September 3, 2019
Last Updated:
April 28, 2021

8 Easy Ways to Minimize Food Waste

Samvida Patel, IIN Content Editor, Class of February 2015

Did you know that up to 40% of food in the United States does not get eaten? Globally, an estimated 1/3 of all food is either lost or wasted. Think about how much water went into producing that food – it’s almost 25% of the entire world’s fresh water down the drain.

We live in a time where enough food is produced to feed every human on this planet, yet more than 820 million people go hungry. Hearing such daunting statistics might lead you to feel helpless. However, you can make a difference! Most food waste occurs at the consumer level, which means there is plenty we can do to curb the issue.

By making a conscious effort to reduce food waste, you’re stretching dollars spent on food, shielding the planet from greenhouse gasses emitted from food that rots in landfills, and reducing the labor, water, and energy that goes into food production. Talk about multiple benefits!

With that said, here are eight straightforward strategies (simpler than composting) to reduce food waste:

1)      Follow the first-come, first-served rule.
Plan your meals in accordance with what you bought first. If it’s impossible to tell what you bought when, consider organizing your fridge so that the top shelf contains the foods that you need to use up right away. Anything you buy afterward can be stored in lower shelves or drawers. Label your shelves or create some “use me first” sticky notes to cut down on the detective work.

Tip: The best part about overripe veggies is that you can efficiently make them appealing by stir-frying them, incorporating them into a casserole, or blending them into a hearty soup. This is your chance to re-create Food Network’s Chopped and conjure up some delicious recipes in your own kitchen! 

2)      Shy away from deals.
As tempting as it might be to save a buck or two when buying in bulk, it’s not really a deal if the food ends up in your trash can. While it might mean extra trips to the grocery store, you’ll buy only what you need.

Tip: Some foods – such as grains, nuts, and dried fruit – last a lot longer, so they are probably fine to buy in bulk. Storing them in the refrigerator (in glass containers) helps preserve them even longer.

3)      Befriend your freezer.
Freezing food is an excellent way to save produce from going bad as well as preserve nutrients and have a go-to meal available when you want it most. One common misconception is that meals that have been frozen don’t taste as good. However, as long as you store food in airtight containers or wrap items well, you’ll prevent “freezer burn” and any accompanying taste distortion.

Tip: Create a system to ensure you’re actually using up foods that you store in the freezer in a timely fashion.

4)      Don’t judge based on looks.
If we celebrate body positivity, we can extend that concept to the food we eat! Just because fruits and vegetables might not fit their conventional form doesn’t mean they’re lacking in taste or nutrition. Companies like Misfits MarketImperfect Produce, and Hungry Harvest rescue irregularly shaped produce that might otherwise be discarded. We can also choose fruits and veggies that are likely to be rejected and thrown out by grocery stores.

Tip: Not every blemish or bump indicates rotting. You can always slice off the damaged portion and salvage the majority of a fruit or vegetable.

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5)      Underestimate how much you can eat.
If you’re at a buffet, catered event, or someone’s house, take a smaller portion than you think you can eat. You can always go back for seconds. Similarly, if you have guests over, let them serve themselves. Not only does this prevent wasting food, it also reduces any possibility of overeating out of fear of throwing away food. 

Tip: Leave serving bowls and platters in another location and have people serve themselves before sitting down. If they’re still hungry, they can always get up for more!

6)      Have a dedicated “leftover day.”
As nice as it is to consume a fresh meal each day, it’s not always realistic with hectic schedules. Building a leftover day into your week will save time in the kitchen while ensuring that you make full use of all that you cooked!

Tip: Make it into a creative experiment – and get the whole family to help! See what kind of meals you can create with leftovers by using them differently than you did the day before.

7)      Pack it or donate it.
Holidays and monumental occasions (think weddings) can be notorious for food waste. If you happen to be hosting a large gathering, consider getting the food packed for friends and family or contacting a local organization that collects leftover food for donation.

Tip: You can also do this at a restaurant! Pack the leftover food to consume later or donate them to someone in need.

8)      Differentiate between dates.
“Sell by,” “Best by,” and “Use by” mean very different things. Understanding the distinction can go a long way in unnecessary tossing of food:

Sell by is used by supermarkets to inform when products should be removed from shelves to ensure frequent rotation of stock. It has no indication of food quality.

Best by does not imply that foods are unsafe to consume following the listed date, either. It simply provides a conservative estimate of when the product should be consumed for ideal quality.

Use by refers to the date when foods should be consumed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food will go bad if you’re eating it the next day, but nonetheless, exercise caution with this one.

Do you have other ideas to curb food waste? Share in the comments below!

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