As we head into the month of March, let's all pause and reflect on our eating habits because after all, March is National Nutrition Month and a great time to reevaluate what is on our plates.
More importantly let's pay special attention to what we are scraping off our plates into the trash. It is estimated that 90 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year either at home or when eating out.
Did you know the average family loses $1,500 every year on wasted food? All of this waste adds up. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, the U.S. spends more than $162 billion to grow, process and transport food that goes uneaten. Wasted food not only costs you money, it is also harmful to the environment as it decays in landfills.
The theme for National Nutrition Month this year is "Go Further With Food" with an aim to help families find ways to reduce waste at home while choosing healthy foods and staying active.
There are many things you can do but first, you may be interested to know how much is actually being thrown away in your household. It is easy to track waste at home with either a scale or measuring cup. At the end of the week, add up your totals and pay attention to trends in food waste. Maybe it was forgotten in the depths of the refrigerator or you accidentally bought too much leading to unintended waste. Download this Food Waste Challenge worksheet so you can track and measure your food rescue efforts over 4 weeks.
If we are to reach the U.S. Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal (50% reduction in food waste) by 2030, we'll need everyone's commitment. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Understand Date Labels- food packages will have a "best if used by" or "sell by" date. These don't necessarily mean they should be thrown away but their quality is best before this date. In many cases, they are safe to eat beyond the date listed as long as they were stored properly.
2. Make a Plan- try not to buy more than you need. Creating a weekly meal plan will help you stay focused when grocery shopping and avoid buying unnecessary items. If you're cooking for just 1 or 2, consider buying smaller portions and recycle any additional packaging as a result.
3. Get Creative with Leftovers- ½ an avocado and random vegetables hanging out in your fridge? Re-purpose the vegetables in an omelet or stir-fry and use the avocado as a sandwich spread or in a nourishing face mask. There are plenty of non-edible uses for food scraps like sugar-coffee body scrub (with spent coffee grounds) and combining citrus peels with vinegar for a refreshing counter cleaner. Also, avoid ordering large meals when dining out if you don't intend to eat the leftovers later. Share something instead! Poll- How Do You Handle Leftovers?
4. Compost food scraps- University of Illinois Extension's website, Composting Central, has lots of great resources for you to learn everything you need to know about composting at home.
5. Donate surplus foods to a local food pantry- if you have a extra shelf-stable foods or even surplus prepared foods from an event, check with your local food pantries and meal sites to see if they will take your food donations and days/times that they except donations. Worried about potential liability issues? The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects good faith food donors from civil and criminal liability. This includes: individuals, corporations, partnerships, organizations, associations, governmental entities, wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, caterers, farmers, gleaners, nonprofit agencies, and more.
What will you do to divert food from the landfill this month? For more resources and ideas on how you can rescue food at home, contact the Milan Extension office at 309-756-9978.