How much food do you throw out each week? Do you cringe when you have to scrape half a tray of week-old lasagna into the trash or vow to "do better" when you're tossing out moldy packs of pricy organic blueberries or strawberries? With grocery costs on the rise, it's even more important to avoid wasting food in your home.
Here's a statistic to chew on: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans waste 40 percent of food available for consumption. This adds up to each American wasting 20 pounds of food each month. The NRDC says two-thirds of all food waste is spoilage caused by not using food in time, and the remaining one-third is spoilage caused by cooking or serving too much food for meals or events.
We're throwing away meat most often, at 33 percent -- followed by seafood, at 25 percent; vegetables, at 20 percent; grains, at 18 percent; dairy, at 17 percent; and fruit, at 15 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the top foods wasted are fresh fish, at 40 percent; eggs, at 23 percent; and milk, at 20 percent. Citrus fruits, cherries, onions, sweet potatoes and greens are wasted most among fruits and vegetables. Eleven percent of food waste comes from bread and other bakery items, according to the British nonprofit Love Food Hate Waste.
If we were to reduce food waste by just 15 percent, says the United Nations, 25 million people could be fed. If we curb our waste, we will help not only our household budgets but the world as well. Here are some easy steps:
--Shop smarter. Plan meals and make a shopping list. Avoid impulse buys that add too much food to your cart.
--Adjust your food-shopping schedule. Rather than shopping for all of your perishables once a week, aim for buying fewer items two or three times a week so your food is fresher, and you are more likely to eat it.
--Serve smaller portions. If your family members regularly fill up large dinner plates and then throw out some or most of what they've taken, switch to smaller-diameter salad plates for that full-plate effect and less waste. Your family will also more easily be eating healthier portions.
--Learn "sell by" vs. "use by." The NRDC says, "'Sell-by' and 'use-by' dates are not federally regulated and do not indicate safety, except on certain baby foods. Rather, they are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. Most foods can be safely consumed (shortly) after their use-by dates." Visit StillTasty.com for details on the true expiration dates of different kinds of foods.
--Use recipe websites and apps to get creative with your food. Try different menu items and learn at sites like LoveFoodHateWaste.com how to multitask with edibles. For instance, tomatoes that are too soft to slice for sandwiches can be food-processed to add to soups or stews.
--Learn how to freeze food. You can use airtight freezer bags with extra air squeezed out of them or vacuum-sealer machines to store meats, poultry, seafood and other edibles until it is time to use them. By doing this, you won't lose these items to freezer burn.
--Take home leftovers. The NRDC says that only half of Americans take leftovers home from restaurants. You can use even small amounts of leftovers creatively as side dishes to food already in your refrigerator.
--Use those brownish bananas and other produce that isn't so fresh. Bananas that are slightly soft and just getting brown spots can be mashed and used in banana bread and muffins. Apples that aren't quite as hard as you'd like, you can turn into applesauce or juice with other fruits.
--Refrigerate wisely. Learn which foods should be kept in the fridge and which should be stored at room temperature. Tomatoes and peaches, for instance, last longer when not refrigerated.
--Cover leftovers with plastic wrap or store them in glass or plastic containers. When dishes and pans are covered with aluminum foil, you may forget what's beneath that silver layer, and there goes your pricy shrimp dish or that lasagna. When foods are viewable, you know better what you have to work into your menu for the week.
--Compost. When you compost allowable food scraps, like fruit and veggie peelings and soft (but not moldy) berries, they turn into nutrients for your garden, which leads to growing fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. Composting also keeps food out of landfills, which may produce environment-damaging methane gas, according to the NRDC and Love Food Hate Waste.
--Donate foods you can't use. Nonperishable and fresh perishable foods can be donated to local food banks, shelters, food pantries and other centers, and local and national programs often offer free pickup. If your family can't use the food you've bought at a grocery store, someone else's family will be happy to use it.
--Start small when buying in bulk. Overdoing it and buying too much grain, for instance, could lead to spoilage. Grain goes rancid in less time than you'd expect. As you use your bulk buys, adjust to slightly larger amounts each time you shop.
The experts at Organic Authority warn against overeating as a way to prevent food waste. Rather than cleaning your kids' plates into your own mouth, accept that some food spoilage will occur as you practice and perfect the art of food portioning and use to create less waste in your home.