Reducing food waste starts at home

Reducing Food Waste with Common Kitchen Utensils

I grew up with parents and grandparents who lived through The Great Depression, so I learned some valuable lessons about frugality by the way they lived their lives. Lessons like saving for the things you want rather than buying on credit, following a household budget so you can pay your bills on time, and never wasting anything, including the electricity to power a light left on in a room after you’ve left, the cold air in the refrigerator that escapes when the door is left open too long, and the crumbs in the bottom of a box of corn flakes that can be used in the meatloaf. The lessons about not wasting edible, usable food have had the most lasting impression on me.

When I was a college student on a very limited budget, my frugal food skills helped fill many gaps in my diet, like freezing the milk in my fridge in ice cube trays before leaving for extended breaks so I could thaw it and use it in cooking when I returned. Then once I graduated, got a job and had a full pantry and bank account, I still couldn’t bear to toss out a mangled crust of bread. Instead, I’d freeze it with other random pieces to be turned into crumbs the next time I need some. And I can’t stop myself from checking the misshapen fruits and vegetables in the discounted bin at the grocery store. If more of us would buy them it would go a long way to reducing the 36 million tons of edible food that get tossed out every year in the United States.

If it shocks you as much as it does me that so much food in this country is wasted while so many people do not have enough to eat, you do not have to wait for new government regulations to make a difference. There is plenty each of us can do right in our own homes to make sure we always use what we have and only buy what we need to avoid wasting food.  This Infographic from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells the whole story and you can visit eatright.org for more information on healthful eating or to find a registered dietitian nutritionist.

To help get you started, here are my top tips for getting every last bit of goodness out of the food I buy using some common household utensils.

Rubber Spatulas – They come in assorted sizes, shapes and handle lengths to make it easy to scrape the insides of jars, cans, bottles and other food containers. Without one you could be throwing out 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise in every quart jar and a teaspoon of tomato paste in every 6 ounce can.

Ice Cube Trays – This is the perfect way to save and freeze any extra stock, sauce, or gravy you have, or the milk before going on vacation. Just pop the cubes out once frozen and store in a labeled zip-top bag. Trays with lids help prevent spills and the transfer of odors from other foods. Ice cube trays can also be used to freeze fresh herbs that have been cleaned, trimmed and chopped and fruit juices, pulp or puree that can be used in smoothies.

Salad Spinner – You may not have to toss that limp looking lettuce, just give it a rinse in cold water and a spin to bring it back to life.  If it doesn’t revive enough for salad, chop it and add to a soup or smoothie. Spinning washed salad greens, herbs, and berries before storing in the refrigerator also helps to keep them fresh longer by removing excess water.

Sharp Paring Knife – By cutting away the blemished part of many types of produce (potato, bell pepper, carrot, apple, pear, winter squash) you can eat or cook  the remaining portion without risk. Removing all around the moldy edge on a piece of hard cheese or hard salami is also a way to save the rest.

Citrus Zester or Microplane There’s plenty of flavor to be salvaged from those lemon, lime and orange rinds, so be sure to wash and rinse them and collect what you want before cutting the fruit for other uses.  You can put grated zest, strips or strings in a labeled jar or zip-top bag in the freezer to have on hand when a recipe calls for it.

BONUS TIPS:

Add water, vinegar or wine to near-empty mustard and catsup containers, close cap tightly, shake, and then add to soups, sauces, or dressings.

Add milk to near-empty containers of peanut butter, honey, molasses, jam, jelly, preserves, chocolate syrup, pancake syrup, or maple syrup,  close cap tightly, shake and drink or add to a smoothie.

Read more in Reducing Food Waste from Farm to Fork.

Ugly fruits and vegetables are still nutritious

Reducing Food Waste from Farm and Fork

This post was written as a guest blog for DiscoverMonsanto.com. You can read the original post here.

The first club I joined as a child was the “Clean Plate Club.” My parents, who had made their “Clean Plate Pledge” after World War II in an effort to conserve food at home to help feed our starving European allies, introduced my sisters and me to the club. As a child, I never understood how the uneaten food on my plate could feed someone in another part of the world, but the message stuck with me. I now know that cleaning my plate was not the answer. Buying crooked carrots was.*

As a registered dietitian nutritionist who has spent my career promoting the importance of fruits and vegetables in a nutritious diet, I was shocked to learn that more than half of all fruits and vegetables grown are never eaten. The perishable nature of fresh produce can explain some of this waste, but the rejection of the “funny-looking” ones has become a major contributor to the problem. As a result, I’ve become committed to educating people about the challenges of food waste and what we can do to find solutions.

Food loss
Food loss is an umbrella term used to describe all of the postharvest food that never gets consumed. Some of this loss is unavoidable due to spoilage or processing losses that occur before the food reaches the marketplace. Food waste is a component of food loss. It represents edible food discarded by growers, retailers and consumers that is avoidable. This includes everything from leaving crops in the field due to their odd appearance to letting carefully selected food rot in our refrigerators after we buy it.

If you shop at a farmer’s market or have your own vegetable garden or fruit tree, you know that all apples are not the same diameter and all zucchini are not the same length. Have you ever wondered why you don’t see that much variety in supermarket produce aisles? It’s a chicken or the egg conundrum.

Food waste
Since the beginning of food commerce, every transaction between a produce vendor and his or her customers has been a closely scrutinized exchange. Shoppers have always felt the need to hold, squeeze and smell the peaches to find the best of the bunch. Sellers have vouched for the sweetness of their fruit by offering a slice to taste and a hint for making the perfect pie. This exchange has allowed buyers to gain trust in their produce vendors (if the results were favorable) and the seller to secure a repeat customer.

I know how valuable this relationship is whenever I buy food in an international market. Shoppers with little knowledge of the best quality standards for selecting fruits and vegetables and no attentive vendor to help them with their selection resort to choosing the best-looking items in the bin. When retailers are left with “unaesthetic” pieces they cannot sell, they stop accepting them in their orders. Farmers left with these “misfits” must find a processor willing to pay enough for them to cover the cost of harvesting and transporting them, or simply plow them under.

The produce industry now uses specifications for many crops based on size, color and weight – not what is edible. These specifications not only appeal to the visual cues consumers are using to make a purchase, they also make it easier to pack melons, peppers or tomatoes into boxes that can be evenly stacked on pallets and loaded onto trains, trucks or planes for transport. And once those boxes are in warehouses, their uniform counts and weights expedite the processing of store orders and the successful execution of this week’s schematic display in the produce aisle

As a result, shoppers have become accustomed to seeing only perfect produce, while perfectly edible, but “disfigured,” fruits and vegetables go to waste. After learning more about the food waste issue, I became committed to finding a solution. It came during a visit to the Monsanto research farm in Woodland, California.

While participating in an in-field breeder chat with cucumber breeder Neschit Shetty, Ph.D., I learned that selective breeding was used to grow cucumbers so they would be just the right size to fit into pickle jars. That was an “ah-ha” moment for me! If plant scientists can do that, I realized they can help farmers grow fruits and vegetables that meet the appearance standards consumers now expect in addition to ensuring they’ll taste great, contribute to a balanced diet and be easy to use in our time-stressed lives. These seed breeders can also breed crops to satisfy the environmental concerns of farmers and logistical requirements of retailers so fewer of them are left in the fields.

For me, that is a win-win solution to one piece of the food waste problem. Another is to use smaller dishes so I can keep my credentials in the Clean Plate Club without eating more than I need!

*The popular baby carrots found on every crudité tray are nothing more than “misshapen” carrots that were cut into bite-sized pieces. This was the brainchild of an innovative carrot farmer who wasn’t able to sell his crooked and oversized carrots so decided to have them cut into a smaller size and shape instead of plowing them under. It turned out to be a very profitable idea since consumers are willing to pay more than double for these whittled carrots than the bigger ones they must cut themselves.

Tips for eating holiday lefotvers

What’s Your Plan For A Stuffed Refrigerator?

This post was written as a guest blog for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org. You can read the original post here.

Anyone hosting a Thanksgiving dinner has to have a game plan to make sure all of the food needed for a successful meal is purchased, prepared and properly served. But what about the days after Thanksgiving when your refrigerator is stuffed with assorted leftovers? Do you have a plan for that food so it doesn’t go to waste or end up around your waist?

No need to worry, help is on the way! Just use these tips to turn those leftovers into completely new menu options that will let you enjoy the tastes of the day, but with a healthy new twist.

Smoothies – Use leftover undressed garden salad, fruit salad, crudité vegetables and cooked leafy greens to make a smoothie to fuel you through your Black Friday shopping. Add any slightly bruised apples that didn’t make it into the pie and the remains in that jug of apple cider to sweeten. 

Crumbs & Croutons – Leftover yeast breads and rolls can be cubed, placed in a baking pan and baked until toasted on all sides for use as croutons. (Be sure to store them in an airtight container to keep them crisp.) Unused stuffing mix, cornbread, crackers, chips and nuts can be turned into crumbs and frozen for future use. Just store each of them in separate labeled bags for easy identification.

 Soup – Mashed white or sweet potatoes (without marshmallows) and roasted root vegetables are all you need to make a hearty soup. Add them to a pot with leftover turkey stock (or a little gravy and water) then use an immersion blender to puree. Punch up the flavor with curry seasoning or sriracha sauce, bring it to a low boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add croutons made from your leftover bread for a lunch that will satisfy with far fewer calories than a reheated plate of leftovers.

 Dips & Spreads – Put marinated vegetables from an antipasti tray, such as mushrooms, artichoke hearts or asparagus, in the blender with drained canned white beans to make a tasty vegetable hummus — or mix the pureed vegetables with any leftover hummus. Enjoy with cut up celery stalks not used in the stuffing. Combine roasted red peppers and caramelized onions in the blender with assorted olives for a flavorful tapenade to spread on a turkey wrap. Give leftover peas and pearl onions a whirl in the blender with the remains of the guacamole for a lighter version of this classic dip.

 Omelets & Frittatas – Shred and combine leftover pieces of different hard cheeses to add to egg dishes along with diced baked potatoes, broccoli, green beans and other vegetables. A simple veggie omelet is an ideal high-protein low-carb dinner for the day after the feast.

 Second Chance Desserts – Treats that are out of sight are out of mind, so cut leftover pies and cakes into individual portions, wrap each in plastic wrap, then label, date and freeze them to enjoy at a time when you can afford those extra calories.

 Help the Hungry – Don’t forget to donate any extra nonperishable foods, such as canned pumpkin, boxed pasta, bagged stuffing and bottled juices to your local food pantry to help feed those with no leftovers. It’s a great way to celebrate the true meaning of Thanks-giving!

 

There’s no need to waste leftover food when it can be turned into makeover meals

What to Do With Leftover Food? Create Makeover Meals

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.

THERE’S NO NEED TO WASTE LEFTOVER FOOD WHEN IT CAN BE TURNED INTO MAKEOVER MEALS

At one time or another we’ve all had leftover food in our refrigerators and wondered, “Is that still safe to eat?” Maybe we prepared too much for a meal or took a doggie bag home from a restaurant. No matter how it got there, eventually we have to deal with those leftovers.

The dilemma most of us face is having to choose between wasting good food or getting food poisoning. Fortunately, there are some guidelines to help make the right decision.

Identify Leftover Food for Future Meals

There are food safety rules for the correct temperatures and holding times for different foods before they should be discarded. Most cooked foods should not be reused if they have been at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the room temperature was above 90o F. That includes leftovers from restaurants. So the best time to decide if a food should be kept or tossed is when clearing the table or returning home after eating out.

The foods you can safely keep should be transferred to food storage containers or properly wrapped in food grade paper. The goal is to avoid exposure to the air, leaking of any juices, transfer of odors, and cross-contamination through contact with other foods.

It is never advisable to store or reheat food in the one-time-use containers that they are sold in, such as margarine tubs.

Now all you have to do is label that container so there’s no guessing about its identity. Keep some blank address labels in the kitchen so you can record the date and description of what’s in the container before putting it into the refrigerator or freezer. The 20 seconds it takes you to do that can save you countless hours and dollars should you eat the wrong thing.

Plan Makeover Meals From Your Leftover Food

If you decide how you want to use your leftovers before putting them away, you can save even more time and money. Cooked meat, poultry and fish are the most expensive part of the food budget, so should get your immediate attention to avoid waste.

 

The quickest option is to just wrap cooked meats in single or double portions and freeze them if there’s little chance you’ll get around to eating them in 2 or 3 days. Another is to cut them into cubes or strips before refrigerating so they can easily be added to a stir fry, folded into a fajita, tossed onto a salad, wrapped in a quesadilla, stuffed into a taco or scattered onto a pizza.

If you know you’ll have the chance to recycle that cooked meat into a makeover meal in the next two days you can prep it for its rebirth in a casserole, curry, soup or stew. By removing the bones and skin, cutting or shredding it and seasoning as needed, you are that much closer to a delicious new meal.

Be sure to check these post, too:

  • 6 Ways to Kill Germs & Bacteria in Your Kitchen
  • Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart