment in this regard could save you a lot of money.
  • Be creative with leftovers. Unlike some people who regularly discard leftovers, I welcome them. Nothing beats arranging a dish of leftovers and zapping it in the microwave for a quick lunch. Consider storing leftovers in microwaveable glass containers, and taking them to work.
  • Keep an organized kitchen. Keep the food you store within your sight and reach. Assuring that nothing is lurking in the corners of your cabinets will help you to avoid buying duplicates when you shop.
  • Don’t go to the grocery store without a list. Keep a running list somewhere close by to take with you to the store. If you guess about what you need, you’re more likely to overbuy, or even more frustrating, forget something you really need.
  • Consider investing in spices to make your meals more interesting. But don’t overdo it because spices have a relatively short shelf life. Consider making your own blends out of spices you already own before purchasing the many premade options available today.

I’m always looking for new ways to minimize or eliminate the amount of food waste each week. I’d love to hear about what works for you.

Let’s continue the conversation. Share some tips below about what you do to save money on your food budget and how you avoid wasting food?

Ta-Da Tip of the Month

Reading the article mentioned above really made me wonder about what food product expiration terms mean. So after a little research here is a summary of what I learned.

  • Federal law does not require food labeling, although the creation of federal standards may be coming soon. Approximately 20 states require food labeling. The only items required by federal law to be labeled with expiration dates are infant formula and baby foods.
  • “Sell by” means more to your local grocer than you as a consumer. It means that the item is at its highest quality at that point. This designation is found most often on perishable items and acts as a guide for when to pull it from the shelves. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s on the verge of spoiling. Often grocers will start to discount items once the “sell by” date gets closer.
  • “Best if used by” means just that. It refers to quality, not safety. How a product is stored and the acidity of the item itself determines how long after the “Use By” date the product is safe. The manufacturer determines this date.
  • “Guaranteed fresh” is most often found on bakery items. A bakery item will still be edible after this date, but it won’t be at its freshest.
  • Fluctuations in temperature have the most effect on food lasting past either the “Sell by” or “Use by” dates. If you store canned goods in your cabinet at a consistent temperature year round, they will last longer. The same is true for food placed in your freezer. They will last indefinitely if kept frozen.
  • Perishable food safety is often influenced more by your habits at home than the date on the label. For example:
    • Don’t keep perishable items out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
    • If a food product only has a “Sell By” date and no expiration date, cook or freeze it as soon as possible.
    • Check the temperature of your refrigerator occasionally and keep it at 40 degrees. Checking this at different times throughout the year is a good idea.
    • If you’re not going to use an item within a few days, it is a good idea to freeze it right away to assure that it’ll be at its freshest when you cook it.
  • Here are some good rules of thumb when food is stored at a consistent temperature:
    • Milk is usually good until a week after the “sell by” date.
    • Eggs are good for three to five weeks after you bring them home.
    • Poultry and seafood are best when they are cooked or frozen within two days.
    • Beef and pork are best when they are cooked or frozen within three to five days.
    • High-acid canned goods, like pineapple or tomato sauce, can keep 18 months past the “Sell By” date. Low-acid foods like green beans can last up to five years!

The primary message here is, don’t feel pressured by all these dates. Inform yourself about what labels really mean. Use the sniff test. If an item is past its “expiration” date, but still smells ok, it probably is.

Think twice before throwing perfectly good food away. Ask yourself “Could I freeze this?” or “Could I incorporate this into tonight’s meal somehow? Or “Could I cook those apples that appear a little soft into some yummy applesauce or cake?” By asking a few simple questions, you may just watch your grocery bill decrease. Which is a very good thing! Ta-Da!

2 comments to Tips To Minimize Food Waste

  • Love this.

    Here’s a thing I did: https://mightynest.com/the-mighty-fix

    It’s a $10 subscription, and every month they send me some type of ‘green’ kitchen/food storage thing. And I get the option to add to the order, free shipping, before my monthly surprise ships.

    I was finding that I wasn’t saving little bits of leftovers because I hated using cheap plastic containers to store and heat food. But I can’t afford to be dropping $100 on a bunch of nice glass containers?

    This helps me slowly stock my kitchen with quality storage stuff that I actually WANT to use. And when it comes, I pitch/recycle the cheap version of whatever it replaces. The first month I got a reusable silicone ‘ziplock’ baggie. It’s awesome. And I haven’t used a regular ziplock since.

    Also- I keep a sharpie near the fridge and write the date I opened something on the lid. Weird stuff like salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc. So I’m never wondering if it’s too old to eat. And I see the dates and know I need to use it soon. When you live alone, this is a big issue. Because it’s a battle between buying larger sizes for economy/pricing’s sake, and having so much that you have to pitch the leftovers. And it gets exhausting eating the same thing 5 times in a row before it’s gone.

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