• Melissa Genee, RD

Reducing Food Waste

Do you find yourself throwing away stale bread, bruised produce, and freezer burnt meat? You’re not alone. According to a 2014 report, 31 billion dollars of food is wasted each year in Canada. And most of that food waste occurs at the household level! By reducing food waste we can help the environment AND save money on grocery bills.

It’s time to make a change and that change can start in your kitchen.

Shop in your Refrigerator First

How many times have you come home from grocery shopping, only to find that you purchased items that are already in your pantry or fridge? We’re all guilty of this. One trick that I found helpful to prevent duplication, is to go through the fridge beforehand and make note of what items I already have (you could even take a picture of your fridge and pantry!). After determining what you have, the next step is to plan meals around those items. Websites like SuperCook.com and MyFridgeFood.com can help you find recipes based on foods you have in your fridge or pantry.

Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead

One of the most impactful changes you can do to help reduce food waste in your kitchen is to plan your meals for the week. Set aside some time on a Sunday afternoon and ask yourself: What meals can I make with the food that is already in the house? Which days will the family be away from the house at meal time? How many people will be eating meals each day? How many meals will need to be prepared this week (taking into account leftovers)? How much time will you have to prepare meals? Can anything be done ahead of time? For recipe and meal planning ideas, check out Cookspiration’s menu planning tool.

Based on those answers, you can start pulling different recipes that will fit into your family’s preferences and schedule. If your week is busy, choose simple recipes that have fewer ingredients and a shorter prep/cooking time. Use appliances like a slow cooker or pressure cooker more often. Build your grocery list based on the planned recipes (noting which ingredients you already have) and stick to that list while shopping. Watch out for sneaky food marketing and impulse purchases at the grocery store - if you don’t need the item, it’s not a good deal.

Rethink Bulk Purchases

Have you ever bought a 10 lb bag of potatoes because it was a better deal than the 5 lb bag - only to use half of them, with the remaining sprouting and going bad? Buying in bulk can save you money, only if you have the storage space and ability to eat the product without it spoiling. If you purchase in bulk, remember to store the items properly and/or pre-portion them. For example, club size chicken breasts or thighs can be re-portioned into smaller bags and frozen until needed. Remember to label the item and date the container or bag before storing.

Food Package Dates

Have you ever thrown out a container of yogurt because it was past the best before date? Many people [incorrectly] rely on food package dates to determine how safe and edible the product is. A recent study of over 1000 participants showed that misunderstanding food labels was strongly associated with greater food waste - with more than 80% of consumers indicating they occasionally discard food if it is close to the best before date. Having a basic understanding of date markings can help you make informed decisions about the foods you purchase.

Best before - a best before date tells the consumer how long the food product will keep its freshness, taste and nutritional value BEFORE the product has been opened. Best before dates do NOT indicate or guarantee product safety. Can you eat a food past its best before date? Foods can spoil before or after the best before date - in general, if the food changes colour or appearance, or develops a smell, it is likely no longer safe to eat.

Expiry date - expiration dates indicate the last day a food item is still safe to consume. Do not eat food items past their expiration date. Only certain foods have expiration dates, such as meal replacements, nutritional supplements, and infant formula.

Make the Most of Your Freezer

Freezers aren’t just for ice cream and frozen pizzas. Bread, milk, tomatoes, strawberries, bananas… you name it, you can freeze almost anything and defrost it when you need it. When freezing foods, be sure to label and date each item. Rotate the items in your freezer regularly so the oldest items are at the top and the newest items are at the bottom.

Vegetables - Many vegetables can be blanched to prevent them from rotting. To blanch your vegetables, simply bring a pot of water to boil and place your items directly in the boiling water or in a steam basket above. Remove as much water as possible then freeze. Blanching works better for some vegetables, read here to determine which vegetables you can blanch and the recommended times.

Fruits - Don’t toss any more brown bananas! Simply peel the bananas and toss them in a plastic bag to freeze for later - perfect for smoothies or baking. Chop and core your old apples to use for applesauce or crisp! Summer berries are another perfect fruit to freeze - blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Frozen berries are perfect for smoothies, on top of ice cream or in baking.

Dairy - Butter can be frozen in its package for a few months. Yogurt can be frozen, however, the consistency and quality of the yogurt may change. Freeze yogurt in ice-cube trays for smoothies! Standard blocks of cheese like cheddar, mozzarella and monterey jack can also be frozen but tends to be crumbly when thawed. If you shred the cheese first, it may be easier to handle once thawed, and it’s perfect for homemade pizzas or bagel bites!

Meats - The most important thing to remember when freezing meats is to wrap them tightly to prevent exposure to air. A vacuum sealer may be a good investment if your family buys meat in larger quantities. Since owning a vacuum sealer, we’ve never had to throw away any meat because of freezer burn. For the best quality, gradually thaw your meats in the fridge or in a bowl of cold water in the sink.

Reducing food waste is possible with proper planning and storage habits. By following these five tips, you can make the most of your family’s food budget, while helping the environment.

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