Welcome to Health Hacks! I'm Jen Bruning, registered dietitian nutritionist with Guckenheimer, part of the ISS family of services.
Today I'll be discussing food waste: why it happens, what we lose when we throw out food, and what we can do about it.
By now you've heard: food waste is a big problem all over the world. Not only does it mean that hungry people aren't getting the food that's available, it also means that we're wasting water & resources, contributing needlessly to our carbon footprint, and throwing out nutrients that most people don't get enough of.
The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that we waste 1/3 of the total food produced globally, every year. That adds up to 1.3 billion tons of food!
There are a lot of reasons why food is wasted, and consumers can only control some of them.
In some developing countries, most food is lost at the production level: the stages of food production before the food ever gets to the store. However, in the US, about 40% of food waste comes from the retail and consumer levels! We're buying food that we don't use, and end up throwing it away.
A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics found that about 1200 calories are wasted per person per day. But it's more than just calories that we're throwing away- it's nutrients too. Many Americans, even those with regular access to healthful foods, fail to eat enough calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamin D. As it turns out, those are some of the nutrients we lose in food waste! And the cost of this waste comes in more forms than just environmental or nutritional concerns. The food that consumers throw away at home costs us about $144 billion per year. That's over $1200 per household!
So, what can we do about food waste? Lots! Start before you hit the grocery aisles, and meal plan your week, or at least a few days. Pick some easy favorite recipes and write down everything you'll need in order to make the right number of portions for you and your family.
Shop from your list to help control impulse buys. Then do some of the food prep beforehand: most vegetables can be diced and sliced a few days ahead and stored in the fridge until you're ready to cook. And have a plan for leftovers: save them for lunch the next day, or avoid having them by making just what you'll eat for one meal.
When possible, shop locally and in season. This food has travelled a shorter distance to you, and was grown nearer to your community. If you get a chance to meet someone who helped grow the food at a farmer's market or farm tour, you may feel a stronger sense of connection to the food, and be less likely to waste it.
To get the freshest, most locally grown food imaginable, trying growing some yourself.
Just a couple of tomato plants or a small herb garden is manageable for most households, and helps to reinforce the feeling of connection to, and investment in our food.
When you have more food than you can use, freeze it before it spoils. Most fruits can be frozen whole or cut up. Freeze the pieces on a cookie sheet first, then transfer to a freezer-safe container so the pieces aren't frozen in a block. Dice and freeze meat that you can throw in a stew later on. Blanch and freeze veggies, then pull them out for a quick stir fry or roasted veggie side. Another option is to make aging foods into something else entirely: croutons from stale bread, refrigerator jam from soft fruit, or a sauce like chimichurri out of fresh herbs. Just be sure you never use foods that are rotten or moldy.
Lastly- consider using the parts of foods that you may have thrown out before. Many parts of fruits and veggies are perfectly edible and highly nutritious- you just have to know what to do with them! Lots of veggie skins add texture and typically contain a lot of fiber, so stop peeling them off! Scrub the veggies well, cut away any blemishes (or green spots on potato skins), and use the vegetable like you would normally.
The green tops of lots of root veggies are loaded with nutrients like vitamin A, so consider tossing the tops into a salad or steaming them. Use onion skins and celery leaves along with what's left of a rotisserie chicken to make homemade soup stock, then freeze the stock for later use.
Try using some of these cast-offs in familiar recipes. Today I'll show you how to make a quick carrot-top pesto using familiar ingredients. I have 1 bunch of carrot greens that I've washed thoroughly in my salad spinner and chopped up finely, including the soft parts of the stems. I put these into a mixing bowl. Then I add in 1 clove of chopped garlic with a pinch of red pepper flakes, about 2 Tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, and about 2 Tablespoons of pine nuts (or you could use chopped cashews or peanuts). Then comes the extra virgin olive oil; I start with about 1/4 cup. Now I'll use my immersion blender to bring everything together, adding more olive oil as needed. When it's somewhere between a paste and a liquid, I'll stop and taste it, adjusting the salt & pepper if I need to. You can blend in some fresh lemon juice if you feel like it needs more brightness, or omit the parmesan if you'd prefer your sauce dairy free or vegan. I like putting my pesto in small canning jars and freezing some for later. I use it with pasta, as a dip for veggies, or as a spread on bread. And to think I used to throw my carrot tops away!
That's it for today! Remember, any steps you can take towards reducing food waste will help.
Take it one step at a time and have fun in the process!
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