Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tips to Cut Down Food Waste in Your Kitchen

I recently worked on an interesting story about food waste that occurs all around us --in restaurant kitchens, school kitchens and our own kitchens. Given the growing hunger in our communities (just visit soup kitchens, unemployment offices and food pantries for a first-hand account), the fact that Americans generate more than 34 million tons of food waste each year is sad. More than sad, it's a problem that needs to be fixed, controlled at least.

So I asked some of my sources to share tips that we could use to be more conscious consumers and be part of the solution. Here's what they shared:

Joann Knox, director of Child Nutrition with Abilene ISD, credits the district’s cafeteria managers and staff for a tight handle on the food waste issue. “Many of the things we do,” she said, “can be used at home.”

1. Keep up with your inventory. “We know what we have in our pantries, refrigerators and freezers,” Knox said. “We keep a running log or leftovers sheet. Whenever we put something in, we date and label it.”

2. Use food in a timely manner. The district also applies the “first in, first out” rule. “We place older items at the front so they are used up first,” Knox said.

3. Plan ahead. The district orders food about two weeks in advance and that involves planning, using menus and shopping lists.

4. Make sure your refrigerator and freezer are operating at the correct temperature. Freezers should be zero degrees or below, and refrigerators in the 38-35 degrees range, she recommended. “The wrong temperatures can cause food to mold and spoil,” she said.

5. Use seasonal menu items. “We miss out on a lot of food at their peak –like zucchinis and peaches—because of our school calendar,” she said. “So we try to serve a lot of fresh fruit when school opens.”

Martha Alice Spraberry works in the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Taylor County and they provide everything from recipes to food safety and management classes. Her tips are as follows:

1. Put up leftover in the refrigerator in a timely manner. Within 2 hours of taking a dish off the stove or out of the refrigerator, or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or above.

2. Use up leftovers as soon as you can. If you don’t want to eat the same thing, add a few ingredients and turn them into something new. Spraberry loves to use leftovers in salads, soups, casseroles and quick stir-fries.

3. If you’re packing leftovers for lunch the next day, remember hot foods need to be kept hot (use a thermos) and cold foods need to stay cold (use ice packs). “If you’re packing bottled water for lunch, you might freeze it first and use it like an ice pack to keep your food cold,” she said.

Several Abilene moms shared their food strategies on the AbileneMoms Facebook Page.

1. Ashley G. stores all her leftover veggies in a freezer bag in the winter. “When I have enough, I use those to make vegetable soup,” she posted. “Even just a spoon full doesn't go to waste.”

2. Becky Z. plans ahead and uses leftovers to create other meals. “I make a full chicken almost every 10 days, eat that as a meal then portion out the rest of the chicken into two separate casseroles or pot pies,” she wrote. “I usually can make about 3 to 5 meals out of a 4lbs chicken.”

3. Marlene H. makes lasagna or casseroles and then freezes the leftovers to enjoy a couple of weeks later.

If you have a tip that hasn't been mentioned but helps you in your food strategy, please share in the comments!


  1. Rashda, this is great! Now, tell me about this tv appearance of yours!!!

  2. I am a food safety inspector for my full time job. I love this post, excellent tips shared! I will definitely share this on my facebook page and twitter page:-) Take care, Terra

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  6. Nice and Informative Tips regarding food waste management. We can also mange waste foods by renewable energy source like bio gas etc..