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Food waste seems inevitable when you have kids, especially if you have toddlers who are picky eaters or won’t sit still long enough to eat.
I didn’t have this problem with my older daughter who would usually eat everything on her plate but my younger one was—and still is—much more of a picky eater.
When she was a toddler, I would put out bite-sized pieces of food on her plate only for her to take just a few bites.
Tiny pieces of eggs don’t really re-heat well. Miniature pieces of toast can’t be re-toasted. And when food is mixed all together like a mixed up stir-fry, she wasn’t keen on eating that mish mosh again no matter how hard I tried.
An average family of four in the U.S. wastes about 25 percent of the food they buy, costing as much as $2200 a year! Food waste isn’t only a problem because you have kids. It can happen if you don’t know—or can’t see—what’s in your refrigerator, you overcook which leads to uneaten leftovers or you go out to an impromptu dinner leaving food to spoil.
If you find that you’re throwing away food, here are ways you can reduce food waste.
1. Plan meals
Meal planning can prevent the what’s-for-dinner?-conundrum and make getting dinner on the table less stressful. It can also help you plan ahead of time how you’ll use leftovers so they won’t go bad in the refrigerator. Although you don’t have to plan a strict schedule of meals, compile your recipes and have an idea of the meals you’ll make for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
2. Make a list
Look through your refrigerator, freezer and pantry to see what you have and what you need and make a grocery shopping list and decide what’s realistic for your family to eat over the next week. Trying to gauge how much to purchase of perishable items like fruits and vegetables can be tough but if you create a habit of list making, you’ll eventually have a better idea of how much food you actually need.
3. Serve smaller portions
One of the reasons we tend to waste food is because portion sizes are too large. So when packing lunches or dishing out dinner, make portions sizes smaller. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, pay attention to how much you’re serving because their portion sizes are a lot smaller than you might think.
4. Make food visible
When you get home from the grocery store, wash and chop fruits and vegetables and put them in individual glass containers. Divide large portions of meat, chicken and fish and freeze what you don’t plan to cook within 3 days. When you’re able to see what’s in the refrigerator, it will cut down on prep time and reduce the chances it will go to waste.
Instead of throwing away leftovers, eat them, serve them for lunch or re-purpose them into other meals. Put leftover chicken in the crockpot and make chicken soup or throw vegetables and fruits that are overripe into the blender for a morning smoothie, for example.
6. Read labels
According to a 2013 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, more than 90 percent of Americans may be throwing out food prematurely because they think the dates on food labels are indications of food safety.
Let’s be honest: “use by,” “sell by” and expiration dates can be confusing. To decipher what all these labels mean, NSF International has a guide:
“Expiration or use by dates refer to food safety. Food should be thrown away once this date has
Sell by dates are a reference for food retailers and indicate when food should be pulled from the
shelves. Consumers should check to make sure this date has not passed before purchasing food.
Best used by dates have nothing to do with safety. Instead they refer to the last date when the food
will be at peak quality and freshness.”
7. Buy a salad spinner
One of the first foods to quickly spoil is salad, especially if it’s not stored properly. When you return home, wash salad thoroughly and put it in the salad spinner which will keep it fresh.
8. Be selective about sales
A 2-for-1 sale on pricier items like fresh berries can be a great idea but only if you eat them. When you see a sale, be realistic about how much you’ll eat or have a plan for how you’ll use the excess.
9. Use your freezer
Instead of buying everything fresh, purchase a few frozen foods so that if you don’t eat them, they’ll still stay fresh. Since frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak freshness, they’re generally just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. Of course, you can freeze produce yourself but vegetables should be blanched first.
Composting is a great way to cut down on food waste and use food scraps for your garden. If you don’t have the space for a compost or want to do it yourself, you can find a composting facility where you live.