Tips to help cut down on food waste

Nobody sets out to throw food away. But the sad fact is that the average family of four tosses an estimated $1,500 worth of food in the trash each year — enough to buy everyone a four-day pass to Disney or make a mortgage payment..

Studies show that 90 percent of people throw food away before it’s actually spoiled, be it uneaten leftovers or a bunch of carrots that have gone wrinkly in the crisper. All told, Americans waste 50 percent more food now than they did in the 1970s.

It doesn’t have to be so. Here are some practical tips on how to cut down on food waste:

• Get organized. Before heading to the grocery store or farmers market, plan your meals and make a shopping list. Check to see what you already have in your refrigerator and freezer, and think double duty —  leftovers from Sunday’s roasted chicken can be turned into Monday’s tacos.

Resist temptation. Sure, that BOGO deal on stuffed pork chops is an absolute steal, but are you going to get around to eat it? Stick to your list. 

Be realistic. You might want to cook every night, but are you really going to do it after going to your child’s basketball game?  Build a couple of “lazy” nights into your schedule where you raid the freezer or order takeout. 

Portion and freeze. Food often is packaged in large portions you can’t use all at one. Place such foods in an airtight container (leave room at the top if including liquids), or zip-top freezer bag, label it with contents and date, and place in the freezer. Blanch vegetables and trim fat from meats beforehand. 

• Freezer-friendly foods. So many more things can go in the freezer than you might think, including milk, cheese, egg whites, and even avocados and bananas. For a primer, go to 

Embrace leftovers. They save time and money. If you don’t want to eat the same thing twice, figure out how you can incorporate it into a new dish. For example, turn leftover spaghetti into a pasta pie.

Be creative with food scraps. Stale bread can be transformed into panzella or French toast; sour milk makes wonderful pancakes and potato peels can be turned into croutons. Wrinkled fruits and veggies, along with vegetable stems and stalks, make terrific pickles. 

School yourself on food labels.  “Use by” refers to the last day that the product will be at its optimum freshness, flavor and texture. It is not a safety date unless it’s used on infant formula. “Best by” indicates when a product will have the best flavor or quality, and also is not a purchase or safety date. “Sell by” tells the store how long to display a product for sale for inventory management purposes. 

Think beyond your own kitchen. When you eat out, choose a restaurant that’s trying to make a difference. The new Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program ( identifies restaurants that are socially and environmentally responsible based on criteria ranging from local food purchasing to HR policies to recycling and healthy menu selections.

• Order wisely. If you know you won’t eat the bread or use the maple syrup, ask the waiter not to bring it; if portions are known to be large, don’t be embarrassed to share or eat off the kids’ menu. 

Consider donating safe, unused food to local food banks, soup kitchens or pantries. And don’t limit yourself to canned or packaged goods; groups such as Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank accept produce from home gardeners so long as it has at least 3 to 5 days of shelf life.

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.


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