We are constantly bombarded with healthy habit goals: whether it’s for our bodies, our environment, or our bank account. We may think we’re doing pretty well, but we can all go further with food by reducing food waste. Curiously enough, incorporating food waste solutions into your daily routine can help you reach your healthy habit goals.
Food waste by the numbers.
According to 2010 estimates, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) estimates that 30% of the food supply is wasted. Let that sink in for a moment. Picture the food you buy in one week spread out across your kitchen counter. Then take nearly one-third of that food and toss it into the trash. You would never think to do this deliberately, but this is precisely what many of us are doing week in and week out.
Besides losing money on food that is never eaten, the average cost per household on food thrown away is $1500 per year. This wasted food has far-reaching effects on our population’s livelihood.
Why should I care about food waste solutions?
Here are some reasons why food waste solutions matter:
- As our population grows, it’s predicted that by 2050 there will be two billion additional people on our planet. We need to be working toward food security for everyone.
- The quest for beauty has even reached the produce aisle in your grocery store. U.S. retailers often pass over “ugly” produce to sell to customers. Everything from misshapen apples to off-color green beans often do not make the cut. Simply put, the customer demand for “good-looking” produce drives sales. According to reFED (Rethinking Food Waste), 20 billion pounds of fresh produce are thrown away or left in the field every year. This produce could potentially feed people who don’t have enough to eat.
How does this relate to you? Picture a perfectly-shaped, shiny red apple. That apple may catch your eye at the supermarket. Maybe you’ll buy a few even if you weren’t shopping for apples.
The supermarkets go to great lengths to present us with beautiful food in hopes of increasing sales. We’ve become accustomed to seeing beautiful produce, and we may have even turned up our nose at ugly produce. But ugly produce may be perfectly healthy and tasty. Billions of pounds of produce are tossed at the grocery store because it hasn’t sold or the store thinks it won’t sell.
Many people want to know about waste solutions and how to eat healthfully. Read on for some sage advice from registered dietitians on how to go further with food in your house. Their food waste solutions might help you look at food from a new perspective. After all, eating at home more often is linked to better health.
Food waste solutions from registered dietitians:
1. Plan your meals before heading to the grocery store.
Simply writing down your meal ideas and planning a grocery list around them will help you start a healthy eating schedule. Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, of Real Mom Nutrition.com offers downloadable meal planning worksheets that can help you avoid food waste and save time and money.
2. Stick to the basics.
“With a little know-how and planning, you can enjoy nutritious foods while sticking to a tight budget. Mealtime doesn’t have to be complicated. By sticking to the basics of healthy eating and shopping for nutrient-dense foods, you can ensure you are providing you and your family the very best foods to eat, all while keeping your budget in check!”
3. Shop your kitchen.
Rachelle LaCroix Mallik, MA, RD, LDN is the owner of The Food Therapist, LLC, a private practice specializing in nutrition for reproductive health.
She writes, “I help my clients go further with food by encouraging them to shop their kitchen (fridge, freezer, and pantry) before going to the grocery store to see what they have already and determine what needs to be used first. I also recommend keeping certain staples in their freezer and pantry (such as canned beans, dried whole grain pasta, jarred marinara, frozen vegetables, and fruit) for simple, nutritious meals even when there’s nothing fresh on hand.”
3. Stock up on plant-based proteins.
Judy Simon MS, RDN, CD, CHES, FAND of Mind Body Nutrition, PLLC offers advice on using plant-based meals to make food go farther.
“I encourage my fertility patients to include greens and beans in their meals. Beans and lentils provide them with plant-based proteins that are versatile, inexpensive, tasty, and packed with iron, fiber, minerals, and folate. They pair so well with nutrient-dense greens.”
4. Start with small, achievable goals.
Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, of PCOSNutrition.com, recommends that her clients start with one small goal: make dinner at home for one week. This helps people get into the groove of planning to have food on hand and using it up.
Read more from Angela in her “7 Tips for Successful Meal Planning” article.
5. Repurpose leftovers.
Lisa Johnson, MS, RD, CDE, of NourishOKC.com writes, “Make extra turkey or chicken to use in chicken salad, enchiladas or soup the following night.”
6. Avoid the “Good Food/Bad Food” trap.
Julie Dillon, RD of JulieDillonRD.com advises her clients to avoid the “Good Food/Bad Food” trap. She writes, “Clients can go further with food by avoiding the Good Food/Bad Food trap. Too many people can get stuck thinking certain foods are good to eat and they are bad when they eat something bad. No one food is good for everyone, every time. Rather, I encourage people to consider how certain foods feel in their bodies. How do you experience eating certain foods? Do they energize? Or drain? Does it depend on the time of day? Or quantity? Considering individual experiences with food will allow more food variety and less shame which to me are the foundations of healthy eating.”
7. Focus on affordable, high-quality food.
Anna M. Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, CEDRD-S and Elizabeth P. Davenport, MPH, RD, from SunnySideUpNutrition.com write, “Recent studies show that food insecurity is a significant predictor of eating disorder pathology. Low-income individuals don’t need a Weight Watchers meeting, they need access to enough, affordable, and better quality food.”
8. Stock up on frozen veggies.
Martha McKittrick, RDN, CDE, CHWC of MarthaMcKittrickNutrition.com reminds us that buying frozen vegetables is one of the best food waste solutions. She writes, “Vegetables are one of the healthiest foods we can eat. Unfortunately, they often go bad before we eat them! Stocking up on frozen veggies will help you solve this problem. Here a few ideas to incorporate fresh or frozen veggies into a dinner made in 15 or less:
- Cauliflower and rice tossed with soy sauce, chicken, and other veggies for a healthy fried rice.
- Zucchini noodles with lean ground beef or turkey and a healthy jarred tomato sauce over zucchini.
- Omelet with veggies.”
But isn’t it more expensive to eat healthy foods?
It’s a common misconception that eating healthfully is cost-prohibitive. It’s simply not true. See this meal cost comparison using a mobile app for a fast-food restaurant and Fresh Direct.com for grocery prices for a similar meal that you can make at home. The costs included here are for one meal for one person.
|Fast Food Cost||Grocery Store Cost|
|Grilled Chicken Sandwich||$5.19|
|Whole Wheat Bun||$0.37|
|4 oz. chicken breast||$2.31|
|1 large slice of tomato||$0.13|
|1 ½ cups romaine lettuce||$1.25|
|4 cherry tomatoes||$0.70|
|2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette dressing||$0.39|
|Total Cost for This Meal||$7.38||$5.40|
For four people, you could save $7.92 on this meal.
When you factor in the time to go and pick up food, you’ll see that fast food is sometimes not fast at all. Although it’s hard to compete with special deals at fast-food restaurants, these deals often include unhealthy foods. Choosing these regularly could lead to poor health and more costs for your health care in the long run. Not to mention the strain on our environment for food that is prepared daily at restaurants everywhere that are tossed at the end of the day because it cannot be sold.
Once you consider these things, it’s easy to see how planning ahead, cooking often at home and using up foods you have on hand is good for your health, environment, and wallet.
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