When I was growing up in communist Czechoslovakia–where random shortages of certain foods were a frequent occurrence–we had a simple family rule: Clean your plate, otherwise you don’t leave the table. And it worked. Our plates contained a healthy balance of food–there was no overeating–and we learned to eat what was served. The result: Minimal food waste. Whatever waste we did leave went to our neighbor to feed the chickens. That was over 30 years ago. Since then, many developed countries have become producers of an enormous amount of food waste. Even good, fresh food is being wasted on a daily basis, and not only at the level of individual homes, but on a large industrial scale. The estimated amount of wasted food produced for human consumption is alarming: one third, or 1.3 billion tons, every year. This represents a huge global problem, especially since nearly a billion of the world’s population go hungry every day, according to the 2012 United Nations report.
So how can we minimize food waste?
Whenever possible, buy local, grow your own and opt for food products with minimal processing. You’ll help cut down on transportation costs, water consumption and production losses and minimize other types of waste.
We also must take personal responsibility and teach our kids about food appreciation and the importance of not wasting food at an early age. They will pass this knowledge along to their friends and will grow up with “no food waste” embedded in their minds.
Here are a few useful tips for parents to establish good habits at home:
1. There’s nothing wrong with bread ends and crust. Some children are used to leaving bread crust untouched or cutting it away. Encourage your kids to eat all parts of bread; the same goes for pizza.
2. Good fruit and vegetables come in many shapes. Just because they have a bruise or two there is no reason to discard them. Simply cut the bruised part away, use it in your composter and eat the rest. If the fruit is rotten inside, it’s better to compost it entirely. Also: Many food stores will either not stock vegetables or fruits that don’t have an appealing shape or discard them. Buy from local farmers; they don’t discriminate.
3. Prevent wasted meat. If your kids are picky meat eaters, choose more tender meats like fish, chicken or turkey and slice them into small pieces, so they don’t have to cut the meat themselves. If you have meat leftovers, give them to a neighbor who has dogs, to a dog shelter nearby or even to a farm owner with pigs or other meat-eating livestock.
4. Don’t keep snacks displayed around your home. When kids see it, they want to eat it. And if they fill up on snacks, they might not finish their lunch or dinner. Instead, keep fruit and/or nuts in bowls on tables and fill your fridge with healthy snacks that won’t give them munchies.
5. When eating out, bring leftovers home. Many restaurants already participate in a local “food rescue program”, but the majority of food providers around the globe still throw leftovers away, and they end up in landfills instead of being consumed as food.
For more tips, see our section No food goes to waste in article Ten Simple Ways Busy Moms Can Go Green.
For more info about Food donations: see EPA programs.