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how to reduce food waste in the kitchen

Food waste in America has become a much larger problem than most of us realize. The average American throws away over $2,000 of food per year! In 2017, we disposed 38.1 million tons of food waste. About 94 percent of that ended up in landfills or combustion facilities. Food waste also harms the environment because more food must be grown than necessary. You can take some easy steps to reduce food waste in your kitchen, saving money at the same time.

Tips From a Professional Chef

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Wasted food in a commercial kitchen really hurts the bottom line, so most professional chefs are experts at avoiding it. Tim Ripa, executive chef at Dry Creek Mercantile in Hidden Springs, Idaho, uses a variety of methods to reduce waste. In summer, he often buys produce from an organic farm less than a mile away. That makes it easy to get frequent deliveries of smaller quantities, so produce doesn’t spoil. In winter, he asks his suppliers to send him produce in various stages of ripeness. “For example,” Ripa said, “when you buy bananas, don’t buy them all super-ripe, or some will go bad before you get a chance to eat them. And if they do get overripe, it’s a great excuse to make banana bread!” He continued, “Fish is expensive, so we use specialized knives, such as those for filleting fish or trimming meats, and waste less.” Commercial kitchens must prevent cross-contamination at all stages of food preparation, and so should you. Use separate knives and cutting boards for preparing meats and vegetables so you don’t have to throw away contaminated food.

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The Frugal Cook

Ann Videriksen grew up in Denmark during the Great Depression, with five siblings. When her country was invaded by Germany during World War II, meats, sugar, coffee, and fresh produce became extremely scarce. “One day, our father brought home a single banana,” Videriksen said. “He cut it into slices and we each got one piece. I still remember that banana!” After the war, she went to a cooking school for young wives-to-be. There she learned frugal cooking techniques. “I still hate to waste,” she said, “so when I bake, I unwrap the butter and use the foil wrapper to grease the baking sheet. When I cut vegetables, any scraps go into a plastic bag in the freezer. If I cook a whole chicken or turkey, I use the carcass to make stock or soup and add those frozen vegetable scraps, along with any leftover pasta. Pouring grease down your drain will eventually clog it, so I pour bacon grease into a container I keep in the refrigerator. Just a little of this adds excellent flavor when you are sautéing or stir-frying other foods. That stale bread makes great croutons or breadcrumbs to top your macaroni & cheese. Spent coffee grounds and tea leaves go in my garden.”

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Meal Planning

Ironically, having more in your kitchen can help you waste less. Keep your freezer and pantry fully stocked, so when you have extra fresh ingredients, you can use them in another meal with supplies from your pantry and freezer. Keep a grocery list handy in your kitchen, and whenever you use up something in your pantry, write it on your list so you’ll replace it the next time you shop. Plan your meals for the week and add any needed ingredients to your list. Once you’re familiar with the layout of your local store, you can write your list in the approximate order in which you walk the aisles, saving you lots of time as you shop.

Waste-Free Ingredients

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In addition to my regular weekly shopping, I visit Trader Joe’s every six to eight weeks and stock up on bags of frozen ingredients, such as Asian stir-fry meals, plus assorted pasta and rice dishes. These can be used with leftover chicken, ground turkey, or vegetables. I often add extra canned stewed tomatoes to the pasta. For fresh herb taste, if you don’t grow your own, try herbs in a tube — no more spoiled basil, thyme, ginger, or garlic! The tubes and frozen meal bags are all recyclable where I live. To stay lean and healthy, keep portions small — no larger than two hands cupped together — and portion leftovers into plastic or stainless steel containers for use the next day. When cranberries are in season, I make fresh sauce, portion it into small containers, and freeze it for use throughout the following year. Remember that almost any food can be frozen for use later. Make the freezer your friend, waste less, and enjoy more time and money in your pocketbook!

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Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Crista Worthy writes about aviation, travel, wildlife, and more from her home in Idaho.

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