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Post-Holidays, Resolve to Reduce Your Food Waste

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/">U.S. Department of Agriculture</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>

Ahh, the season of gluttony. Now that's it behind us, you may be thinking about your New Year's resolutions which may or may not include the usual suspects: eating healthy, losing weight, working out.

But after all those sumptuous holiday meals and probably plenty of leftovers, here's another one to add to the list: reducing food waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps make up 20% of our landfills, and every year Americans toss more than 35 million tons of uneaten groceries. That's almost enough to feed the entire population of California — and makes your Christmas remnants a mere drop in the bucket.

What are the kinds of things people throw out daily? Per the USDA's food-loss estimates, the common food items wasted by households include grain products, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meats, eggs, and sweeteners.

While you might feel that you alone cannot curb the country's food waste problem, learning to use what you do have (especially if you're fortunate enough to afford an abundance of food) goes a long way toward having a positive environmental impact for future generations, not to mention saving you money.

Before you scrape another plate of leftovers down the garbage disposal, try a few of these straightforward tips to lessen the amount of food that goes uneaten in your home each week:

Cook from your fridge.
Make it a habit to look for perishable items in your fridge first before you open another box or can from your pantry. Sometimes it's easy to forget there's half a head of lettuce still lingering in the crisper bin, or an open jar of tomato sauce that you didn't use up from the previous night. Learn to make a meal with what you already have, rather than starting with a recipe that requires you to run to the store for a slew of other ingredients.

When it's just too much, freeze it.
If you're not able to finish up that last bowl of stew, or you were tempted by a sale on that family pack of chicken wings, store the excess in your freezer until you're ready to use it. This goes for fresh food items you might not be able to use up right away, like meats, as well as cooked meals that you make ahead of time to bring in to work. Don't forget to label your bags or containers with the name and date of the dish — otherwise your freezer-burned foods might be bound for the trash as well.

Make a grocery list.
As we've said before, we're big proponents of list-making. Lists help you plan meals, eat well, and save money, and they also keep you focused at the grocery store. You won't find yourself buying another bag of potatoes when a 5-pound bag from last month is still sitting in the pantry, and you won't waste a tub of yogurt when the one at home is still good for another week. Lists also make you less likely to buy exotic ingredients on a whim — ingredients that may end up spoiling when you fail to cook them in a timely manner.

Store your produce properly.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can actually keep for a week or two (and sometimes more) in ideal conditions, and they can easily be revived if they go limp. For most leafy greens, it's best to wash them once you bring them home, wrap them in a towel, then store them in a produce bag to keep the moisture in. Loss of moisture is what causes vegetables to go limp, including root vegetables like carrots and radishes. If those items have gone soft, simply soak them in a sink full of cold water. They'll crisp up after a couple of hours, and can even be stored in the fridge in a bowl of water (just remember to change the water every few days if it starts to look murky).

Know what the dated labels mean.
One of the biggest contributors to food waste is going by the dates on your food items — the ones that say "Best by," "Use by," or "Sell by." These dates are more or less guidelines for the grocery stores, and do not equate to expiration dates for the food you're buying. To learn how long your food will last, do a search on FMI's food storage database which will give a rough estimate on the product's lifespan in the fridge and the freezer.

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