Simple steps you can take to reduce food waste

Food waste has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Reading the report Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, recently published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, has fueled my desire to get a better handle on the amount of food my family discards. The NRDC report paints a grim picture of food waste in America:

40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills …

One of my first actions after reading the report was to start using Avery Dry Erase Decals on our refrigerator. We write our grocery list on them and use them to track what’s inside our fridge:

My husband and I have noticed a dramatic reduction in the amount of food we discard and we’ve become much better at cooking the foods we buy. There were days when our enthusiasm for cooking and freezing meals for future use got the better of us and we’d make much more than our freezer could store. Now that we’re consistently tracking the food that we make (and buy, too), we’ve figured out the best times to do batch cooking. We’re also better at using up our freezer stash so that nothing gets lost in there.

I’ve also taken an added step of labeling what’s inside the fridge. I’ve discovered that a sticky note with the contents and the date on an item makes food easier to find in the fridge (and therefore get eaten). Once an item is consumed, it’s crossed off or erased from the list. In the beginning, this was a tedious step. But, now that it’s a regular part of our routine, we can easily find what’s in the fridge without rummaging or having to open the container to figure out what’s inside. You might not find this step to be necessary, but for us, it’s well worth it. We’ve also become more creative with our leftovers. When we get bored with eating food as originally cooked, we combine it with one or two new ingredients. Making the effort to use food labels has really encouraged us to eat what we have instead of piling more in the fridge and increasing the likelihood of older food spoiling.

As you begin to think about ways to reduce food waste in your household, it does help, of course, to keep your fridge uncluttered. You might also want to consider weighing the food you’re going to throw out. The chefs at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Lupa Osteria Romana in New York, provided me with a strategy to try. They agreed to put food that was not deemed consumable (expired, spoiled, trim waste, or overcooked) on a scale with special software that calculated its value. By doing this, they discovered that they were able to make adjustments to reduce the volume of food that ended up in the trash can:

Once we begin reducing food waste, we are spending less money on food because we’re not buying food to waste it; we’re spending less money on labor; we’re spending less money on energy to keep that food cold and heat it up; we’re spending less on waste disposal.

This extra step in food preparation can help you determine how much food is actually wasted. As the restaurant staff at Lupa discovered, you probably don’t need to weigh onion skins and other things that you wouldn’t eat anyway. And, you likely wouldn’t need special software to tell you how much food you might be wasting. Even if you didn’t weigh your food and simply kept a journal for a few weeks about the amount of food you threw away, you’d have a good idea of how much food went into your garbage can as well as how much money went with it.

When compared to buying a pricey smart fridge that reminds you what’s inside, tracking your food consumption, adding labels to food containers, and weighing your food are perhaps minor inconveniences. But, these are not the only actions you can take. In addition to using (and sticking to) a grocery list each time you shop, you can also make sure that your fridge is in good working order. Make sure the seals are working well and that it’s set to the proper temperature (between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit) to slow the growth of bacteria. You can also make sure that older food is visible and not blocked by newer purchases.

Five ways to stop food waste

Over the weeked, I watched The Big Waste, a Food Network program featuring some well known chefs like Bobby Flay. The chefs were challenged to make gourmet meals using food that was ready for the dumpster. In my work experience, I’ve noticed that food is often wasted in households where there is no meal planning or system for keeping track of food that has been purchased.

Food that is hidden or not stored in an organized way will languish in refrigerators and pantries because it’s difficult to see what you have. When this happens, you’ll likely go shopping for those items and increase your stash. Instead, consider using the five tips below to keep food from perishing or stop it from turning into clutter. You probably use one or more of these tips already, but when combined you’ll make better purchasing decisions and have a greater chance of consuming more of your food instead of throwing it away.

Meal plan

We’ve talked about this numerous times on Unclutterer, so I won’t go into detail. (A good place to start is with our article “Creating a weekly meal plan.”) Just remember that meal planning keeps you from asking “What’s for dinner?” because you know what is on the schedule. If coming up with meal plans is difficult for you because of time constraints, check out services like The Six O’Clock Scramble, which is a program we love so much we have become users and affiliates for it.

Always use a shopping list

Using a shopping list will keep you from making spur of the moment purchases. That’s not to say that you won’t ever try something new (and put it on your list), but when you buy things that you wouldn’t normally buy, you may forget about them, particularly if you make multiple impulse purchases. So, before your next shopping trip, create a list of things that you intend to purchase and stick to it.

Track your stash with an inventory list

An inventory list placed in a very visible area of your kitchen (or on your pantry door) will help you remember what you have so that you can avoid making duplicate purchases. Record each item along with the quantity on your list or use a dry erase board so that you can easily make updates — and don’t forget your leftovers. If you tend to buy the same items, save a digital copy so you can print it as needed. Check out the Pantry Staples List created by Real Simple if you’re having difficulty getting started.

Keep your pantry and refrigerator organized

To keep your food from getting lost in the refrigerator or pantry, group items by category (dairy, beverages, left overs) and place them in the same spot all the time. You’ll want make sure that you have access to your most reached for items and that they can be easily seen. Use containers (like the Clear Handled Storage Baskets) to keep your items organized.

Check food freshness with StillTasty.com

The website StillTasty.com can help you determine if certain foods are still good enough to eat. The site will also tell you the best spot in your refrigerator to store certain items. For example, to keep eggs and milk fresher longer, don’t store them in the refrigerator door as the temperature fluctuates each time the door is opened or closed. For a quick reference guide, check out Hella Wella’s infographic, How Long Food Really Lasts in the Fridge and sign up for food safety alerts from FoodSafety.gov to find out which foods have been recalled.

Unitasker Wednesday: Onion goggles

Say goodbye to the dreaded vapors (syn-propanethial-S-oxide) that make your eyes water when you are cutting onions. The first time I encountered this phenomenon was as a small child watching my grandmother work in her kitchen. She was tearing up and I asked her why she was crying. She explained the reason behind her onion tears and I learned a valuable lesson. That lesson? Always wear protective goggles while cutting onions.

Yes, my grandmother could have avoided the toll onions took on her tear ducts by investing in some Onion Goggles, but I’m pretty sure these are fairly new, so she never had a chance to use them. Poor grammy. Fortunately for you, now you have the chance to overcome this obstacle in onion slicing. Don’t let your eyes tear up uncontrollably again! Take control of the situation and slip on some Onion Goggles.

Thanks to reader Katy for bringing this unitasker to our attention. 

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Unitasker Wednesday: 2-liter pour thing

Lifting a 2-liter bottle is SO DIFFICULT! Thankfully, I have found the 2-Liter Pour Thing.

Okay, so I realize that this may come in handy for someone with a physical handicap, but who else might invest in this contraption? Maybe you feel the need to buy this for your children to effortlessly pour their own soft drink? Just be willing to accept the consequences of a caffeinated child bouncing off the walls. From the “Why We Love It” section of the Solutions site:

No need to haul a beverage container to the counter when you want a drink – keep a bottle in the Pour Thing and store it right in the fridge! Or set it on the table during a meal so your family can help themselves.

Meal time will be much simpler when you invest in the Pour Thing!

Thanks to reader Shruti for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Unitasker Wednesday: The Ultimate Professional Drink Maker

What does one do when a craving strikes for a delicious slushy or smoothie? You can head over to your favorite smoothie joint and partake in their wide variety of flavors or you can invest in the Ultimate Professional Drink Maker. That’s right, now you can have your very own icy concoction 24/7. No need to travel out of your home to enjoy that fruity sensation. You also can use it to make some alcoholic drinks in the form of a tasty margarita or daiquiri.

So what is the catch? C’mon, you knew there had to be a catch. First off, the size of this unit is not very small. Weighing in at 55 pounds and measuring 13″ x 17″ x 30″, it has a pretty hefty footprint. The other catch is the price tag. It will set you back $2000. You must really like your homemade smoothies to own this monster!

Thanks to reader Samir for bringing this unitasker to our attention.

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Unitasker Wednesday: Microwavable S’Mores Maker

Summertime is the right time to sit around a campfire and eat S’mores. I’m not a huge fan, I’m quite happy with a solitary marshmallow, but now you S’mores fans can have them regardless if you are near a campfire or not. The Progressive International Microwavable S’Mores Maker lets you enjoy a S’more whenever the mood strikes you. What more can you ask for? S’mores on demand is quite the incredible luxury. Forget summer cookouts, enjoy these bad boys in January! From the product description:

It is easy to make smores at home using the Microwave S’mores Maker from Progressive. Just fill the base with water, stack your smores, lower the arms, and microwave for approximately 30 seconds. The graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate will heat quickly and evenly while the arms hold everything in place. It’s great fun for kids and adults alike.

Have any of you ever put marshmallows in the microwave for 30 seconds and then tried to eat them? If you have, then you know that if you wait more than a minute for them to cool, they turn into rocks. Yummy, teeth-breaking, sugar rocks. Enjoy!

(Thanks to reader Christine for sending us this suggestion.)

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Unitasker Wednesday: Peanut butter and jelly spreader

How long has the human race been using a plain old butter knife to spread peanut butter and jelly on bread? I’m not sure, but the time has come to make the switch to the Peanut Butter and Jelly Spreader.

This breakthrough in spreading technology cannot be overlooked. It is two sided and color coded for easy, no-nonsense, sandwich making. The old days of making a PB&J sandwich with a butter knife are past. Spreading peanut butter and jelly with the same utensil is totally uncool. No more accidents transferring some jelly into the peanut butter jar and vice versa. Such messiness would no doubt ruin both jars! Do yourself and your children a favor and invest in this spreader. Please, think of the children!

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

G&S Design Compactables

Collapsible, or in this case “compactable,” is always a nice feature to have when looking for kitchen tools. G&S Design has a nice selection of common kitchen tools that compact down into a more convenient size that makes storing them a little easier.

First up, are the Compactable Steel Tongs (pictured). Traditional tongs want to spread their arms in an attempt to keep drawers open and be as cumbersome as possible. These tongs, however, collapse neatly into a compact position and don’t make things messy.

The Compactable Pizza Cutter is a smaller alternative to the usual ridiculously large restaurant-style pizza cutter.

The Compactable Can Opener collapses down to a very small 5″ x 2.75″. Other devices in the G&S Compactable line include:

I hope you like blue, because that’s the only color offered right now.

Unitasker Wednesday: The egg cracker

I used to have a difficult time cracking an egg and not including at least a couple of pieces of shell in the egg as it dropped into the bowl … and then I turned 10.

Seriously, cracking an egg is not difficult. Unless you don’t have hands or have severe arthritis, there is no need for a gadget like this to take up drawer space in your kitchen. The makers of the Egg Cracker wouldn’t agree with me. So, I guess, thank goodness it is dishwasher safe.

If I had one of these, I’d find that it fit nicely in a drawer next to a butter cutter, mango splitter, and the pickle picker.

**Unitasker Wednesday posts humorously poke fun at the single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Unitasker Wednesday: The condiment gun

Condiment GunIn the wrong hands firearms can have dire effects on the people around them, but in the right hands they can dispense delicious condiments on your hamburger or hot dog! Yes, that’s right, you can now dispense condiments out of a barrel of a gun.

You may be interested in this if you enjoy your eggs in the shape of a .45, but you may just enjoy feeling the power of a gun as you drench your fries with ketchup. Finally, condiments are fun again!

Think of the boring chore it is to add a line of mustard to your hot dog. You may want to invest in two condiment guns so you can dispense your mustard and ketchup more freely without having to change cartridges. You can then pretend you are in the wild west as you hold your six shooters on either side of your apron. Your fun will never stop!

**Unitasker Wednesday posts humorously poke fun at the single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Unitasker Wednesday: Pickle picker and unitaskers explained

We realized last week that we haven’t ever explained the Unitasker feature on our site. So, before we delve into the goodness that is this week’s item, we wanted to take a few seconds and talk about it.

At their most basic elements, all Unitasker posts are intended to be funny. We joke about single-use items to remind us that organizing doesn’t have to be so serious. It’s good to pause and remember that what we discuss on the site isn’t brain surgery or rocket science.

Often times, the things we mention are things that are in our homes. I have an ice cream maker, a juicer, and a few other items that have been discussed. Matt has the snowball maker. We were both oddly tempted by the martini shaker!

When we mention an item as a Unitasker, we do it knowing that someone out there probably finds some use for the item (well, except for the kitty wigs … we’re still completely baffled by those). For most people, though, the items we name wouldn’t be anything but clutter in their homes. It’s totally fine if you choose to own a Unitasker. There aren’t any Unclutterer Police coming to take it away from you or judge you over it. We’re just talking about stuff, things, objects — not people or their choices. We love our readers and hope to entertain you with the Unitaskers. And, we love it when our readers send us ideas. Some of our best items have come from you! — Erin

So, without further ado, we bring you this week’s installment of Unitasker Wednesday:

Pickle PickerPickles can be tough to round up out of a jar. There is no need to use a fork or your fingers when you can buy a utensil specifically designed for the task of picking up a pickle! The Pickle Picker is just what any pickle lover would want:

Forget squeezing your fingers into a jar trying to grasp a pickle to no avail. This nifty pickle picker does the work for you. Simple and easy to use, the picker is great for any jarred item that is difficult to grab. Just push down on the plunger, grab the item out of the jar and release.

Did I mention it can also pick up banana peppers and be used to annoyingly poke your little brother? (Maybe it’s not a unitasker after all?!) Regardless, if something is in a jar and you don’t want to waste a perfectly clean fork or your fingers on such a task, then this is the tool that can get the job done.

**Unitasker Wednesday posts humorously poke fun at the single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Overwhelm yourself

My wife and I have accumulated quite a collection of glassware over the years. It is quite ridiculous, to tell you the truth. We entertain on occasion, but we have no need for the amount of glassware currently in our possession. Even when we do have a party we only use a small fraction of the glassware.

As I have mentioned in the past, we are downsizing our living space and we must reduce the amount of stuff that we have. The kitchen was the room we tackled last. I came up with the idea of removing every last item from the cupboards to assess what we had on our hands. The end result was quite overwhelming.

You don’t really get a grasp of what you have stored away in those cupboards until you have it lying out for display. I got the same feeling when we had our yard sale last summer. I asked myself, “Where did all this stuff come from?” The accumulation of stuff is gradual, and it tends to sneak up on you. My wife and I have been married for almost nine years now and we have just recently become more conscious of all of the things we have brought into our home.

It is much easier to prepare a plan of attack when you can see the whole of your problem. The final result was a successful paring down of our kitchen inventory.