Top 5 ways to never waste food again - WBCB: The Valley's CW |

Top 5 ways to never waste food again

Updated: May 12, 2011 02:32 PM EDT
Is your fridge full of leftovers you've forgotten about? (©Hemera / Thinkstock) Is your fridge full of leftovers you've forgotten about? (©Hemera / Thinkstock)

By Peg Rosen

Even in this economy, the average American family of four wastes about 15 percent of the food they buy, losing about $600 a year, according to a University of Arizona study.

"Many of us don't even realize how much we squander, because it's out of sight -- either down the disposal, into the trash or at the back of the fridge. When people learn how much of their groceries ends up in the bin, they're usually shocked," says Jonathan Bloom, founder of

Ready to call a halt to all this waste? Make a list before you shop, stick to it and follow these quick tips at home:

1. Avoid UFOs (unidentified fridge/freezer objects).

When possible, store leftovers in clear, easy-to-identify containers. If it's still not obvious what they are, label them. And in all cases, write a date on the container so you know exactly when that handful of edibles joined the picture.

"A Sharpie and some masking tape kept near the fridge can help you keep track of what's in your fridge to avoid costly waste," says Coleman Teitelbaum, corporate chef for Sub-Zero Refrigerators.

Plus, frozen food lasts longer than you might think (see below) and can often be refrozen after it's defrosted.

2. Understand expiration dates.

Just because that printed date on your milk or soup has come and gone doesn't mean the item is doomed for the dump.

"It's important to understand the difference between the various dating labels, such as ‘best if used by,' ‘use by' and ‘sell by,'" says Janice Revell, co-founder of, which features an item-by-item guide to how long individual foods -- including leftovers -- can generally keep safely in the pantry, fridge and freezer.

"And really, those are just guidelines that aren't set in stone."

3. Serve smaller portions.

So much of the food we put on our own plates -- and our kids' -- ends up in the trash. Instead, start everyone out on the skimpy side and then make seconds available. It's better for the world . . .  not to mention our wallets and waistlines.

4. Reinvent leftovers.

"You can transform leftover pork chops into a quick entree of pork fried rice, with the addition of cooked rice, ginger, scallions, vegetables and eggs," says Tom Super of the American Meat Institute. (Check out for more ideas.)

With the right seasonings or toppings, a wide variety of leftovers can also take on new life when they're turned into part of a taco, fajita or burrito, says Jeff Lindsay, home cook and author of Conquering Innovation Fatigue.

The bottom line: Turn leftovers into something new and interesting, and you'll have a far easier time selling them to the family.

5. Stay away from the supermarket.

Put off that next grocery store trip for an extra day or even two, and get creative about using what you already have.

Joni James Aldrich of Winston-Salem, N.C., regularly goes through her fridge before she even considers a shopping trip, jots down what needs to be eaten, then, as she puts it, "backs her way into a recipe."

"I'll search online for something like ‘recipe chicken artichoke olive,' for example. I'll then pick and choose the recipe that sounds the best and ad-lib if I don't have certain ingredients. You'd be surprised how much food you can use up."

Peg Rosen
has contributed to numerous magazines and Web sites, including More, Self, Redbook, Real Simple, Parents, Family Circle, American Baby, ParentCenter and WebMD. She blogs at

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