How to Waste Less Food

a mom and young daughter go over their shopping list in a grocery store produce aisle

About 30% to 40% of the food supply in the US gets wasted, according to the US Department of Agriculture. As the largest contributor to city landfills, food waste causes significant harm to the environment. It’s also a missed opportunity to help families in need, while costing everybody money. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international nonprofit environmental organization, the problem costs the average family of 4 at least $1,500 per year.

The NRDC studied the food wasted at homes in Denver, Nashville, and New York City, and found more than ⅔ of food thrown away could have been eaten, and as many as 68 million meals a year could have been donated to people in need.

Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables can help reduce your cancer risk, but it takes organization to keep them fresh. According to the reports released by NRDC, the most common reason for throwing out food was that it was moldy or spoiled. Cut down on food waste through the planning, preparing, and storing of food. Follow these tips from the US Environmental Protection Agency:

Make a list

Plan out the meals you will be eating at home for the next week.  Make a shopping list of ingredients you will need to prepare them.

  • Include a “leftovers night” to finish meals you’ve made or brought home from a restaurant.
  • Look in your refrigerator and cabinets to see what you already have. Plan upcoming meals around that.
  • Buy only ingredients you need and plan to use within the week. Buying in bulk saves money only if you use it before it spoils.

Keep vegetables and fruits fresh

Buy only as much produce as you’ll need for the week and store it properly to keep it as fresh as possible. If you tend to forget about your fruits and vegetables until it’s too late, try making a list on a post-it note and sticking it on the refrigerator.

  • Learn how to store the foods you most often buy. Sites such as savethefood.com and foodsafety.gov are good resources.
  • If you have too much produce or want to buy more when it’s in season, freeze, preserve, or can it.
  • Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves because they give off natural gases as they ripen, making other fruits and vegetables spoil faster. Keep fruits and vegetables in separate bins.
  • Don’t wash berries until you’re ready to eat them, to prevent mold.

Prep in advance

Get perishable foods ready for snacking and cooking soon after you get home from shopping.

  • Wash, dry, chop, dice, and slice your fresh food items and place them in clear storage containers.
  • Prepare whole meals and freeze them ahead of time.
  • Cook ingredients for later use. For example, bake and freeze chicken breasts to speed up meal preparation during the week.
  • Freeze foods you know you won’t be able to eat in time, such as bread, sliced fruit, chopped vegetables, or meat.

Save money, save food

When you waste less food, you save more money. Find creative ways to use old ingredients and leftovers.

If you can’t use it

  • Donate unspoiled food to food banks.
  • Compost spoiled food and scraps you can’t use or donate.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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