Sustainability Series: Food Waste & Your Waist

If you have never considered the correlation between the foods we throw out and our waistline, January is a good time to do so.  Yes, its resolution month, and you can probably name the biggest two:

  • Save money
  • Lose weight

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an easy answer for both?  A good starting point is simply this – throw out less of your food.  This doesn’t necessarily mean eating more. I grew up with the mentality that I must finish what’s on my plate. Especially if I wanted dessert!  If my portions were too big, I ended up stuffed. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become okay with not finishing my plate if my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  Unfortunately, that also means I’m throwing out more food, because it’s not enough to save, or simply not appealing any longer.

Apparently, I’m not alone. In Europe and North America alone, we are wasting about 40% of our food, and typically after it leaves our table.  Rotten fruit, spoiled leftovers, trimmed vegetables, stale bread – I’m guilty of throwing away all of it.  A study revealed that Canada threw away $31 billion worth of food in 2014 alone! Of that $31 billion, 53% of it was completely consumable (at one point) and totally avoidable.  I don’t know about you, but these numbers shock me and make me a little embarrassed.

So, I started to look into my kitchen habits a little closer. For the month of January, I am tracking everything I throw away.  At first, I had to dig into my garbage to get the things I already trashed, because I threw it out mindlessly.  That was my first clue that I throw out things without even realizing it.  However, I’m always aware when I dig through the fridge to finally use that vegetable I bought and realize it’s rotten.  Has anyone else had the experience where you find a great recipe you are excited to try but by the time you get around to making it your ingredients have gone completely bad? I’m then left scrambling to find a meal replacement and likely turn to pancakes and fruit or pasta and tomato sauce. It’s usually my lack of planning and follow through that turn my good intentions into poorly balanced meals, not lack of willpower. Trust me when I say, I’m preaching to the choir. My meal planning record is not perfect, which means I have thrown out A LOT of food.  If I’m brutally honest, I have a whole bowl of gravy that currently has no purpose and a bunch of mint browning in my fridge drawer.

Trust me, this is a process, and not an overnight overhaul. I am definitely on my own journey!

Here are 8 strategies I have come up with to help reduce waste:

  1. Buy smaller amounts and more frequently. I love Costco, but I cannot buy the jumbo bag of large snap peas because guaranteed they go bad before I finish them.
  2. Use some products even if it’s past the best before date. ‘Best Before’ typically indicates quality, not safety. I will write more on this later.
  3. Be okay with the “butt” ends. By “butt” ends I mean the ends of cucumber that I typically slice off, for no reason. Or the leafy part of the celery stalk – nothing wrong with that! I eat the heel of the loaf of bread – toast is toast.  I chop all the way around the tomato stem, or slice off as little as I possibly can when I’m cutting the tops off (strawberries, zucchini or carrots).
  4. Leave the peels on. The peel in a fruit or vegetable typically contains the most fibre anyways, so I scrub down my peels with my fruit and vegetable scrub cloth or hot water and cook with it! I even know some people who eat kiwis whole. I’m not sure I’m there yet…
  5. Smaller portions sizes. If I start with less and balance my plate, I’m typically satisfied and comfortable at the end of my meal. If my portions are bigger and I eat until I’m full, I’ll likely throw away the leftovers on my plate, rather than saving them for tomorrow’s lunch.
  6. Involve the family in the planning. If I know my husband is looking forward to the meals we are having, typically the leftovers get eaten and not neglected. I am by no means the canning queen, but I did try doing my own pasta sauce this year from all my tomatoes that I grew. Don’t forget to throw your stale pieces of bread into the freezer for stuffing recipes later!
  7. Take inventory. I’ve created a grocery shopping template of my staples that I like to have on hand to help me make healthier choices, especially in a hurry. I just add on my perishables and my special items. Impulse buyers have been shown to waste more, so I try and plan my meals around what I need to use up, and then pick up what I still need.
  8. Freeze right away. If I’ve made a monstrous pot of soup, I freeze half of it right away. I for one cannot eat the same dish for 17 meals in a row, but I will be excited about it if I have a meal ready for me in a couple of weeks.

Yes, January is a fresh start for me, but I’m coming at it from a different perspective. Instead of resolutions, I have daily or weekly goals.  My weekly goal is to check-in with myself and think about my family’s upcoming week. I think about our meals, what perishables and non-perishables are needed, and shop accordingly.  It’s not rocket science, but it’s not very easy on a busy schedule either.  My motivation is knowing how terrible I feel contributing to food waste and essentially throwing my money in my garbage versus the feeling I have when I’m organized, planned and make a really tasty dinner using groceries up before they go bad. My dollar goes further and my body and waistline thank me.

How do you save money in the kitchen? We would love to hear more tips! Share with us in the comment section below. 🙂