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5 Ways to Maximize Leftovers and Minimize Food Waste

December 02, 2019

'Tis the season, after all!

Did you know the United States as a whole wastes around 40 percent of food supply every year? According to the USDA, that’s approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion dollars’ worth of food that ends up in landfills. Not only could this food be feeding the near 15% of American households that are food insecure, but food waste also accounts for the largest portion of materials in landfills. 

So, what can we do to help our communities combat this large and unnecessary loss of food? Government organizations including the USDA and EPA, along with other private, non-profit, local and state partners are working towards the goal of reducing 50 percent of food loss by 2030. While this larger network works to cut down waste and improve overall food security for Americans, you can be a part of the change starting at home. Understanding what kind of shelf life your food has, and how to make the most out of leftovers, can make all the difference in decreasing the amount of your wasted food.

Here are 5 of our favorite ways to maximize leftovers and minimize food waste.

Shop Smart

Decreasing food waste at home means getting to the root of the problem, and that starts from the grocery store cart.There are a handful of effective actions you can take to shop smarter, the next time you pick up groceries. Make a list - and stick to it! We know there are always temptations, but if you only buy what you need, you're less likely to throw food away (and you'll save money!). 

Store Properly

Knowledge is power when it comes to storing fruits and vegetables. Half the battle in fighting unnecessary food waste is understanding how to store fresh produce so that it tastes better and last longer. Following storage guidelines leads to tastier, fresher meals, and decreases your chances of having to throw away foods because they went bad. For starters, know what produce goes inside and outside the fridge. 

In addition to knowing if you should store fruit and vegetables in the fridge or not, you should also store vegetables and fruits in different bins. Some fruits may give off certain natural gases that can speed up the spoilage of any produce around them.

Prioritize What You Eat

A simple adjustment that can have a high impact in preventing food loss is designating a certain area for food that should be eaten first. Whether this means pushing the items you should be eating towards the front of the fridge or setting up the ingredients on the kitchen island that you’ll cook that day, you can make a conscious effort to eat what you have available so that less food goes to waste. As a further reminder for yourself and others in the house, you can place expiration labels on food to indicate which date you need to eat something by.

Get Creative with Your Cooking

If you find yourself with a stockpile of *almost* expired foods, it may be time to get a little creative in the kitchen. If you have vegetables nearing the end of their shelf life or that leftover rotisserie chicken you just don’t want to eat anymore, why not try making a vegetable or chicken stock? Stock can be such a versatile ingredient, and homemade stock brings fresh flavors to your dishes. It's also freezable! Win-win.

Leftovers can also be a connecting factor that brings everyone in the house together. Pick a day to make something out of what you think is nothing. Dishes like pizza, soups and casserole are ones that are open to interpretation—try putting a twist on a classic meal by using leftovers as ingredients. You can gather around the living room table, flip on the TV and make it a dual leftover feast with movie night! Getting more people involved can spur more motivation in the cause to decrease food waste.

Donate Food...or Your Time

Non-perishable foods like canned soup and beans or jars of pasta sauce that have just been sitting in the back of your cupboard can be donated to your local food pantry. If you want to clear up some storage space or know you’re not going to eat something and it’s still good, donate these items to a food pantry. Households that are food insecure can really benefit from the items you donate.

Another way to really gain some perspective on how food can be recycled and not wasted is volunteering at a food pantry. Working for a cause that helps people who can’t afford food can be eye opening, and being able to repurpose food that has been donated and give it to those in need can inspire an increased awareness of food accessibility and help you understand how to better utilize resources. 

Decreasing food waste is a community effort that can start right at home. By maximizing leftovers and taking certain steps to minimize food waste, you can not only save money, but do your part in bettering the environment and efforts to improve food security in the world. 




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