Learning how to reduce food waste is something that takes practice. At least for us it has. It seems that since I’m the primary meal planner and grocery shopper, the rest of my family tends to forget what might be in the fridge or pantry at any given moment.
Thankfully, at least in some ways, I’m glad my family is not the type to just stand with the refrigerator doors open staring blankly hoping something will call to them to be eaten. At least from an energy waste perspective, I’m thankful that is. But sometimes they don’t always know what’s gone in the fridge or pantry to know what’s available and that often means it’s up to me to keep tabs on leftovers and other ingredients that need to be used up.
Let’s be real, there are a lot of factors that contribute to food waste and I’m guilty of partaking in some of them but over the last couple of years since reading American Wasteland, we’ve worked really hard to be more conscious about what we buy so that we can throw away less before it spoils.
But have you ever thought about how food waste contributes to your grocery bill? If you feel like you’re spending too much on groceries, think about how much of that you’re actually throwing away at the end of the week (or so)? By being a bit more conscious about what comes in, you can be a bit more conscious about what goes out (hopefully not that much or nothing at all eventually!) Your pocketbook will thank you in the end.
So, through all of this, I came up with a Family Food Waste Pledge for our family that I’m sharing here with you here. You can print it out and have your own family sign it (I added six lines for everyone to sign—just add to the back if your family is larger).
Here’s a rundown of the different goals I’ve come up with:
1. We will take only what we think we will eat knowing we can come back for seconds, share a portion with others or take leftovers home.
This is a biggie for me. I cannot stand to scrape picked at food off a plate and into the trash. Plus, for kids, it helps them learn portion control to take just what they think the will eat and know they can always go back for seconds. At restaurants, we’ve been sharing items more often (just ask for a second plate) and I’m definitely not embarrassed to bring home leftovers.
2. We will use our five senses to determine if something has gone bad and not solely rely on expiration or use by dates. Smell, taste, touch, listen, look.
Yes, use your nose to smell, hands to touch or squeeze, eyes to look at color or texture, mouth to taste a bit to see if it’s gone bad and ears to hear if something doesn’t have that fresh sound (like the crunch of a vegetable or the pop of a can opening). Many times just because it is has gone past a manufacturer’s expiration date does not mean it needs to be tossed!
3. We will accept the answer to not buy more of something we’re asking for if we already have similar food at home. This one is especially for the kids—at least mine!–who will ask to buy more snacks or items from the grocery store when I know we already have some at home. More food in means it’s more likely to become food waste when we have more than we can eat in a reasonable amount of time.
4. We will check for leftovers before making or buying a new meal (really helpful for lunches!). My family is famous for making something new instead of investigating what might already be prepared and just needs to be heated up (or not) and served!
5. We will try to buy in bulk whenever we can, but will be reasonable about it and only buy what we think we can eat before it goes bad or split portions with a friend or family member. If I’m buying from the bulk bins, I will buy exactly what I need. If I’m shopping at a wholesale club I will consider the quantity I’m buying and try to share with another family member or friend if I won’t be able to use up the larger amount before it spoils. The freezer is a great way to portion out bulk items and still take advantage of the savings.
6. When we want a snack we will look for fruit & veggie or other perishable options instead of instinctively opening the pantry first. Try to eat up what’s going to go bad first before eating something else that may have a longer shelf life (for us that usually means nuts or cereal).
7. We will meal plan and buy just what we need to prepare that week or two week’s meals. This is a no brainer for me. Buy just what you need. I’m pretty good about this (obviously—that’s what this blog is about) but if you need some pointers on how to get started, check out this post for simple meal planning tips.
8. We will compost as much as we can and if we don’t know what we can compost we will find out. There are tons of resources to learn more about composting, Many area agricultural extension services offer Master Composter classes. They are usually free or nominally priced. You can also check out How to Compost for more tips and ideas.
9. We will be realistic about our purchases. Stocking up when items are on sale is great but not so great if you end up throwing things away before our family can eat them. I was talking to some friends recently and they were telling me how expensive they thought produce was. In the big picture I don’t think it is (pound for pound, it’s generally cheaper than meat or dairy) but that’s a conversation for another day. What I discovered in the conversation was that they actually ended up throwing away more than they could eat because they’d stock up on something when it was on sale…not always so great when it’s perishable. For non-perishables, I’ve started buying smaller containers that suit our family’s usage needs. They may cost a little more per ounce but in the end, I’m saving because I’m not throwing away food when it goes bad. I guess it’s a tradeoff.
10. We will designate at least one day a week as our “use-it-up” day to use up leftovers and give the main cook(s) a day off from cooking! If you check out my Weekly Menu Plans, you’ll see I almost always have a leftover day built into our week. With our family of four, many recipes are large enough that this is easily possible. Yes, we do eat leftovers for lunch sometimes but some weeks it’s still more than we can eat at one meal. Plus, I enjoy the night off of cooking and cleaning (just reheating and putting things in the dishwasher).
You can download and print off a copy of the contract for your family to make the pledge! Just click here to download the document.
So, do you think your family will take the pledge? Feel free to make up your own pledge points! Better yet, share them in the comments so that others can learn new ideas too!