13 Practical Ways to Avoid Food Waste

Wasted food is wasted money, and according to the EPA, Americans disposed more than 35 million tons of food waste in 2013 alone! Want to do more to avoid food waste in your home? Here are some steps that you can take:

Start With a Realistic Meal Plan

cooking carrots in a frying pan
Lucy Lambriex/Moment/Getty Images

Look at your schedule for the week, and plan meals that fit that schedule. If you're going to be busy Wednesday night, don't plan an elaborate dinner that you won't have the time or energy to make. The ingredients will just end up sitting in the fridge, while you grab take-out or a bowl of cereal.

And if you always eat out one night a week, make sure you build that into your plan, too. You only need to plan seven dinners if you'll be eating seven dinners at home.

Document Your Waste

Document Your Waste. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

For the next month, write down everything that you throw out (including anything that you put down the disposal). Then, analyze your list to figure out what you could be doing better. Do you need to buy less of something? Are there foods that you no longer eat? Are there things that aren't lasting as long as they should? Do you forget about your leftovers until they've grown fuzzy?

Store Foods Properly

How to Store Fresh Herbs and Green Onions. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Tired of tossing out limp herbs and sprouted potatoes? Learn how to store your foods, so they last as long as they should. For example, wrap good apples in newspaper, place them in a box, and store in a cool, dry area. You should also keep eggs in their original container from the store and keep them in the refrigerator. And for potatoes, a box or bag will keep them safe while you store them in a cool, humid area, like an unheated basement.

Know the Shelf Life

Best-By Date. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Make sure you're not throwing foods out before you should. The "use by" date is the recommended last date that you should use the product by, while the "sell by" date tells a store how long to display the item on the shelf.

Make the Most of Leftovers

Leftovers. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Work those leftovers into your rotation, so they don't go to waste. Eat them for lunch; schedule a leftover night each week; or drop them in the freezer, if you need a break from them. Just make sure you have a plan to use them up before they go bad.

Save Your Scraps

Turkey Stock. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Vegetable peels, meat scraps, stale bread, and bones are only trash if you choose to see them that way. Challenge yourself to do more with everything that you buy.

You can make vegetable broth, soup, and bread crumbs with different scrap items.

Preserve Your Excess

Homemade Pumpkin Puree. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Have too much zucchini or loads of party leftovers? Freeze, can or dry the excess, so you can enjoy your spoils later.

Inventory Your Fridge

Inventory Your Fridge. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Peek in your refrigerator every couple days to remind yourself of what's in there. Check the expiration dates on foods, and move items that need to be used first to the front, where they'll be easier to spot.

To keep foods from being overlooked, try to put the same things in the same spot week after week.

Switch to Powdered

Powdered Dairy Products. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Always tossing out partial cartons of buttermilk, heavy cream or another dairy product? Switch to the powdered version, and you'll never throw out a carton again.

Right-Size Your Purchases

Groceries. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Match your usage habits to your purchase habits. Buying in bulk only makes sense, if you eat a lot of something (and will be able to use it up before it goes bad). And it's smart to buy the smallest package of a food or brand that you're trying for the first time.

Shop at Home

Inventory Your Pantry. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Always buying duplicates (or triplicates) of items that you have on hand? Keep the extras out of your shopping cart by taking a minute to look in your fridge, pantry and freezer before you head to the store.

Don't Be a Picky Eater

Blemished Apples. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Moldy produce needs to be tossed, but bruised, blemished or overripe produce is perfectly fine to eat. Give fruits and veggies a second look before you decide to chuck them.

Feed It to Your Animals or Compost It

Compost. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Pass your table scraps on to your pets or add them to your compost pile and turn them into soil.