Wilted spinach, mushy berries, and slimy mushrooms are all reminders of ambitious recipes and good intentions from grocery trips of the past. The USDA estimates that 30-40% of the US food supply is wasted1, and at home, produce is especially likely to meet a garbage can fate.
We know that wasting food is expensive and feels careless when food insecurity exists in virtually all of our communities, but it also generates greenhouse gases and contributes to our already overfull landfills.1 So, how can we reduce produce waste at home?
First things first, you’ve got to plan! How many nights will you actually cook this week? If you’re buying for the week, plan to use more delicate foods, like avocados or mushrooms, first. Heartier vegetables, like carrots and cauliflower, tend to last longer. Maybe you bought some beautiful spring asparagus on a whim. Make a plan before you forget about it in the crisper drawer!
Don’t forget to be realistic. If kale always goes limp in your crisper drawer, maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether you even like kale. Buy fruits and veggies that you’re excited about, you’ll be more likely to eat them. Perhaps you simply don’t cook. That’s okay too! Look for convenience items like bagged salads or precut veggies in steamable bags.
Prepare yourself for odds and ends. When you prep a recipe and are left with half an onion or some cilantro, it’s time to get creative!
- Sautee that half onion and add to eggs, sandwiches, or breakfast burritos.
- Save carrot peels, celery leaves, and onion skins and ends in a freezer bag. Once the bag is full, use it to make vegetable stock.
- Pickle it! Carrot and onion slices, cucumbers, cauliflower, and more can all be pickled! Make a quick refrigerated pickle and use it to add zip to salads and sandwiches.
- Freezing fruits and vegetables is like a form of future self-care. You’re setting yourself up for a convenient and delicious meal in the future and reducing food waste at the same time! Freeze chopped broccoli or peppers to use in a stir fry and stock up on berries when they’re in season to enjoy that summer flavor all year. Be sure to freeze small pieces on a cookie sheet first, to prevent clumping, and transfer to freezer bags.
- If you’re left with small amounts of a few things, a lone carrot, a few chard leaves, or half an onion use them up in a stir fry, frittata, omelet, or simply roasted.
- Use the leafy tops on beets and carrots. Sautéed beet greens add flavor and nutrition to pasta and soup.
- Sometimes wilted veggies like celery and hearty, leafy greens can be revived and re-crisped with a 30-minute dunk in cold water.
- Cooking for one or two? Shop the salad bar at your grocery store to get just as much as you need. If a recipe calls for a ½ cup of broccoli, get exactly what you need to reduce waste.
- Blend leftover herbs into a pesto, or try freezing. Tender herbs like basil, chives, and mint don’t freeze well, so mince and freeze packed tightly into ice cube trays with a small amount of olive oil or water.
- Cut snacking veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store and make sure they’re visible in the fridge. You’re much more likely to snack on veggies if they’re already cleaned and prepped.
- Store things correctly from the start to extend shelf life! Use your crisper drawer, store mushrooms in a paper bag, and place herb bunches and green onions in a glass of water in the fridge, like a bouquet.
- If you have something that’s really unusable, can you compost it? Even if you don’t have space for a large compost pile, consider a small under-sink compost bin or research composting options in your city.
- usda.gov/foodlossand waste