6 hacks to reduce your food waste and save

6 hacks to reduce your food waste and save

Americans overestimate how much they can eat and it’s costing them a lot of money in wasted food: roughly $640 a year for each household, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Tens of millions of tons of food get trashed every year in the USA, often because people buy too much or cook meals that are too big. Here are six ways to stop wasting so much by making your grocery trips more efficient, keeping your pantry organized and sharing what you can’t manage to eat yourself.

Plan your meals


Reducing how much food you throw out requires an investment of time to make sure you’re buying only what you need. When you’re planning your meals each week, look for recipes where at least one or two ingredients overlap to reduce how much food you have to buy, plus don’t try more than one or two new recipes in a week to avoid making too much and buying too many ingredients you’re not used to cooking with, says Megan Roosevelt, a registered dietitian and founder of nutrition company Healthy Grocery Girl.

If a recipe calls for an ingredient you feel like you’ll never use again, don’t buy it, says Brittany Ewing, vice president of partnerships for SideChef. Just swap it out for something you already have on hand, such as olive oil in place of sesame oil.

Then once you’ve done your shopping, set certain rules for yourself so you follow through. Plan to cook at home and eat leftovers for lunch at the beginning of each week, when your groceries are freshest, and wait to schedule lunch dates and dinners out for later in the week, Roosevelt says.

She also has a “first in, first out” policy: When you get your groceries home, rotate the food already in your pantry and fridge to the front where you can see it, and put what you just bought in the back so that you’ll eat your older items first.


Use an app

There’s using up leftovers, and then there’s giving away those leftovers to strangers. And both are possible with the help of apps including SideChef and LeftoverSwap. SideChef gives users step-by-step instructions, including photos and videos, for recipes and focuses on ideas for using up food. Recipe collections include Recipes for Ugly Fruit, 10 Green Smoothies to Clean Out Your Fridge and 6 End of the Week Frittatas.

sidechef pic

LeftoverSwap was born out of a desire to share slices of pizza after co-founders Dan Newman and Bryan Summersett ordered too much while hanging out one night five years ago. The app launched in 2013 and allows users to post photos of leftover food for anyone nearby to take off their hands.

Yes, sharing your half-eaten food with strangers, for free. You can find everything from a surplus of sandwiches from a catered event to produce from people’s home gardens, Newman says. There are about 100 posts a month in cities from Portland. Ore., toWashington, D.C., though Newman says the biggest problem is that the app gets more people posting leftovers than those looking to eat them.

Food can also be donated at many local charities. Spend some time locating your local food pantry or homeless shelter. They have to be careful about what they accept, but may accept unopened food products.

Just add water

Ingredients like herbs can be one of the most frustrating for a home cook because they’re usually sold in large bunches but recipes often only call for small amounts. When you have too much, you can infuse water with herbs like mint and basil or cut up herbs and freeze them into ice cubes to give a kick to water or cocktails, Roosevelt says.

You can also add them into store-bought dips like hummus or pesto for extra flavor (or use them to make your own dips). Plus, make sure you’re storing them properly in the first place to extend their life: Wash, wrap in paper towels, cover with a plastic bag and place upright in a glass of water in your fridge, “like a bouquet of flowers,” Roosevelt says.

frozen herbs

Freeze it

When in doubt, just throw it in the freezer. That goes for meat, vegetables and fruit on their last legs or nearing expiration. Make sure to wrap tightly in plastic wrap or put in bags with all air squeezed out. Wrap things like chicken breasts individually so it’s easy to pull out exactly how much you need, and cut up fruit and vegetables beforehand for easy additions to smoothies, pancakes, throwing on a roasting pan or blending into soups later on.

Ignore sell-by dates (to a degree)

sell by

If you’re throwing out food based on the dates stamped on packages, you’re probably contributing to excess waste. Those sell-by, best-by and use-by dates aren’t necessarily an indication of food safety, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Sell-by dates are used to tell stores how long to display a product. While you should buy products before this date, it doesn’t mean the food is bad after it.

Similarly, the use-by date is an indication of the last day of peak food quality, but food handled properly isn’t necessarily unsafe to eat after this date, the USDA says. If you’re unsure, use your eyes and nose: If the food smells bad or has mold, toss it. But you have more leeway than the stamped dates let on.

Plastic-wrap produce

plastic wrap bananas

Produce such as cucumbers and bananas now often come wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. It’s not a thoughtless ploy to create more garbage, industry experts say. The plastic keeps fruits and veggies from ripening too quickly by slowing the intake of oxygen and the release of ethylene gas, says Gina Jones, vice president of research and development at the Produce Marketing Association.

So seek out these plastic-swaddled items, especially if you don’t plan to use the produce for a while. Leave food in its packaging and rewrap it if you have leftovers after opening. Often the plastic is recyclable, too, if not in curbside collection than with plastic recycling collection some grocery chains offer.