Happy Earth Month! Do you celebrate Earth Day on April 22? This is one of my favorite holidays, as taking care of the planet has always been important to me.
Recently I have been learning new habits to help decrease how much waste I produce. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30-40 percent of the American food supply is food waste. The Environmental Protection Agency reports Americans threw out 37.6 million tons of food waste in 2015. More than 90 percent of this waste goes to landfills, where it emits methane that contributes to greenhouse gases. As a dietitian, I am also concerned this is food that could be used to feed the 40 million Americans who do not have access to food on a regular basis.
If you would like to reduce your food waste, here are some ideas you can try.
• Check your fridge, freezer and pantry first. Make a habit to check what you already have available before deciding what meals to make each week. Using up items you already have saves you time and money. Meals don’t have to be picture-perfect. You can mix and match a variety of foods to get all the food groups in. I’ve eaten my share of sandwiches with canned vegetables or half servings of several dinners just to use them up.
• What about use-by and best-by dates? According to the USDA, best-by, sell-by and use-by dates are listed for quality purposes and are not indicators of food safety. Many foods are safe to eat past these dates. The exception is baby formula, which should not be used past its use-by date. Be sure to always look for signs of spoilage before eating any food. These include unpleasant or undesirable odors and textures. If you do taste the food and it has a spoiled flavor, it should not be consumed. To find out how long you can store different foods for best quality and safety, you can download the Food Keeper app on your smart phone. Or you can go to foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp. If you do not have internet access, check your cookbooks. Many contain this information.
• Try composting. If you have a garden, composting is a great, natural way to feed your plants and reduce your waste. Some people have a compost pile in their back yards, while others have small indoor composting bins. You can compost fruits and vegetables, egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds (with filters) and many other foods. Just be sure to leave out dairy foods, fats, whole eggs and meats, as these can cause odor and attract pests.
• Try re-growing food from scraps. Did you know you can re-grow some foods from the scraps you would normally throw away? You can put the white ends from green onions into water and have new green onions in about a week. Sprout some more romaine for sandwiches by placing the cut ends in warm water. Change the water every other day and you will have new leaves in about two weeks.
Julia Henry RD LD is a weight-inclusive registered dietitian at Capital Region Medical Center. She referenced USDA, Environmental Protection Agency and Feeding America websites, as well as a Buzzfeed article, “Food Scraps That You Can Regrow.”