Health Advocate Blog

Think before you toss! Tips to reduce food waste

Have you ever thrown away salad mix that has started to wilt, the ends of a loaf of bread that have started growing something green, or leftovers that sat in the back of the fridge until they were past their prime? You are not alone, but these little bits here and there add up quickly. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans toss out about a third of our food supply each year, which equates to more than 1.3 billion pounds of food. This waste happens at multiple places throughout the food chain, including at the farm, at the grocery store, at restaurants, and in individual homes, among others. But for families like yours, throwing away unused food can cost almost $600 each year.

This food waste can have a big impact beyond your wallet. For example, food waste takes up space in landfills and creates methane gas, which can damage the atmosphere. We also use precious resources like water and land to produce food, so when we don’t eat it, those are used unnecessarily. Plus, the food that ends up in our trash cans and landfills could have fed someone in need.

So what can you do to help reduce food waste? Here are just a few simple things you can start doing today to make a dent, helping to feed those in need, save money, and help protect the environment:

Take note of your trash. For a week or two, keep track of the items you toss and why they ended up in the trash. By determining the causes (ordering take-out more than planned, buying more than you needed, etc.), you can try to avoid buying too much in the future.

Shop smart. By planning your meals before going to the store or farmers’ market and sticking to your list, you can ensure you’ll only buy what you will definitely use and avoid throwing out items you never needed in the first place. This will also help save you money from impulse buys (looking at you, bakery cookies!).

Ignore the “sell-by” dates. Often, these dates just mean the food is no longer at its peak, but it is likely still safe. Obviously, check for mold or if something smells off, but otherwise, consider hanging onto these items – just plan to use them soon.

Think outside the box. You likely have a random assortment of items sitting in your fridge or pantry at any given time. Before tossing them, try coming up with a dish that incorporates many of them. For example, a quiche or stir-fry is a great way to use up a number of items that may be approaching their deadline. For more ideas to use up food you have on-hand, check out The Kitchn.

Match your eyes to your stomach. Especially at this time of year, we are all guilty of taking too much from the buffet. Start with small portions. You can always come back for more, and this way you avoid throwing away what you didn’t get to (mashed potatoes fill you up fast!). We often do this when eating out, too. Consider splitting an entrée with someone you’re with, or ordering an appetizer to avoid leftovers you may or may not get to.

Store food properly. Along those lines, storing foods appropriately can help them last longer. This guide from the American Heart Association offers tips for a variety of produce.

Donate and share. If you know you have extra cans of soup or boxes of pasta in your cabinet that you likely won’t get to for a while, donate them to a food bank that can put the food to good use. Find one near you here. And if you just made a few too many muffins this weekend, share with friends, neighbors and co-workers so those extras don’t go to waste.

Every little bit counts. These are just a few ideas to try to reduce your food waste. To learn more about food waste in the U.S. and ways to cut down, check out these additional resources:

If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to the wellness coaching component of our Wellness Program, talk with your coach for more ideas about planning ahead for meals to eat healthier and avoid food waste.