kale and other veggies

How to Plan Your Meals for Minimal Food Waste

April 9, 2013 | Everyday Savings, Ways to Save

By Maggie McCracken

Americans waste $165 billion worth of food each year. It would be cliche to call that a “huge amount of food,” but I’m going to do it anyway: That is a huge amount of food! Whether you want to conserve food for environmental, financial or ethical reasons (or a combo of the three) there are plenty of ways to plan your meals with minimal food waste in mind.

Do as the French Do

While I was living in Paris, my cousin and I started our days walking to the corner bakery to pick up a fresh baguette. When we got back to our apartment, we slathered half of that warm, fresh, wholesome bread with butter and jam, and savored it alongside a steaming cup of freshly ground coffee. At lunchtime, I used the second half of that same baguette as the base for a sandwich topped with avocado, greens and seasonal vegetables that I bought from the food stand down the street. Dinner was generally a social affair–picnicking with friends along the Seine, eating at local cafes, picking up whole meats from the market–but it always involved truly fresh food. One of the benefits of buying your food daily is that you are rarely left with food waste. My cousin and I bought exactly what we could eat, and nothing more.

Plan Your Meals

Sadly, very few American cities offer as much access to fresh food as European cities do. In this case, use a few meal planning tips to ensure that you aren’t left with a refrigerator full of rotting vegetables at the end of the week. On Saturday or Sunday, sit down and determine exactly what you’re going to eat each day of the week. Buy your groceries at your local grocery store (or better yet–farmers’ market) and, here’s the kicker: stick to your schedule. If you spontaneously decide to grab dinner with a friend, that’s fine … but as a whole, you should stick to preparing the meals you planned on making. To make things simple and easy, don’t overestimate how much energy you’ll have on weekday evenings. Foresee that a quick and easy weeknight meal like pasta with boiled vegetables will be easier to handle on Monday night than duck l’orange.

Be Creative with Leftovers

One of my favorite ways to reduce produce waste is to store any veggies or fruits that are about to reach their natural expiration date in my freezer in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware. I even throw in food items that I normally wouldn’t eat, like asparagus ends, beet leaves, seedless apple cores, etc. Because I shop at the farmers market, this bag is chock full of seasonal tastes after a month or so. I then remove the foods from the freezer and boil them to make vegetable stock. The best part? Because the produce is local and seasonal, I have a new stock every time I make it! It’s great to taste how the earth’s flavors change throughout the year, and I love the fact that my hard-earned money isn’t going down the drain–or in my garbage can. Don’t have any use for vegetable stock? Throw aging produce in an omelet or salad, or even whip up a hearty smoothie with those frozen goodies!

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