How much food (and money) does your family throw out every day, every week, or every year? Here are some surprising food waste statistics to chew on.
Americans throw away $165 billion of food each year.
40% of food is wasted in the United States every year.
35 million tons of food are wasted in the United States each year.
The average American household throws away $2,200 of food each year.
The average American throws away 300 lbs. of food per year.
More than 20 lbs. of food is wasted per person every month in the United States.
20% of food that the average American buys is never eaten.
90% of food is thrown away too soon.
Reducing food waste by just 15% would be enough to feed more than 25 million Americans every year.
My first thought was we can’t possibly be throwing out that much food. We’re diligent about eating leftovers, eating from our fridge before shopping, and eating fresh foods first.
As I started to observe what food was going in the trash, however, I realized we were throwing out more than I knew and there was a lot we could improve on.
Here’s what we’ve done over the past few months to reduce the amount of food waste in our kitchen and to save money on our grocery bill.
What food are you throwing out?
It’s common to have no idea what or how much food you’re really throwing out on a daily basis.
The first step is to simply observe and track what food is ending up in the garbage.
After each meal, take a mental or written note on what food is going to waste. When I started doing this, I observed we were regularly throwing out:
- Half eaten bowls of cereal (or the extra milk in the bottom of the bowl)
- Leftover meats we got tired of eating
- Sandwich crusts and sandwich bread ends
- Leftover pasta, rice, and mac ‘n cheese
- Expired frozen items
- Opened canned coconut milk
- Forgotten glasses of milk
- Whatever our three-year-old decided to pull from the pantry and dump on the floor…
These items are a bit random – for our family it’s a lot of kid food items – which is why it’s so important to observe what your unique family is throwing out. It will differ for everyone.
15 Ways to Minimize Food Waste
Once you’re aware of the waste problem, the solution is usually quite simple to fix.
Here are some ways – in no particular order – to minimize your family’s food waste.
1. Menu plan
Whether you prefer to menu plan and then grocery shop, or shop the deals and then menu plan, create a plan for how you will use everything. This will lead to less waste at the end of the week. Use simple, versatile ingredients.
2. Eat fresh, perishable foods first
Every day, I spend about 60 seconds opening the fridge, freezer, and pantry and quickly auditing items that need to be eaten soon.
For example, I open the veggie bin and anything that looks like we need to eat it that day, I move to an eye level shelf. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind – so put items you need to eat soon where you can see them. If I don’t think we’ll eat it soon, it goes in the freezer. It’s better to defrost something in a few days then to throw it out because it spoils.
I also scan our pantry and fruit bowl and put any ripening foods (avocados, tomatoes, etc) in the fridge. I know, I know. It makes them not quite so tasty, but it delays the ripening and means less food waste. Same with the freezer. I look to see what the oldest items are and make sure I have a plan to use them before frost bite creeps in.
Here’s how we organize our fridge.
3. Shop your fridge first
When meal planning, shop your fridge, pantry, and freezer first. Take inventory of what you already have and what needs to be eaten that week. Meal plan around those items first. Unsure what you can make with chicken, cheddar cheese, broccoli and cauliflower? Use a website like Supercook to enter the ingredients and presto, recipe ideas for ingredients you have on hand.
Related: How we cut our grocery budget in half
4. Dish out smaller portions & fewer choices
We give smaller portions to our kids. They can always have seconds if they finish it all. This goes for cereal, ketchup, sandwiches — anything we know doesn’t save (or they won’t eat) as leftovers.
Similarly, we give fewer choices and keep meals simple. For example, we love soups, casseroles or dishes that are a meal in one. We often don’t make a lot of sides as to minimize the amount of food we’re preparing for each meal. Similarly, choose recipes with simple ingredients. They’re more budget friendly and it’s less likely you’ll throw out leftover ingredients you only needed for that one recipe.
5. Store produce correctly
My biggest produce waste fail has always been cilantro. We buy a big bunch, use it for one meal, throw it in the fridge, and in about two days flat it is mushy and slimy.
The solution? I googled around and figured out a better way to store it. For our climate, putting the cilantro bunch in a tall glass with a little bit of water at the bottom (for the stems, like cut flowers) and then covering the whole plant with a plastic bag, keeps the cilantro fresh (and not dark and slimy) for almost two weeks!
The same goes for other produce items – storing them correctly allows them to last a lot longer.
Another trick we love is to store cut up carrots and celery in water. We buy whole carrots, peel and slice them for the week, and store them in the fridge in a container with water. They stay crisp, and we eat them quicker because they are prepped and ready to go.
6. Don’t buy items you know you will throw out
This seems so obvious, but we all do it – especially with bulk produce. When we shop at Costco, I am very selective about the produce I buy. First, is it a good deal? Second, can we eat this all before it goes bad (especially avocados or bananas that all go ripe at the same time)? Third, if not, can I freeze or preserve it before it goes bad?
Remember, it’s not a good deal to buy bulk if you can’t eat it all before it expires.
7. Eat your leftovers & find ways to use the waste
Do your kids truly refuse to eat their sandwich crusts? If you’re throwing out crusts every time, cut the crusts off before you make the sandwich. Freeze the crusts and use them for bread crumbs in a future meal. Kids won’t eat the sandwich bread ends? Make french toast with them!
Also, eat your leftovers before you make something new. If you’re truly sick of them (I tire of leftover meat quickly…), then freeze the leftovers for a future back up meal.
Similarly, if a gallon of milk is approaching expiration, I’ll make a quick mozzarella recipe with it instead of dumping it down the drain.
Bottom line – eat or freeze your leftovers and find creative ways to use the “waste.”
8. Don’t overcrowd your fridge or pantry
What you can’t see, you will forget about. We prefer to keep a minimal-ish fridge – everything is part of our menu plan for the week or month and any back-up or extras are in our freezer or pantry. When we’re able to see most of the food items in our fridge, we’re less likely to waste food.
9. Prep your fruits and veggies weekly
Make eating your fruits and veggies convenient by prepping them out in batches. By having carrot sticks or salad fixings cleaned and chopped, you’re more likely to eat them.
10. Freeze & preserve
Most fruits and vegetables can be frozen or preserved. Not sure if you can freeze it? Google it for tips or methods. Make salsa or marinara sauce out of all those tomatoes. Make herb butter out of garden herbs or dry them for year-round spices. Freeze berries or bananas for smoothies or breads/muffins.
11. Don’t buy in bulk until you know you like it
Not sure if your kids will eat the 100 granola bars they’re begging you to buy at Costco? Resist! Pick up the 8 pack at the grocery store first and make sure you’ll be able to eat it all before you buy in bulk.
12. Donate food
If you’re tossing unopened items or surplus from your garden, consider donating the food instead. Donate to neighbors in your local Buy Nothing group, to your kids’ daycare or school, or check with your local food bank to see what types of food they’ll accept.
13. Make meals everyone can eat
Do you have family members with allergies, intolerance, or dietary restrictions? Make meals everyone can eat. For example, I can not tolerate wheat which means if my kids won’t finish up their regular pasta, I can’t eat it up for them. But if I cook them meals I can eat, too, I know I’ll be able to help with leftover clean up crew.
14. Save veggie scraps and bones
Before you toss those carrot peels, celery ends, onion skins and chicken bones into the garbage, stop, they’re not waste! They can be used for a stock or broth. We save all our veggie scraps in a container in the fridge, freeze all our meat bones, and make homemade chicken bone broth or vegetable stock once a week in our crockpot. We use it in soups and recipes during the week and freeze the rest for future use.
15. Wait to wash berries
Washing berries ahead of time makes them quicker to mold, so hold off washing berries until you’re ready to eat them.
What are your food waste elimination tips and tricks?
Food waste is a budget buster and a serious energy/resource waste in our country. What are you doing to reduce or eliminate your family’s food waste? Comment with your clever tips and tricks!