A Dietitian Mom’s guide to making small, easy changes at home to decrease global food waste (and teach our kids to do the same!)
As a busy parent, I’m all about convenience, simplicity and ease when it comes to feeding my kids. I have 3 kids with various likes and dislikes, 3 school lunches to pack every day and 3 different activities to get to most nights. I’m also a registered dietitian, so nutrition is always top of mind. That’s a lot to juggle (for any parent)! What tends to get forgotten amidst the feeding chaos is one big important factor though: food waste. Although the subject of food waste is near and dear to my heart, when I’m deep in the trenches, it can hard to make it a priority every day.
But here are some sobering statistics on food waste in North America:
This is NOT ok! And although this might seem really overwhelming, and the thought of your family making impactful change may seem a bit daunting, every little change really does help. And educating and empowering our kids to be advocates and leaders in preventing food waste is a huge part of this.
This is why I’ve partnered with The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to help promote their new Food Matters Action Kit (yep, you can download it for free right here!).
This amazing kit is jam-packed full of fun and engaging activities for kids and parents, to educate about food waste and teach how take action at home. And today is the perfect day to share this because it’s International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, which is a great excuse to help spread the word!
I know that many of you are in the same boat as me…feeding multiple kids at multiple stages with multiple preferences, with various factors such as time, money, preferences, etc. at play. It’s a lot! So, along with sharing the Food Matters Action Kit, I’ve decided make your life easier and share some of my top EASY and DOABLE tips for preventing food waste at home. These tips also save you time and money, and can boost your family’s nutrition too. So it’s a win-win!
1. Menu plan, even a little bit!
A good weekly menu plan can save your sanity and make your life a lot easier. It can also prevent A LOT of food waste! Think about it: if you have a plan for the week, you can go to the store or order your groceries knowing exactly what you need and having a good idea of how much you need! That means you’re not buying items that you don’t really need on-the-fly (c’mon, how many times have you done that, and then thrown that food out because you didn’t actually eat it?).
Here’s a great place to start: Suppers.
See, breakfasts tend to be simpler and more repetitive (in our house it’s usually oatmeal, eggs or smoothies), and lunches tend to be easy — leftovers from dinner, or easy options like sandwiches, wraps or finger-food lunches. Instead, focus on dinners only in the beginning, because they’re generally the more time consuming and labour intensive of the meals. And they can usually spill over to future meals, whether it’s the next day’s lunch, or repurposed into a different supper the next night. Once you’ve mastered suppers, you can venture into other meals if you’d like — or not!
2. Cook once, eat twice.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s repurposing meals. I’ll always make a little bit extra so that I can use the leftovers for future meals or snacks. If I have leftover ground beef from making tacos, I’ll make taco salad. If I have leftover chicken, I’ll make chicken pesto pizza. If I have leftover rice, I’ll make easy fried rice the next night (or freeze it). I often freeze leftover cooked meat and then make a big pot of soup or a casserole with it. Here are some of my favourite ways to recycle leftovers:
Big batch oatmeal -> oatmeal muffins Shredded chicken (either home-cooked or store-bought rotisserie) -> chicken tacos, chicken on salad Cooked lentils –> egg dishes, smoothies, soups, salads, spaghetti sauce, taco mix Ground meat –> tacos, spaghetti, hamburger soup, and burritos bowls
3. Take best-before dates with a grain of salt:
I check two things when I buy packaged food items: the ingredients list and the “best before” date. And I openly admit that I get a bit squeamish at the thought of eating an “expired” food item, even if it looks, smells, and tastes as fresh as ever. But the truth is, “best before,” “use by,” or “sell by” dates are not well regulated in North America. In fact, they are the food manufacturers best estimate of when their product will remain at its peak of freshness.
In other words, they don’t mean much.
We are not only wasting food and money, but also natural resources needed to get the food to our tables. By law in Canada, manufacturers are required to put “best before” labels on food that will spoil in less than 90 days and it is optional for food that will last longer than 90 days. These date labels are an estimation of when a product will retain its freshness (taste, smell, texture etc.). But again, it is not an indication of the safety of that food should it be consumed past the “best before” date.
‘Best before’ dates are not reliable.
Most consumers assume that these dates are regulated and standardized and therefore assume that their food has spoiled and is no longer safe for consumption on and after the “best before” date. This is false. It may in fact be completely safe to eat long after the expiry date.
So, take them with a grain of salt. Use them as a ball park indicator of freshness, but trust your senses first and foremost. If it looks, smells or tastes off, chuck it. If there is ANY mold on soft foods, do not eat it and throw it away. If there is mold on hard cheese or hard fruits or veggies, make sure that you cut the mold off (and cut an inch all the way around it) before eating it.
4. Save, store (and actually eat) leftovers:
Not only are leftovers a huge time-saver for busy parents (thaw and serve!), but they also prevent food waste in a big way. I often purposely make extras to have leftovers in the freezer for busy nights, but sometimes I just make too much! I’ve made it a habit to under-serve each family member when dishing up (they can always go back for more if they’re still hungry!). This way, there’s more to package up as leftovers and less that ends up in the compost or garbage.
Sauces, casseroles, chilli, soups ALL freeze well, as does rice, quinoa, meat, poultry, desserts and pasta dishes. Remember to label and date your food before putting it in the freezer. I speak from experience as someone who brought “chilli” for lunch only to realize too late that it was spaghetti sauce.
5. Keep your fridge and freezer uncluttered:
Out of sight is out of mind, right?! How many times have you put something in the fridge, only to forget about it and find it weeks later (totally spoiled)? If we forget that something in the fridge and don’t discover it after it’s too late, that’s a huge waste of food. Do your best to use a “first in, first out” strategy when it comes to your fridge (and freezer), and keep things neat and visible. After you buy new groceries, move the older products to the front so you consume them first.
There are so many little ways we can prevent food waste in our homes that can add up to impactful change. And teaching our kids how to prevent food waste is so important too. Make sure to download and use the free Food Matters Action Kit with your kids –there are so many fun and educational activities for them to do, and it’s a fun way to educate and empower them to make form healthy habits when it comes to preventing food waste.