We’ve all found that forgotten apple in the back of the refrigerator or had to throw away some moldy bread that wasn’t eaten in time. It’s often a result of shopping too much while hungry or forgetting expiration dates. But one apple can turn into many more, and over the course of the year these apples and breads contribute to the 1.3 billion tons of food that’s lost or wasted worldwide.
As a food blogger who’s indulged in foods around the world, I’m sharing four kitchen habits anyone can do for a greener, fresher, and less wasteful lifestyle. Follow these shifts and turn your small mistakes into big wins for the environment (and your wallet).
1. Shop with a grocery list
We all know how easy it is to overfill our carts when grocery shopping without a plan, especially on an empty stomach. You venture in for one item and walk out with a cart full of food, much of which ends up being thrown away.
Going to the market with a shopping list is one of the most important ways to ensure you buy only what — and how much — you need. Set aside a few minutes each week to plan your meals and create a grocery list. Not only will this list make shopping an easier task — it also reduces food waste and sets you up for meal prep success throughout the week.
Plus, if you’re really looking to stick to a healthy eating plan, a grocery list will help you stick to it and save you from buying items on a whim!
2. Pick produce in-season, or extend the life of seasonal foods
With watermelon in the winter and pumpkins available in the spring, agriculture science has come a long way in recent years. But believe it or not, farmers have not outsmarted the seasons. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables found in stores are often shipped, driven, and flown thousands of miles before they end up in your shopping basket.
Buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season in your local area is the best way to ensure that your food has traveled less miles to reach your plate and will stay fresh longer in your kitchen.
If you want to enjoy the fruits and herbs of summer or the squash from winter year-round, buy the produce in bulk when it’s in season (and cheaper!). Make and freeze soup broths from leftover vegetable and meat scraps. Freeze fresh berries and grapes for a sweet winter snack. Drying fresh summer herbs and pickling fall vegetables are also great ways to extend the life of your food.
|Foods||Shelf life, when frozen|
|cooked meat dishes||2 to 3 months|
|winter squash||10-12 months|
3. Buy staple items in bulk
Most people avoid this aisle in the grocery store — you know which one I mean, the one with the large containers of food you have to bag yourself? Well, stop! Buying oats, rice, lentils, beans, and dried fruits in bulk is an excellent way to be more sustainable.
These staple foods last a long time, especially if you keep them in an airtight package, and tend to cost less than their individually packaged counterparts. So why not reduce your packages and avoid the extra waste?
Pro tip: Bring large, reusable glass jars to avoid using plastic bags. Have the cashier weigh the jars at the counter before filling them in the bulk section so you’re not paying for the jar.
4. Know your “use by” vs. “sell by” dates
Do you know the difference between “sell by” and “use by” dates? One of the biggest contributors to food waste in the home is not knowing whether a food is safe to eat. Understanding what the dates on your food packaging mean can save you from throwing out perfectly good and tasty food!
“Sell by” dates tell a grocery store how long a food should be kept on the shelf for sale. Sell by dates are not the date a food will expire, but instead a date that the item should be bought or sold to ensure that the customer has ample time to eat and enjoy the food before it goes bad.
“Use by” dates, on the other hand, are an estimation of the expiration date. Expiration dates should be used to determine how long the food will stay fresh, but are often very conservative. It’s usually estimated a few days before the food actually may expire. The best way to tell if a food has gone bad? Do the “sight and smell” test by checking for mold or growth and smelling the item for odors.
Don’t let fresh foods go to waste! Adopting green kitchen habits may seem like a big undertaking at first, but just make small shifts and the benefits will add up. We can all do our part to save the planet by starting small — in the kitchen.