5 (EASY) Tips for Tackling Food Waste

It’s peak produce season. Produce is in pristine condition and our gardens are growing mounds of fruits and veggies. It’s so easy to take advantage of all the ripe and colorful options and overbuy or over-pick, storing fresh food until it’s no longer recognizable. This leads me into a few familiar problems:

  • You bought TOO MANY locally-grown fruits and vegetables from the farmers market.
  • Aldi’s had a sale so you bought ALL the fruits and veggies.
  • Your backyard garden is having an EXCEPTIONALLY prolific year and your friends/neighbors aren’t interested in more free produce.

These are small examples of a BIG PROBLEM: Food waste. Did you know today, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten? This means Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year. The uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills, which is the largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions”.

This is why I’m sharing five (super easy) ways we, as consumers, can tackle food waste, because no problem is too big when we all do our part.

Plan Ahead: When shopping for groceries, it’s sometimes hard to say no to a good deal. I’ve found that when I plan five or six meals a week, it’s a lot easier to buy only the fresh produce my family needs. I still like buying pantry staples and canned goods in bulk, or when they go on sale, but for fresh foods, I try only buying what I will use. That way, I don’t end up discarding something that got lost or forgotten in the crisper drawer and went bad.

Prepare Smaller Portions: Again, a little simple planning can go a long way. If, your recipe makes eight quarts of Tortilla soup, divide the recipe in half, or invite someone over to share.

Long Live Leftovers: Make leftovers seem more appealing with thoughtful packaging. Reusable containers come in so many shapes and patterns these days that it’s easy to find ones that fit any style or budget. In our house, we actually have a couple sets, depending on which person’s lunch they’re going in. My preschooler would rather die than eat leftover spaghetti from anything that’s clear plastic, but leftover spaghetti in a reusable dinosaur container is the best lunch ever (thanks mom!).

Another thing that really helps in our house is packing leftovers in single servings right after dinner. This makes them an easy grab-and-go option when packing lunches in the morning.

Reviving the art of “putting up”
: Our parents or grandparents learned the art of preserving food out of necessity. As I scrolled through my Facebook and Instagram this summer, I noticed that now more than ever that home preservation is making a comeback. Canning and freezing are not only excellent ways to prevent food waste, they also can be very economical and rewarding. Is there anything more delicious (or gorgeous) than a shelf of homemade canned goods? Freezing is pretty foolproof, but canning can be a little tricky. Always make sure your supplies are scrupulously clean and refer to the USDA guidelines for times and pressures. TIP: check your state’s local extension office or website for guidelines on preserving your local specialties.

We can pickle that: The last few years have seen a rise in home fermenting. Artisan pickles are easy to make, keep for a long time, and can be the perfect use for that leftover veggie or two that aren’t enough to make into something on their own. Another great thing about making your own pickles is that you control exactly how much salt and sugar go into them.

Here are a couple of recipes that are always a hit in our household:

PicklesKim Chee Cucumbers
2 cucumbers
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 clove finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
1 teaspoon fish sauce

Wash and cube cucumber into bite-size pieces. Mix cucumber pieces and salt in a non-reactive bowl. Marinate for 15-30 minutes — No more or it will be too salty! Drain and rinse cucumbers with fresh cool water. Mix rest of ingredients into rinsed cucumbers and stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. You can add more red pepper if you like, or if it’s available near you, substitute a small spoonful of kimchee base for the sugar, garlic, ginger and red pepper. The cucumbers can be stored in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. These make a great summer side dish.

Pickled Carrots (or really you can put any veggie you want)
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
½ bag of carrots- washed, peeled and thinly sliced

Put vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper into a one quart mason jar. Microwave for one minute and stir. Microwave for another minute. Swirl jar to dissolve solids. Allow to cool to room temp, and add sliced veggies. Place the lid on the jar and refrigerate overnight. It can be stored in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator. We also like to use this mix with radishes and cilantro for a great taco-night condiment.

Old Fashioned Bread and Butter Pickles
12-15 cups of cucumbers
8 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
4 cups white vinegar
5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1-1/2 tablespoon celery seed
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon ground turmeric

Wash the cucumbers. Slice off the ends and discard. Then, slice them into approximately 1/8-inch slices. Combine the cucumbers and onions in a large bowl. Add salt and refrigerate for at least one to four hours. Next, combine the remaining ingredients in a large pot. Boil them 10 minutes. Drain the cucumbers and onions and add them to the pot. Slowly reheat the pot to boiling. Fill the mason jars with slices and cooking syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Use sterile spatula to remove air bubbles and wipe the rims with clean cloth. Center the lids on the jars, and fingertip tighten bands over the lids.

Process in a boiling water canning bath for 15 minutes, being sure to adjust for your altitude. Be sure to read up on boiling water canning if you’ve never done it before. It’s very important to follow proper instructions. After canning, inspect the jars to make sure they are properly sealed. Lastly, store in a cool dry place for up to one year.

*If canning isn’t your thing, you can still make this recipe, and just store the jars in your refrigerator but in that case your pickles must be consumed within a week or two.

CoombsJillJill Coombs lives with her husband and three children on the small island of Molokai Hawaii, where she is the Functional Project Coordinator for Dow Agrosciences. She enjoys running trait introgression projects and annoying her coworkers with her constant talking. In her free time Jill enjoys reading, cooking, crafting, gardening, spending time with her friends and family.