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Prairie Fare: How Much Food Do You Toss?

Here are eight tips to help you avoid food waste.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

A few years ago, I found a container of frosting in my cupboard that required a ladder to retrieve. I had completely forgotten that I had it.

When I opened the container, the frosting had the consistency and color of a tire. The rich brown chocolate was now black. That container ended up in the trash, of course, especially when I saw the “use by” date was two years in the past.

I bought a shelf to store extra food in our basement after that. Now I can see what I have.

Have you ever found a container of leftovers tucked in the back of the refrigerator? If this has happened to you, you may have been surprised by the fuzzy, colorful appearance. Perhaps the contents did not have a delicious aroma, either.

Or maybe you weren’t sure what the dates mean on the package, and you chose to throw the food to be safe.

Most of us “lose” a little food now and then. Recently, I gave a workshop about avoiding wasted food, and I acknowledge the Midwest Dairy Council for providing me with these compelling statistics.

“Food loss” can happen through cooking loss, spoilage or inadequate temperature control.

On the other hand, “food waste” occurs when still-edible food is tossed in the trash by retailers because of issues with color or appearance.

Maybe the carrots are “crooked” instead of straight. Perhaps the food has some minor blemishes. Many consumers want the food to look close to perfect upon purchase.

Food waste also occurs at home. In fact, wasted food in homes accounts for 45 percent of the total food waste disposal. Maybe you or a family member took too large a serving, and the leftover food ended up in the trash.

Eventually, much of wasted food ends up with municipal solids. Although we hear more about paper and plastic as contributing to solid waste, food makes up 21 percent of solid waste. Plastic trash makes up 18 percent and paper makes up 15 percent.

In fact, people are throwing away 50 percent more food now than in 1970. The average consumer wastes 1.1 pounds of food per day, or 401.5 pounds of food per year. That’s like throwing money in the trash.

What foods do you think are tossed frequently? If fruits and vegetables come to mind, you are correct. However, dairy is the No. 1 food group “lost.”

Here are some tips to trim food waste in your house:

  • Develop a meal plan. Creating a menu or meal plan can help eliminate food waste by ensuring you only purchase what you need. Use leftovers as other meals, such as breakfast or lunch.
  • Shop your refrigerator. This means taking a close look at what foods you have available. Instead of planning foods you need to buy to start your meal, plan to make a meal with what you have and pick up added ingredients.
  • Try to keep on hand a well-rounded selection of food and food ingredients, such as pasta, flour, sugar, bread, canned vegetables, vegetable oils, eggs, spices and other canned goods.
  • Create grocery lists. After you shop your fridge, you are ready to make a list. Shop sales and write down everything you need.
  • Re-purpose food. Try making a dish into something else: Use leftover meat as a pizza topping or make a breakfast omelet with leftover veggies.
  • Freeze the excess. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “Food Preservation.”
  • Consider frozen vs. fresh. If you are not using fresh produce before it spoils, try frozen instead. Out-of-season fruit and vegetables may spoil quickly, but frozen can be stored for a few months, on average.
  • Organize cabinets with the first-in, first-out system. Know what “Use by” and “Sell by” dates mean. Sell-by dates are for the grocery stores and a use-by date is for best quality. The food usually can be eaten beyond the dates.

Try this recipe with leftover grilled chicken for even more flavor.

Creamy Avocado Chicken Salad Sandwich

2 cooked chicken breast halves, diced

1 ripe avocado, sliced

1/2 c. sour cream

1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. lime juice

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Process chicken in a food processor until finely chopped or chop finely by hand. Add avocado, sour cream, black pepper, lime juice, garlic powder, onion powder and salt. Process until completely combined and almost pureed.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 15 grams (g) protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat, 4 g fiber and 220 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - April 6, 2017

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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