When we make the most of our food, we ease the pressure on the food supply system, help the environment and save money, too!
- Make a list.
By planning ahead and having a list, you can focus on what you really need and avoid those tempting impulse buys that often don’t get used when you get home.
- Shop your fridge and pantry first.
Before you head to the store, check what foods you already have, maybe hiding in the back of your fridge or pantry, to avoid unnecessary purchases. This helps with meal planning too — just build your shopping list on items you already have on hand.
- Choose fresh foods wisely.
How do you go to the store as infrequently as possible and not run out of fresh produce or see it go bad? Pick just enough perishables — such as lettuce and strawberries — as your family can eat in a few days and add long-lasting produce like apples, cabbage and root vegetables for later. Get started with this list from StopFoodWaste.
Store foods so they last
Fridge, pantry or countertop? Where and how you store fresh produce really affects its shelf-life. For example, herbs can be kept fresh in the fridge in a glass of water, like a flower bouquet, and onions are least likely to mold or sprout when placed loose in a cool spot. Foods like nuts and whole grains keep best in the fridge or even freezer.
- Fruit and vegetable storage guide from StopFoodWaste to print and keep handy.
- Interactive storage guide from SaveTheFood for most common foods.
Organize your fridge
Arranging foods deliberately will prevent spoilage and make it so much easier for you to find things — and know what you already have.
- Store foods where they last the longest.
Dairy should not go into the door as it is one of the warmer places in the fridge. For humidity drawers, keep foods that wilt easily like spinach and broccoli at high humidity, while tomatoes and avocados need low humidity.
- Use clear, labeled containers.
Glass jars and clear plastic containers help you see what’s inside. Keep tape and a marker nearby to note ingredients and/or date, especially for leftovers.
- Create an “Eat This First” area.
Pick an area in your fridge to place foods that need to be eaten soon — ideally at the front of a shelf in eye level. You could add an “Eat This First” sign to the fridge shelf or a large container.
Find more fridge organizing tips in this article on the SpareFoot Blog.
Organize your dry goods
Similar to your fridge, arranging foods in your cabinets will go a long way to help you find things and waste less.
- Store similar foods together.
Grains, spices and canned foods are best kept in the same area, so you can quickly see what you have. Clear containers work best.
- Maximize your space and access.
Consider rearranging shelves in cabinets to better fit the types of food you store. “Lazy Susan” rotating trays can help keep smaller jars accessible and make the most of awkward cabinet corners.
Find more guidance in this article from the New York Times.
Use up what you have
- Love your leftovers.
Before you pick up the phone to order a pizza, check what you have—chances are there’s more than enough for a tasty meal! Leftovers are instant meals or can be the base for a new dish. For example, extra cooked meat like turkey or pot roast and leftover veggies are the main ingredients in this Shepherd’s Pie recipe from Grits and Gouda. Fried rice is another family favorite that lets you use up cooked rice and other ingredients you may have on hand. Watch how it’s done with this Zesty Fried Rice video from StopFoodWaste.
- Choose recipes based on what you have.
Make meal planning a fun way to try a new dish! The My Fridge Food recipe finder lets you enter ingredients you have on hand to generate recipe suggestions. Tip: have your kids help you make the selection as a fun activity.
Make the freezer your friend
Most of us don’t use our freezer to its full potential. From extending the life of cooked leftovers to freezing vegetables that are in season for later use, the freezer can be a problem solver if used right.
- Learn what freezes well and what doesn’t.
Cooked pasta, bacon and blanched or steamed broccoli freeze very well, but cooked potatoes and cucumbers don’t at all! As a rule of thumb, raw foods with high water content aren’t good candidates for freezing, and you’ll want to steam or blanch almost all vegetables before freezing, unless they are cooked already. For detailed instructions on what and how to freeze, check out this freezing guide from UNL’s Institute of Agriculture.
- Freeze in useful portions.
You don’t want to thaw four pounds of ground chuck if you’re just looking to fry up a couple burgers. Portion foods in sealed plastic bags or clear glass or plastic containers with your typical use in mind. Some frozen foods, like sliced bread or an ice cube tray of lemon juice let you take just as much as you need. Don’t forget to label foods with name and date!
- Make sure you can find it.
Organizing your freezer works almost like organizing your fridge. It’s easy with this detailed how-to guide from the website Kitchn.
Understand expiration dates
Except for baby food, the dates printed on food packaging aren’t regulated and don’t mean that the food goes bad after the date has passed. Instead they are the manufacturer’s best estimate of when the product is at its freshest or “peak quality.”
As this article from Taste of Home details, many foods last a very long time and some even forever, such as sugar, dried beans and corn starch. For the rest, you can largely rely on your own senses: if it’s moldy, smells or looks bad, it’s time to toss. If a food passes the look, smell and taste test, it may not have the same amount of nutrients as it used to (e.g. Vitamin C) but is safe to eat.
- The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide by Still Tasty lets you search by food and offers guidance on how to judge if an item is still good and how long it will last, in addition to storage tips.
- Eggs generally last at least 3 weeks beyond their “best by” date if stored in the refrigerator. To check the freshness of eggs, do this quick and fun egg test from StopFoodWaste.
Compost scraps, trimmings and peels
Check this page to see if your local community has food scrap collection and what types of food they accept. Composting at home is an option for those without food scrap collection service, or for residents who want to enrich their garden soil with homemade compost.