10 Ways to Make Less Garbage

Before more food lands in the trash, get schooled on the several simple ways you and your family can toss less.

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Take On Trash

We Americans buy more food than we can eat. Then we waste it — a lot of it. Cutting back on wasted food can start with minor changes to how you buy, and can extend to what you buy, where you buy and how you cook.

Take Inventory

You knew this was coming. The spacious cabinets and palatial refrigerators in many kitchens could house a small family. Things get lost in the back there. Three times a year, take everything out of there, and use up the stuff that’s still good, like the fun flavored yogurt you still remember buying.

Follow FIFO (First In, First Out)

Use the ingredients you bought first, before opening new stuff. That’s the way professional kitchens keep food spoilage down and help keep buying in check. This practice also helps force you to take inventory.

Refine Your Storage

If you can’t find your food, you can’t eat it. Spice stairs, turntables and refrigerator boxes keep you informed. Take realistic stock of what you have, and invest in a few storage organizers.

Narrow Your Menu

If you’ve ever found a weird jar of fermented black beans from the 1990s in your condiment area, you know what I mean. Choose to explore only one or two cuisines at a time so you can use up the supporting ingredients. When you decide to learn how to cook Chinese food, for example, you have to buy things that are not already in your pantry, like dark soy sauce, fermented black beans and five-spice powder. If you concentrate on making several Chinese dishes over the next few months, you won't be stuck with leftover staples.

Check "Sell By" and "Use By" Dates

Some dates are about spoilage, and some are just suggestions. “Sell by” dates are for the store, and you shouldn't be eating food past those dates. But “best if used by” dates are about peak quality and flavor; what the manufacturer suggests will give you the optimal eating experience. These dates are often very conservative, and most foods are perfectly tasty and safe for a good while after them.

Write a Shopping List

This may sound ridiculously obvious, but people who write lists and plan meals are more likely to buy the right ingredients, make fewer impulse buys and use up more of the food they bring home. Type out a list on your phone or scribble one on an old-fashioned piece of paper. 

Buy Less

More obviousness, but it’s harder than it sounds, because stores do everything they can to encourage you to buy more. Jumbo packages of things are sometimes a bargain, but not if you are throwing some of it out because it went stale (or because two-thirds of the way through the vat, you got tired of eating it).

Ask Your Big Batch for Some Space

The Sunday chili you made is more likely to entice you if you have a little distance from it. Rather than working your way through it this week, freeze some in dinner-size portions for next month.

Embrace the Freezer Case

There is nothing wrong with frozen peas. Many frozen fruits and vegetables taste very good, because freezing technology can arrest their natural decline. And many fish and shrimp are frozen when caught and then thawed for sale, so you may as well skip the middleman and thaw them yourself. Freezing prevents waste by allowing farms to store some of their product. And it prevents more waste later at home, because you can use just the amount you need for a meal, without worrying about the leftovers going bad.

Learn How to Cook

(Disclosure: We spend most of our time trying to inspire people to cook.) The better you know how to cook, the more nimbly you can substitute one ingredient for another, which in turn will help you use up the oils, spices and staples you have on hand. Hooray for lentils instead of black beans! Cheers for the chicken whose bones have been picked completely clean, and the final few grains of rice that will be plumped in your next soup!

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